New German Cinema: All Good

in 36th FilmFest Munich

by Peter Krausz

Having now attended the Munich Film Festival for the fifth time, it is quite apparent that German cinema is alive and well, with both emerging and more established filmmakers, bringing to the screen a rich diversity of ideas, styles and approaches. A key focus by the festival on new German cinema is an essential component of this finely curated film festival. Indeed, many filmmakers see an international audience in their films, including this year’s audacious musical drama “Mack The Knife: Brecht’s Threepenny Opera” (Mackie Messer: Brecht’s Dreigroschenfilm), directed by Joachim Lang, operating on several levels, as attempts are made in 1928-31 to film the play, portray the actual musical drama, and deal with the politics and social changes occurring in Germany at the time. This is superlative filmmaking and demonstrates a developing commercial trend with an art-house style, noting that these two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Our jury nominated three films out of the 16 in contention:

“Family Idiots” (Idioten der Familie), directed by Michael Klier, is a closely observed family drama set over a weekend, as three brothers and a sister decide the fate of their mentally challenged younger sister. Each of their back stories, concerns and personal issues emerge as they wrestle with the difficult decision of whether this young woman should be institutionalized to take care of her problematic behaviours or let her stay within the family set-up despite them all having their own futures possibly mapped out. The complex central social situation of the appropriate treatment of people with mental illness, as well as family responsibility, is deftly portrayed in this film, that has no easy solutions.

“Wackersdorf: Be Alert, Courageous And Solidaric”, directed by Oliver Haffner, is based on the real events associated with the 1981 decision by a local Bavarian community to stem rising unemployment in the region by secretly agreeing to construct a nuclear power plant. The state representative strongly supports the idea, until he sees the rising opposition by the community to the nuclearization of the area, and the forces at play that attempt to quell opposition in a decidedly violent way, with echoes to previous totalitarian rule in a country that has a history of conflict and control. The dramatization works cohesively and effectively to bring the actual events to the screen, and judiciously uses archival news footage of the time, adds to the gravitas of the story, and the broader implications of the situation. The allusion to what happened at Chernobyl at this time is palpable.
The winning film is “All Good” (Alles ist gut), directed by Eva Trobisch, a cleverly conceived drama, focusing on a woman’s circumstances that spiral out of control, when she experiences unwanted sexual attention from her boss’s brother-in-law. She is portrayed as an everything is fine sort of person, yet the ironic title indicates that indeed this is not the case. Her encounters with her partner, boss, friends and family, highlight someone who is trapped in a situation that requires quick decisions, which unfortunately lead to other personal consequences.

What makes this remarkably prescient film so successful, is the nature of the role women face in a contemporary society where male patriarchy is still an issue, and where also women experience a narrower range of options imposed by a society that is far from open and inclusive. This debut film by Trobisch, is written and directed with integrity, the ramifications of each decision credibly and dramatically portrayed, entreating the audience to reflect on how they would react after such a challenging set of events. The representation of the male protagonists accurately show that there is still an underlying discrimination against women in a supposedly progressive society. The universality of the story is redolent, within the carefully plotted narrative.

“All Good” indicates that German film schools are graduating high quality filmmakers, with a firm grasp of story structure and direction, and ensuring that the basis of effective filmmaking includes understanding and involving the audience in the process, which in turn is a key to a successful film. I always say that the core of any good film is a well-developed screenplay, and Trobisch here has very successfully demonstrated the fine art of cinema in the context of the history of finely presented cohesive filmmaking. Indeed, harking back to my original contention, German cinema is alive and well.

Peter Krausz