Family Relationships And Power Relations

in 32nd Schwerin Film Festival

by Sandy Kolbuch

The Filmkunstfest Mecklenburg-Vorpommern takes place in Schwerin in year. Now in its 32nd edition, the festival has four competitions (feature, documentary, kids and short films). Most of the invited guests are accommodated at the IntercityHotel next to the main train station. Every day, at breakfast or on the short walk to the Capitol cinema, you might run into the filmmakers whose films were shown in the competition, other jury members or someone from the always friendly and cheerful festival staff, who make sure that the entire event runs smoothly at all times. This creates a warm and benevolent atmosphere in which everyone meets at eye level and networking is made easy.

This year’s feature film competition included ten films. The first one on show was Clara Stern’s Breaking the Ice (2022) about an ice hockey player called Mira, who struggles to find her own identity in between her role as the captain of her team and helping her mother and grandfather to cultivate a vineyard. The German-Argentinian co-production Adiós Buenos Aires (2023) that followed centred around bandoneon player Julio, who sees no future for himself in his home country due to the economic crisis and wants to emigrate to Germany in hope of a better life.

The festivals opening film was Schlamassel (2023) by director Sylke Enders. The premier was attended by members of the film crew, including producers Anja Wedell and Roman Avianus as well as the cast members Lore Stefanek, Margarethe Tiesel, Lina Wendel and Michaela Caspar. The film takes place in 1997, eight years after the fall of the Berlin wall. When the grandmother of local journalist Johanna dies and the family is at odds over the inheritance, the young woman comes across a photo of a former concentration camp guard. As she follows the story behind the picture, she has to deal with her own problems.

Other competition titles included Bones and Names (Knochen und Namen, 2023) by and with Fabian Stumm, which centres around the romance between actor Boris and writer Jonathan and describes their relationships with individual family members, as well as Chris Raiber’s poetic urban drama First Snow of Summer (Sterne unter der Stadt, 2023) from Austria. The film tells the story of Alexander, who lives with his grandmother and vows never to fall in love until he meets Caro. Then, there was The Hawk (Der Onkel, 2022) by directors Helmut Köpping and Michael Ostrowski, who also plays the leading role in the film. When his brother is in a coma, a good-for-nothing settles in with his family. His sister-in-law and ex-lover, played by Anke Engelke, is torn between scepticism and flaring feelings.

In the Swiss production Retreat (Réduit, 2023) by Leon Schwitter a father and son go on trip to a lonely mountain hut, where they must stay longer than originally planned, while Ronald Vietz’ Ernesto’s Island (2022) tells the story of cynic Matthias, who leaves his luxurious single life in Berlin behind as he follows his mother’s last wish to scatter her ashes in Cuba.

The last two films in competition were Max Gleschinski’s Alaska (2023) which tells the story of two very different women on their journey across the Mecklenburg Lake District, and Dito Tsintsadze’s thriller comedy Roxy (2022) about a taxi driver, who one day has to drive a group of Russians with their attack dog in his car. When this results in a permanent commitment, his lifestyle changes rapidly.

Despite their different designs and approaches, all titles had a family theme. Conflicts, discrepancies and power relations between the generations could be discovered across the board. However, the film that convinced the FIPRESCI jury the most was Schwitters Retreat. The 82-minute drama focuses on a few elements of action while forces of nature take over the soundtrack so that not many words are needed. The film does not only handle the father-son relationship with great care, but also has a beautiful, precise and concentrated visual language.

When Michael (with a recognizable toughness, Peter Hottinger), who lives separated from his family, and his son Benny (initially childish, later outgrowing himself, Dorian Heiniger) set off for a holiday in the mountains together, the film reveals the free nature of human life. On the big screen, the forest seems almost infinite in its dimension. In the middle of the majestic mountains and the dense forest there is the simple, lonely mountain hut. Although equipped with running water and electricity, it offers little luxury. A simple canned meal is quickly prepared while the small fireplace keeps father and son warm. In the middle of the forest, Benny learns the essential things in life from his father. Building a bow and arrow, collecting berries and playing games bring them closer together, and allow the viewer to share their intimate bond. But appearances are deceptive.

As time passes and Benny’s return home to his mother is imminent, the father finds it visibly difficult to say goodbye. He persuades his son to extend the trip together. But two days turn into three and the father’s willingness to return to a civilized society dwindles rapidly. After their mobile phone breaks during a shooting practice, father and son are cut off from the rest of the world. Michael ignores Benny’s wish to go home. Instead, the father tries to win over his son by forcing upon him a self-sufficient life in the forest. When Benny resists, the father becomes violent and the former home retreat becomes a trap for him.

Benny’s attempt to escape from his father ends behind closed doors, locked up for days, if not weeks. A cold silence falls over their broken relationship. When his father gets ill, Benny finally sees a chance to escape. But then, he decides to come back. However, this time their roles have been reversed. As days go by, Benny’s childish nature has outgrown: He takes responsibility, cares for the sick father and shows him that he is now dependent on his child. Though the film ends with hope, the outcome remains open and leaves a lot of room for interpretation.


Sandy Kolbuch
Edited by Pamela Jahn