Archive for the ‘German’ Category

Metropolis (1927)

Posted: January 26, 2012 in 1927, Arthouse, German, Sci-Fi, Silent

I’ve had Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent movie epic on DVD for some time but have never seemed to find the time to watch it (there are some benefits to being off work sick).

Set in a futuristic dystopia the film explores the relationship between the oppressed Workers, who live in a vast underground complex and run the machines that power Metropolis, and the pampered Managers, who live in luxury in skyscrapers on the surface.  One day, whilst relaxing in the Eternal Garden, Freder Fredersen – son of Joh Fredersen the creator of Metropolis – encounters a beautiful young woman from the worker city, enchanted by her he follows her into the depths where he witnesses a terrible industrial accident.  He returns to his father telling him of the plight of the workers, not knowing that his father already knows, before returning to the worker city where he persuades a worker called #11811, Georgy, to trade places.  After a hellish 10 hour shift Freder follows the workers to an underground cavern where he finds the young woman he met earlier, Maria, preaching a message of peace and patience in waiting for the Mediator to arrive to unite the Head (the Managers) and the Hands (the Workers).  Freder realises that he is the Mediator and reveals himself to Maria at the end of the sermon when the other Workers have left.

Whilst this is happening Joh visits Rotwang, the mad scientist, about some maps that have been handed to him by Grot, a foreman for the Workers.  The two were friends but were rivals for the love of a woman, Hel, who eventually married Joh and died giving birth to their son Freder.  Rotwang reveals his creation, The Machine Man which he plans to give the likeness of Hel, to Joh and explains that the maps are of the catacombs below the Worker city.  Leading Joh through subterranean tunnels they secretly observe Maria’s sermon, not realising that Freder is in the crowd, and Joh commands Rotwang to use The Machine Man to clone Maria and incite the Workers to riot so that he can use force to bring them back in line.  Rotwang kidnaps Maria and holds her hostage whilst her clone goes about her work.

Considered by many to be one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made Metropolis features brilliant cinematography, set design, and special effects that are stunning considering the technology of the time. The architecture portrayed in the film is based on Modernism and Art Deco, a new style in Europe which had not achieved mass production and as such was considered a symbol of the upper classes.  The effects expert, Eugen Schüfftan, created effects that were widely acclaimed for many years most notably The Schüfftan Process, which utilised mirrors to ‘place’ actors into miniature sets, and has been used by many other film makers over the years including Alfred Hitchcock in Blackmail (1929) and The 39 Steps (1935)  and as recently as 2003 when Peter Jackson used the technique when filming The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Metropolis has influenced modern cinema through both it’s imagery and storyline and without it we wouldn’t have films like Blade Runner and The Fifth Element, both of which borrow their visions of a future earth from Lang’s.  In addition the film’s imagery has been paid homage in various music videos such as Queen’s Radio Ga Ga (the majority of which uses clips from the film) and Madonna’s Express Yourself (which ends with the closing quote from Metropolis – “Without the Heart, there can be no understanding between the Hand and the Mind”) and was even, loosely, adapted to an anime by Osamu Tezuka in 2001.

Goodbye Lenin! (2003)

Posted: January 11, 2012 in 2003, Comedy, Drama, German

Billed as a comedy/drama I didn’t really find much to laugh about in this German film.  Whether this was down to the drama overshadowing any comedy or simply because the comedy referenced German events that I didn’t get I’m not sure.

The film is set in East Germany in 1989, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and centers around single mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) and her two children Alex (Daniel Brühl) and Ariane (Maria Simon).  Raising the two children alone after her husband defects to West Germany Christiane is passionate Socialist who, after witnessing Alex being arrested for participating in a protest march, suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma for 8 months.  During this period East Germany undergoes radical changes with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the influx of western culture into the previously insular country.  After Christiane awakes from her coma the doctors inform Alex that any sort of shock may lead to another heart attack and, feeling that these changes may be detrimental to his mothers health, Alex resolves to keep this from her.

Alex moves his mother back home and, with the help of his family, neighbours, and friends, they pretend that nothing has changed within the 4 walls of their flat whilst outside East Germany begins to welcome western ideals and businesses – Ariane gets a job working at Burger King and becomes involved with a West German whilst Alex gets a job installing satellite tv.  At home the family dress in typically East German clothing and, with the help of his friend Denis, Alex puts together false news stories and television shows in order to keep the illusion alive whilst hunting for East German goods that are proving increasingly difficult to find.

Ultimately the story is one of a boy who loves his mother and will do anything to protect her and is loosely based on the last few years of Lenin’s life where it was deemed that over-excitement might cause him health problems so he was kept in a controlled environment whilst Stalin had special newspapers printed for him editing any news about the political struggles of the time.  The film touches on the unification of Germany without going in to much detail of the experiences of the East German people which is a shame as some of the films most poignant scenes involve this especially when Alex goes grocery shopping only to discover that the shelves are bare, later to be replaced by western versions of the same foods forcing Alex to decant the contents into East German packaging in order to maintain the charade.  The film itself is beautifully shot, written, and acted and ultimately deserving of the many awards it won.