Styx (2019)

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Direction: Wolfgang Fischer
Country: Germany / Austria

In Greek mythology, Styx is a deity and a river that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. You won’t find a deity or a river in Austrian Wolfgang Fischer’s sophomore film, but the immense sea and an unforgettable, shocking discovery that will forever mark the life of an adventurous woman sailor.

The experienced, hands-on 40-year-old doctor Rike (Susanne Wolff) resolves to abandon the stress of emergency medical night shifts in Gibraltar to embark on a solo sailing trip to the small tropical island of Ascension. She learned about the place's artificial jungle from a book by Charles Darwin. Expecting to find some sort of paradise on Earth, it’s hell that appears in front of her, not due to a storm that after a certain time shook her yacht with violence, but when she faces the sad reality of a fishing boat overloaded with dehydrated, famished, and sick African refugees. Several attempts to ask for help were made via radio and all she got was a voice saying: “back up and don’t intervene”. That’s when Rike envisions a risky scheme to force the authorities to get involved and do their job.

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The monstrosity of letting debilitated people dying in the sea is disgusting. This is just an episode amidst many that show the cruelty of the world we’re living in. Should some lives matter more than others?

Fischer puts you right in the middle of the action, infusing tension and anguish with a story that demonstrates the complacency of developed countries in the face of painful realities lived by human beings in other parts of the world.

The film has been compared to J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost, yet Rike felt powerless and helpless rather than really lost at sea and with her life in danger. The ending didn’t exceed expectations, but this was a piercingly realistic cinematic experience based on an outrageous true story.

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Western (2018)

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Direction: Valeska Grisebach
Country: Germany

Blending work-related issues with personal quests, German writer/director Valeska Grisebach (Longing) has in Western, her best film. You can think of it as if the proletarian realism of Ken Loach had fused with the culture clashes depicted by Jacques Audiard. The film title is a suitable epigram, playing with the east-west differences and with the western genre through the semblance and the actions of its main character.

The quiet Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann) is a German construction worker who accepts joining a specialized crew, headed by the antagonistic Vincent (Reinhardt Wetrek), to build a hydroelectric plant in a small rural Bulgarian village, next to the border with Greek border. He soon clarifies his boss about his intentions: he’s there only for the money.

Taking advantage of the reduced working flow - there’s no water on the site to be mixed with the cement and a 40-ton shipment of gravel was stolen - he sets out to the village mounted on an old white horse he borrowed without permission. When the conflict was expected, Reinhard surprises us by gaining the trust of the suspicious villagers. His comfortable posture and friendly manners were able to beat the barrier of communication. Thus, he was more than welcome to be part of this small Bulgarian family.

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The horse owner, Adrian (Syuleyman Alilov Letifov), becomes a close buddy, appointing him as his personal bodyguard. This happened after Meinhard had mentioned to some residents he fought in Afghanistan and Africa as a legionnaire. However, a number of unexpected incidents, involving both locals and his own crew, will mar his staying with glumness.

The story takes its time to develop and requires patience at every languid turn, but once you let yourself be enveloped by its mood, it’s all rewards. Neumann does an impressive work here, embracing his first role with natural ease and assuming great part of the responsibility in making of the tale a grounded and sincere experience. On the other hand, Grisebach is an intelligent storyteller, showing to have a meticulous eye for detail. The realistically filmed Western dissects its male characters, digging into their souls and revealing a human perspective that, even suggesting a vast array of emotions, never hand them on a plate. Actually, it feels great having to search for them.

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Transit (2018)

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Direction: Christian Petzold
Country: Germany / France

German filmmaker Christian Petzold (Barbara; Phoenix) shows a predisposition to structure his dramas in a ravishing, oblique way. His latest effort, Transit, is set in the port city of Marseille during the Nazi invasion.

The central character is Georg (Franz Rogowski), a German Jew on the run, who finds a viable way to flee the country without arousing the suspicion of the authorities. He is in possession of a document issued by the Mexican consulate to another man that can guarantee him a transit visa. In truth, he stole the identity of that man, Weidel, a celebrated poet who didn’t resist the Nazi pressure and committed suicide in Paris. Weidel’s charming wife, Marie (Paula Beer), is also stuck in Marseille, waiting anxiously for him, so they can depart to Mexico, the much desired safe harbor.

In the meantime, and before meeting Marie in strange circumstances, Georg visits the wife and son of a comrade who succumbed to the manhunt. The woman, Melissa (Maryam Zaree), is mute and was born in the Maghreb; her sweet kid, Driss (Lilien Batman), loves to play soccer, forging a strong bond with Georg, whom he gladly adopts as a father figure. Both are illegal refugees in the country, which becomes a terrible inconvenience when Driss gets sick. Opportunely, Georg offers himself to find doctor Richard (Godehard Giese), who is having an affair with Marie but is planning to leave her soon to embrace a bigger medical cause in Europe. Marie is visibly confused. She wants her husband so badly that, for a couple of times, she had mistaken him for Georg, the man who strategized about saving himself by impersonating him. However, Georg decides to alter his plans after falling for her.

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Georg can thank his lucky stars because in some cases, despair leads gradually to tragedy, especially if you are stranded and hopeless. In different situations, tragedies just come with fate. Ironically, “Road to Nowhere” by The Talking Heads plays during the final credits.

The extraordinary performances magnify the complexity of the characters, surrounding them with empathy. Still, you will find emotional pain in every each of them. It’s outstanding how quietly the director gets close to these people.

The plot, adapted by Petzold from Anna Seghers’ WW2 novel to fit the present-day, can be challenging sometimes, but the articulation of the scenes and that pleasurable ambiguity in the narrative turn the film into an interesting watching. Don’t expect many thrills, though, since the director is more interested in offering a wide tonal palette of emotional reflections than really shocking us directly through the images.

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In The Fade (2018)

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Directed by Fatih Akin
Country: Germany / France

Turkish-born German filmmaker Fatih Akin, author of gems like “Head-On” and “The  Edge of Heaven”, thoughtfully returns to the drama genre after last year’s so-so coming-of-age adventure “Goodbye Berlin”.

In The Fade” stars Cannes-awarded actress Diane Kruger (“Unknown”, “Inglorious Basterds”, “Disorder”) as Katja Sekerci, a woman living in Hamburg, whose happy life is suddenly shaken by the assassination of her husband and 6-year-old child in a Nazi conspiracy consummated with a nail-bomb attack. The first images show us Nuri Sekerci (Numan Acar), a Kurdish living in Germany, being applauded as he leaves his prison cell all dressed up to get married to Katja. Although convicted for drug trafficking in the past, when the film advances to the first of its three chapters, we see him completely rehabilitated, managing his own tax office, where he also helps fellow countrymen with document translations.

A certain day, Katja arrives at his office, located in the Turkish neighborhood, to drop off their son before going to meet her best friend Birgit (Samia Muriel Chancrin). On her way out, she notices a young woman, later identified as Edda Moller (Hanna Hilsdorf), placing a brand new bike in front of the office and then walking away. The bicycle was purposely left unchained. Later in the evening, she went to pick them up, but was informed there was an explosion in that specific area. It was an agonizing shock when the two unrecognizable bodies of a man and a kid were confirmed to be the members of her family. This harrowing reality impels her to take drugs in order to numb the pain. 

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Officer Gerrit Reetz (Henning Peker) is the one leading the investigation and wonders if Nuri was still working for the Turkish Mafia as a dealer. Was this a retaliation? If not, who could have done such an evil act? The Eastern Europeans? A Nazi faction? 

Following a dramatic court session where the culprits are nauseatingly acquitted of the killings using a false alibi, Katja, in the impossibility of appeasing her soul and find relief, chases them down, traveling to Greece with a radical plan.

Akin’s approach favors as much the tense moments as the emotionally disturbing ones, only sporadically deflecting to unimaginative territories through superfluous maneuvers. Probably the most gratuitous scene happens when Katja attempts to kill herself, saved at the last minute by the phone call of her lawyer and family friend Danilo Fava (Denis Moschitto). 

Still, “In The Fade” was conceived with strong performances and never softens up, even when giving signs of momentarily wobbling. After the tragic, visceral finale, and before the closing credits, the director points out the xenophobe crimes committed by the members of Neo-Nazi group National Socialism Underground.

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Submergence (2018)

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Directed by Wim Wenders
Country: Germany / USA / other

72-year-old Wim Wenders is one of the inevitable figures of the European cinema. His work includes masterpieces such as “Paris Texas”, “Wings of Desire”, “Kings of the Road”, and “Alice In the Cities”, which deserved all the accolades they got. However, the current phase of his directorial career is not so strong, with the fictional films failing to match the much more compelling documentaries like "Pina" and "The Salt of the Earth". This fact hampers him from standing out again as a primary filmmaker.

Based on the novel of the same name by J.M. Ledgard and with a questionable adaptation from Erin Digman (“The Last Face”), “Submergence” depicts a bitter memory of a fine romance lived in the French Normandy between Danielle Flinders (Alicia Vikander), a biomathematician, and James Moore (James McAvoy), a Scottish agent under the cover of a water engineer. While she is on the verge of embarking on a pioneering diving into the deep Atlantic in a submersible to collect valuable samples, he is heading to East Africa in a classified mission. Once there, Somali jihadist fighters make him a hostage, and torture becomes a painful endurance.

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Immersed in flashbacks, the drama lacks intensity, being progressively engulfed by irregular, often dispassionate waves of longing. The anguished Danielle can’t focus on her work since James became unreachable. In her mind, she questions if he just lost interest in her or is simply stuck somewhere with no communication. Yet, after some time, she lets go the latter possibility. James’ imprisonment, filled with numerous backs and forths and torturous oscillations, fails to engage us in its dualities: friend or enemy, salvation or perdition, compassion or aggression. Also, the pace doesn't facilitate our empathy.

The episodes involving the characters have no other link tying them besides the ephemeral love affair, and Wenders couldn’t avoid falling into a protracted, unexciting, and often sloppy exercise that never brought much satisfaction or hope.

The emotional agitation resultant from lovesickness could have pushed the film forward, but the heavy-handed narrative together with Spanish-born Fernando Velázquez’s annoying score make us all stuck too, waiting for the pointless ending to arrive.

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Goodbye Berlin (2016)

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Directed by Fatih Akin
Country: Germany

German director of Turkish descent, Fatih Akin, belongs to that group of filmmakers that struggle at some point in their careers after a brilliant start replete with numerous accolades. His undeniable talent was materialized in many prizes with top-rated dramas such as “Head-On”, winner of the Golden Berlin Bear in 2004, and “The Edge of Heaven”, Cannes best screenplay and prize of the ecumenical jury in 2007. Even when he adventured himself in comedy with “Soul Kitchen”, the results weren’t bad at all, but his following steps, the documentary “Garbage in the Garden of Eden” and the drama “The Cut”, related to the Armenian genocide, didn’t bring the usual gratification to the fans of his cinema. That’s why his next move was awaited with some expectation.

Mr. Akin opted to have a go at the widely explored coming-of-age topic with the comedy drama “Goodbye Berlin”, starring Tristan Gobel and the debutant Anand Batbileg as two teen fugitives from Berlin during the summer holidays.
 
Gobel is Maik Klingenberg, a 14-year-old Berliner whose character intrigues due to a staggering mix of naivety and honesty. He loses his self-confidence when Tatjana (Aniya Wendel), the schoolmate he’s in love with, doesn’t invite him to her birthday party. His apathetic state doesn’t get better when his teacher rebukes him for a composition in which he tells about his alcoholic mother and her considerable time spent in the spa, a funnier way of addressing the rehabilitation clinic, where she willingly goes when stepping off the limits.

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His sad days come to an end after he befriends the new student, Tschik (Batbileg), a delinquent Jewish-gipsy orphan with a tough-adult attitude and whose doubtful reputation is reinforced by the rumors that he’s associated with the Russian mafia. Both decide to embark on a road trip in a stolen blue Lada Niva, listening to Richard Clayderman’s “Ballade Pour Adeline” and embracing every strange occurrence and encounter with a burning passion proper from their age. 
While heading to Wallachia, where Tschick’s grandparents live, they bump into Isa (Mercedes Müller), a starving, smelly girl with candid blue eyes who asks for a ride after helping them stealing gas. She intends to catch the bus that will take her to Prague, where her half-sister lives, but not before flirting with the tremulous Maik.

Confessions, promises, and a mutual understanding that feels truly sweet, bolster the trio’s friendship.
Akin reserves the best thrills to the final part, when the troublemakers Maik and Tschik are forced to change direction to escape the police, with unfortunate consequences that could have had much worse repercussions.

Based on Wolfgang Herrndorf's best-selling 2010 novel "Why We Took the Car”, the film shows how Fatih Akin is an adaptable filmmaker, whose interesting vision gets limited and blurred whenever he doesn’t go deeper than the surface, whether emotionally or narratively. 

The feel-good “Goodbye Berlin”, in all its audacity and insubordination, doesn’t break new ground but didn’t let me down either. Even with ups and downs in its fluidity, and with levels of entertainment that oscillate between the good and the average, I didn’t feel that my time had been wasted in the end.

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Toni Erdmann (2016)

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Directed by Maren Ade
Country: Germany / Austria

With the farcical comedy-drama “Toni Erdmann”, German director Maren Ade enriches her narrow yet impressive filmography. This is her third feature and an excellent follow-up to “Everyone Else”, a laid-back examination of a couple’s relationship within a peculiar environment, which got accolades in 2009’s Berlin and Buenos Aires Film Festivals.
Despite distinct in nature, “Erdmann” sticks to the topic of human relationships, only this time focusing on father and daughter.

Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller play with all their hearts Winfried and Ines Conradi, respectively father and daughter. 
Winfried is a spirited music teacher with a compulsive tendency for off-the-wall pranks. To better succeed in them and fulfill his harmless bizarreness, he often disguises himself of various freakish kinds. Being divorced and with his only daughter living abroad, Winfried’s regular company for some time now has been Willy, an old dog that, with no suffering, ends up dying in the front yard.
This happening marks a transition point in his miserable existence. It makes him apprehensive, not plaintive, though.

The sensations of loss and loneliness get deeper when he thinks of Ines, an ambitious workaholic who hardly has time to talk to his father, not even when she visits him on his birthday. Currently working in the oil industry field in Bucharest, Romania, Ines shows great anxiety and urgency of returning to her work.

Without further notice, Winfried decides to go to Romania to stay a month with Ines, who welcomes him more with respect than enthusiasm. Disappointed and worried with the lamentable life Ines is living, Winfried decides to help her by creating an outlandish persona called Toni Erdmann. He wants to get the horrible taste of the filthy world of business by becoming a cynical insider.

Even distinctive, Ms. Ade’s very-European approach introduces fractions of Michael Haneke’s mordant vision on alienation, Ulrich Seidl’s in-your-face provocations, and Roy Andersson’s half-dark half-absurdist humor in order to proclaim her strong social criticism.
Sometimes there’s only a very thin line separating pretense and honesty, artificiality and authenticity, happiness and sadness…

Toni Erdmann” is corrosively biting, surprisingly human, gloriously hardcore, and extremely liberating. 
After two hours and forty minutes, it leaves us with one simple question: what’s worth of living?

13 Minutes (2015)

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Country: Germany 

After the worldwide acclamation with “Downfall” in 2004, the German director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, returns to the topic of Nazism with the passable biopic “13 Minutes”, which chronicles the true story of Georg Elser, the man who attempted to assassinate Hitler in Munich in 1939.

Elser, impersonated competently by Christian Friedel, was an ingenious German carpenter, born in Württemberg, whose discontentment about the political situation of his country and his personal life, made him react aggressively against the Fuhrer, situation that cost him years of torture and misery since nobody believed him when he stated he worked without any help.
Elser, who proclaimed not to have any party affiliation, used a homemade bomb fabricated with stolen material, which should be more than enough to turn the Fuhrer into pieces and drag a few more SS officials with him. However, the engine only exploded 13 minutes after Hitler has left the place.

After the machination, we see Elser being arrested and continually interrogated by Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klaußner), a key functionary in the security and police apparatus of Nazi Germany, and his superior, Heinrich Müller (Johann von Bülow), leader of the feared Gestapo. While the Fuhrer wanted a formal confession, Goebbels wanted something palpable to say to the press. Amidst lots of questions and rivers of torture, Mr. Hirschbiegel often takes us to Elser’s past through flashbacks. With them, we can have glimpses of the subject’s youth, his conquests, his taste in music, and how he met the love of his life, Elsa (Katharina Schüttler), a married woman who was often mistreated by her brute husband, Erich (Rüdiger Klink).

Even not so powerful in emotional terms, “13 Minutes” gives us some historical background in regard to this particular occurrence. Clearly, the dramatization could be better nuanced while some parts of the narrative (especially the first flashbacks) seem a bit dislocated. To compensate these less positive aspects, I can mention the tight and polished direction by Mr. Hirschbiegel and the inviting cinematography by Judith Kaufmann (co-director of “Two Lives”).

Victoria (2015)

Victoria (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Sebastian Schipper
Country: Germany

Movie Review: Genuinely electrifying, “Victoria”, perhaps inspired by Gaspar Noé’s raw filmmaking style, is a triumphant drama by the German actor-turned-director, Sebastian Schipper, who impressively shot 2 hours and 18 minutes in one single take. The title character, earnestly performed by Laia Costa (the first foreign actor to win a LOLA German award), is a Spanish former piano student who moved to Berlin three months ago after seeing her musical ambitions fail. She's currently working at a small café, which she has to open every day at 7 a.m. We’re first introduced to Victoria at a night club, having a good time dancing and drinking until 4 a.m., time when she resolves to have her last drink, pick up her bike, and leave to the café. When preparing to hit the streets, she bumps into Sonne (Frederick Lau), an amusing liar, and his friends, who were trying to steal a beautiful car parked on the street. Victoria and Sonne had already seen each other at the club where he was flirting with her. Immediately, we sense a sort of chemistry between the two, but it was too soon for saying if this was authentic, or if Victoria, who doesn’t speak any German, could be in trouble by following him and his friends to a store where they steal a few beers, and then to smoke a joint on a building’s rooftop. The film succeeds in part because it was initially cooked with this haunting tension that wisely never goes in the direction we expect. The group of lawbreakers ends up smoothly accepting Victoria, who continues acting very natural and unworried while playing a casual flirting game with Sonne. The latter escorts her to the café and the romance can be spotted in the air. This relaxed moment is suddenly interrupted when Sonne has to quickly leave in order to take care of a murky business with his hyper old pal, Boxer (Franz Rogowski). He returns a few minutes later to ask if she can drive them to an old parking lot where Boxer is supposed to meet with the man who had given him protection when in jail. At the meeting, the boys are forcefully assigned to rob a bank, and once again, they’re counting with the help of the irresponsible Victoria whose behavior balances between scared and thrilled. Moving at its own hypnotic rhythm, helped by the fantastic ambient/melancholic score by Nils Frahm, and carrying a persistently gripping tension, the film, which is nothing more than a delirious night in Victoria’s life, becomes as much unforgettable (due to disparate reasons) for the viewer as it would be for the title character if the story wasn’t fiction.

Every Thing Will Be Fine (2015)

Every Thing Will Be Fine (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Country: Germany / Canada / others

Movie Review: After the masterpiece documentary “The Salt of the Earth” about the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, the extraordinary German director, Wim Wenders, stumbles in his most recent fictional drama, “Every Thing Will Be Fine”. Here, the iconic filmmaker works over a script by the Norwegian Bjorn Olaf Johannessen and entrusts to James Franco, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Rachel McAdams, the main roles. The story is based on Tomas Elden (Franco), a writer who’s making an effort to maintain in good terms the relationship with his girlfriend, Sara (McAdams). In the middle of that intricate process, he has a traumatic accident, in which a kid dies after recklessly crossing the street in front of his van. Tomas becomes so affected by the incident that he breaks up with Sara and tries to commit suicide. However, after recovering at the hospital, he gradually finds his inner peace, becoming more and more inspired and prolific in his writings. Two years after, he finds his novel critically acclaimed. This fact provokes a sort of exasperation in the victim’s mother, Kate (Gainsbourg), an illustrator who opens the door of her house to Tomas, in an ultimate attempt to ease her pain. Also, her eldest son, Christopher, who was with his brother when the accident occurred, can’t really live in peace with the consuming trauma. The story spans for more than a decade, and even starts with some significance, but falls in a troublesome passivity of processes along the way. The genius of Mr. Wenders, who plays safe this time, completely fades away in a shabby drama characterized by a dismayed atmosphere, monotonous pace, and lifeless interactions among the characters, which transport us to repeated rueful psychological scenarios and pushes us into long-awaited resolutions. By the end, it seemed that the drama would evolve to a sort of thriller, but instead, the painful torpor takes care of the remaining time. The film didn’t touch me, not even once, while the performances of Mr. Franco and Ms. Gainsbourg didn’t impress me either.

Labyrinth of Lies (2014)

Labyrinth of Lies (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Giulio Ricciarelli
Country: Germany

Movie Review: “Labyrinth of Lies” is a German historical drama, set in 1958, that addresses the dignified endeavors of the young state prosecutor, Johan Radmann, who sets mind on taking to the justice the unpunished SS officials and doctors who still live freely after torturing and killing thousands of innocent people in the terrifying Auschwitz concentration camp during the world war. The shame of a complicated past of a powerful country seduced by Hitler’s Nazi regime, falls on Radmann, stiffly played by Alexander Fehling, who sees former Nazis everywhere. During the relentless investigation, a labyrinth that nobody wants to deal with, he unveils a few painful truths that devastate him inside, to the point of wanting to abandon the task. His best friend, the zealous journalist Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski), was a member of the party when he was very young, as well as the father of his seductive girlfriend, Marlene (Friederike Becht), and his own father who's still missing since the end of the war. Radmann starts interviewing former victims of Auschwitz, while trying to capture the abominable, unrepentant culprits such as Schultz, who was teaching children at a school, and Dr. Josef Mengele, who is now living in Buenos Aires and was responsible for inhumane lab experiences that took the life of the twin little daughters of the artist Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch), a tormented soul who survived the camp and hardly agrees to collaborate. Radmann’s honorable cause, here depicted with no less estimable intentions by the Italian actor-turned-director, Giulio Ricciarelli (directorial debut), isn’t a synonym of an accomplished movie. Actually, an obstructive formalism in the approach and the rusty performances aggravate the issues of a post-holocaust account that struggles in a few instances to find cohesion and tightness. Adopting tidy visuals and swinging between Hollywood’s standard twitches and TV series’ monotone routines, “Labyrinth of Lies” lacks intrigue and never manages to really speak to the heart. Its artificial undertones were the main reason why Mr. Ricciarelli couldn’t extract more and better from a strong real story. And thus, the film instantly vanishes from our minds when the theater lights are turned on.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Beloved Sisters (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Dominik Graf
Country: Germany / others

Movie Review: “Beloved Sisters” is a biographical film that portrays the long-lasting love triangle lived in the 18th century between the German poet and philosopher, Friedrich Schiller, and the aristocratic von Lengefeld sisters, Charlotte and Caroline. The drama, written and directed by Dominik Graf, a filmmaker with a three-decade career of TV movies and series, was unable to hold my attention apart from the first half-hour. Despite handsomely crafted in its attempt to revive the period and attractively photographed by Michael Wiesweg, the film gradually loses impact and even drags itself on several occasions, during its protracted 138 minutes of the same cadenced maneuvers focusing on the noble German social and literary society. Faith has determined that the young Schiller (Florian Stetter), exiled from its country and lost in the streets of Weimar, will meet Charlotte (Henriette Confurius) in a time when she was preparing herself to get married with some illustrious, wealthy man, following the steps of her sister Caroline (Hannah Herzsprung), who had done it, not for love, but to guarantee financial stability for her family. Defying both society and family, both sisters fall in love with the amiable and yet revolutionary thinker, consciously assuming their affair and understanding whenever they need to get out of each other's way. Regardless the many obstacles, like looking like a beggar and being broke, Schiller ends up marrying Charlotte and having a child with her, but never ceases from seeing her unhappily married sister, who starts a successful literary career under the name of Agnes von Lilen. Resorting to close-ups of the protagonists in an attempt to draw the emotions that the plot couldn’t assure, the slightly staged “Beloved Sisters” is leisurely paced, never flowing conveniently to escape its shallowness. Here, we get more lethargic and bored than invigorated or excited, and the film leaves no positive memories.

Who Am I (2014)

Who Am I (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Baran Bo Odar
Country: Germany

Movie Review: Bustling enough to cause some apprehension, but unoriginal in approach and storytelling, “Who Am I” is a German cybernetic thriller directed by Baran Bo Odar whose previous “The Silence” had given positive indications about his filmmaking aptitudes. The film stars Tom Schilling as Benjamin, an uncommunicative young man who, since childhood, has a crush on Marie, and wishes to have superpowers and invisibility. Being an outsider in the real world, he gains some self-respect on the Internet, as he becomes one of the most wanted hackers in Germany. Benjamin, seated on a chair with his hands tied, and bent over a table, tells to the suspended female inspector, Hanne Lindberg, how he was sentenced to 50 hours of community work for breaking into the university servers in order to help Marie. While carrying out this light sentence, he bumps into his dissimilar, Max (Elyas M’Barek), an insubordinate impostor who introduces him to Stefan, the one who can find any bug in any system, and Paul, a hardware expert, with whom they create a computer hacker group baptized as ‘CLAY’ that stands for ‘clowns laughing at you’. Mostly aiming at wealthy corporations and governmental services, which includes the foreign intelligence agency of Germany (BDN), the reserved and yet bright Benjamin will have to fight the most venerated online pirate, MRX, who allegedly belongs to the Russian mafia hacking group known as ‘Fr13nds’ and is implicated in a crime. The film can be described as “The Social Network” meets “The Prestige”, but still using familiar tones and well-worn narrative timbres, setting a bunch of clichéd situations that spin around with consecutive twists and turns without creating a beneficial impact. The score by Michael Kamm often transmits a sensation of more danger than what the film actually gives. I still have faith in Mr. Odar’s films, only this one didn’t work so well for me.

The Cut (2014)

The Cut (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Fatih Akin
Country: Germany / others

Movie Review: German filmmaker/screenwriter of Turkish descent, Fatih Akin, roundly stumbles in “The Cut”, a grim picture about an Armenian family man who survives the terrible genocide inflicted by the Turkish in 1915, during the Ottoman Empire. The sad story of Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim), who was hauled from his house and taken to isolated arid mountains for hard labor, never truly did much to gain our attention and cogitation. He miraculously survives the massive throat slitting perpetrated by the oppressors but loses his voice. After briefly joining a group of rebels, he decides to abandon them and go after his family. The only one he finds with life is his sister-in-law who, in a deplorable state, expects being struck by death at any minute. Hapless and emotionally devastated, a little hope will spark in his heart when he bumps into an old acquaintance that tells him his twin daughters might be still alive. The relentless search takes him to Havana and then to the US, where a few intractable episodes won’t frustrate the renewed Nazareth of regaining hope and faith. Whatever were the intentions of the acclaimed Mr. Akin, who has unforgettable dramas in his curriculum such as “Head On” and “The Edge of Heaven”, “The Cut” slides into commercial territory, and in any occasion was sufficiently gritty to knock us down, squandering all the chances to escape banality and cause a positive impression. This dismal exercise, which shares a few tedious similarities with “The Water Diviner” in a different historical context, uses six distinct languages to construct an overlong narrative that falls short of its dramatic ambitions. Tahar Rahim’s performance failed to be compelling, while talented Mr. Akin was never so boring before, evincing an embarrassing lack of vision.

Phoenix (2014)

Phoenix (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Christian Petzold
Country: Germany / Poland

Movie Review: Beautifully crafted, with refinement and objectivity, “Phoenix”, Christian Petzold’s adaptation of Hubert Monteilhet‘s novel ‘Le Retour des Cendres’, is a pungent drama set in a shattered post-war Berlin. The German filmmaker and co-writer brings in his long-time inspirational muse, Nina Hoss (their sixth collaboration), to portray the sad story of St. Michael’s choir singer, Nelly Lenz, an anti-Nazi transfigured woman who miraculously survived to a concentration-camp and obsessively looks for her crooked pianist husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), most likely the man responsible for her capture. Another character with strong dimension is Nelly’s savior, Lene Winter (Nina Kunzendorf), a Swiss Jew whose disappointment with the forgiving posture of the Jews, in general, is patent. Her role leads to opposite emotional sides since she brings some cheerful hope but also the shocking truth about Nelly’s family. After finding Johnny in a nightclub called ‘Phoenix’, the unrecognizable Nelly agrees to participate in a strange game with him, playing his missing wife, so he can claim her valuable inheritance. At this moment, Nelly experiences mixed feelings, admitting she’s jealous of her past self, but increasingly becoming enveloped by suspicion. Petzold injects all the elements that permit us to identify his work identity – formidable camera work, unshakeable storytelling, subtle score, sharp photography, perfect timing when using silence, and lastly, an impactful finale to be remembered. The presence of a gun is merely symbolic since the film overwhelms you by other means. “Phoenix”, or Fassbinder’s “Lili Marleen” meets Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face”, is a major example of emotional expressiveness. Just give it some time to be fully absorbed.

Stations of the Cross (2014)

Stations of the Cross (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Dietrich Bruggemann
Country: Germany

Movie Review: The fourth feature film by Dietrich Bruggemann, “Stations of the Cross”, was co-written with his sister Anne, making an interesting parallelism between a modern world tale, set in a Southern German town, and the 14 stations of the cross endured by Jesus towards Calvary. Maria is a14 year-old somber girl who lives obsessed with God and religion. Coming from a very conservative family, Maria feels helpless most of the time, struggling against the fear of sin and brainwashed by her merciless unloving mother and the town’s priest, Father Weber. While preparing to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, Maria is getting more and more obsessed with the idea of sacrificing her life for God to save her 4 year-old little brother who suffers from a mysterious disease. After start talking with Christian, a schoolmate who has a crush on her, Maria seems to vacillate in her intentions, giving signs of wanting to relate with outside people. As her mother denies her any type of affection and castrates her even more, Maria tries to extend her arms to Bernadette, a French friend of the family, who gave her the protection, trust and understanding that she couldn’t find in her real mother. However, and after getting seriously ill, not even a very concerned doctor seems capable to deviate the tormented young girl from her ordeal. We can glimpse a hint of the psychological strength of Haneke and Ulrich Seidl’s cinema, but never too intense to shock directly with its meticulous scenes and dialogues. Saint or not, the truth is that Lea van Acken’s performance was convincing, and the long shots of “Stations of the Cross” invites us to a sort of bitter commiseration.

Two Mothers (2013)

Two Mothers (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Anne Zohra Berrached
Country: Germany

Movie Review: “Two Mothers” is a lukewarm drama about a lesbian married couple, Katja and Isabella, who decided to have a child in Germany, a country that imposes so many legal issues, high fees and other obstacles in a very difficult process. They agreed to find a sperm donor (long part of the film relies in this aspect) but not a father, so they can educate the child without any exterior interference. The more reputable insemination clinics refuse to accept them and the treatments in minor clinics, besides too much expensive for their income, are not working out. The frustration led them to check sperm donors online, where they find their last hope: Flo, a man with already twenty children. The script shows potential but the film, not so fluid, could have been so much better executed. Set up with an unattractive light and dismal colors, “Two Mothers” counts with capable performances by Karina Plachetka and Sabine Wolf, and has the subject matter as the more interesting aspect. It was a pity that the debutant director and screenwriter, Anne Zohra Berrached, didn’t have hands to handle the story in a more absorbing way. The detachment that slowly occurs between the couple feels real and shows that Berrached knows how to extract something from the performances. However, the technical side wasn’t so strong, resulting in a deterioration of the final result. The director was awarded at Berlin Film Festival, while the two main actresses received a special mention at Potsdam Sehsüchte.

F*ck You, Goethe (2013)

F*ck You, Goethe (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Bora Dagtekin
Country: Germany

Movie Review: With a fast pace and presented with flamboyant colors, but also too forced and exaggerated to be sufficiently consistent, “F*ck You, Goethe” promised a lot in the first minutes but degenerates in uneven situations after a short period. Zeki Miller (Elyas M’Barek) is an impolite, inconsiderate, and uneducated ex-con who applies for a vacant position of janitor in Goethe School but ends up as substitute teacher. Without any interest in the job, Zeki just wants to have access to the new gym of the school, constructed precisely where his prostitute friend had buried his bag of money at the time he was arrested. Quarrelsome and impatient, Zeki will impose some respect to the rebel students by making their life a living hell, on the contrary of his colleague Lisi (Karoline Herfurth) who was born to be a teacher but doesn’t have strength to control the constant pranks of the kids. As expected, and as the film approaches its end, Zeki and Lisi help the kids finding their own way of expression, becoming ‘cool’ teachers, while true romance is inevitable. Some jokes and situations that were supposed to be funny didn’t achieve their purposes (the whimpers are so stupid that drove me nuts), while some others, despite tolerable, can be considered polemic (references to Nazism, prostitution and drug dealing). The second feature film from Turkish-German director Bogda Dagtekan, creator of TV series “Turkish for Beginners”, is a teen movie for adults with so much of ridicule that has the same effect as fast food: my stomach can’t tolerate it anymore.

The Physician (2013)

The Physician (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Philipp Stolzl
Country: Germany

Movie Review: Set in 11th Century, “The Physician”, is a German film in English-language based on Noah Gordon’s novel with the same name. However, the adaptation made by Jan Berger didn’t make justice to the book, a hit in Europe, leaving this epic adventure a few miles away from the original story. It starts in England, where the smart young orphan Rob Cole becomes apprentice of an uproarious barber surgeon who applies primitive and painful methods for treatment. When the latter almost gets blind due to cataracts, he agrees to be operated by Jews who brought sophisticated techniques from Isfahan. With an enormous will for learning more, Cole will disguise himself of Jew (since no Catholics are allowed) and travel to Persia to study with the great Ibn Sina, the biggest reference in medicine. Guided by his God and a sixth sense, nothing hampers Cole towards his triumphant discovers. The scenarios and settings reflect well the conditions lived in each place – England was depicted with fog, somber, and misery, while in Persia we can see sunlight, abundance and knowledge. Indeed, the plot showed not to be in the same level as some of its technical aspects such as production and costume design. Helmer Philipp Stolzl created an atmosphere taken from “Prince of Persia”, “Alladin” and “Sinbad”, but the course of the story becomes uneven and the film struggles in its middle part to maintain the vivacity of the first half-hour. Slightly entertaining but highly clichéd, “The Physician” might please inattentive fans of adventure genre, but wasn’t solid enough to be recommended without considerable reservations.

Two Lives (2012)

Two Lives (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Georg Maas
Country: Germany / Norway

Movie Review: Germany’s submission for the 86th Academy Awards, “Two Lives” is the second fictional feature by Georg Maas, focusing in the story of Katrine Evensen-Myrtal, an evasive yet affecting Norwegian-German woman who dedicates herself to her husband, daughter, and mother. The place is Bergen, Norway, and the year is 1990, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Katrine (Juliane Kohler) and her mother, Ase (Liv Ullman, former Ingmar Bergman’s muse), were victims of the famous Nazi program known as Lebensborn, being the unique case that both mother and daughter were found. A young lawyer is trying to persuade them to testify in court against Norwegian Government for having cooperated with the Germans. By refusing to testify in the case, Katrine will call the attention for her secret past as Stasi agent, compromising the happiness and stability of her family life. “Two lives” was well structured, as well as visually representative of the time and place where the story occurs. There were occasions where a narrative impasse was noticeable, with the revelations near the end becoming very welcome in a time where impatience seemed to start taking care of me. Gladly, the interest and satisfaction increased as the story proceeded to its sad conclusions. Performances were extremely credible, in a sober thriller that exposes the discomfiture of seeing dark secrets exposed to the ones we truly love.