New German Films (1990 - 2005)

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New German Films (1990 - 2005)

Postby A » Tue Apr 11, 2006 8:21 pm

Long time overdue, here's the german film thread that will concern itself with great films made in Germany from 1990 till 2005. I chose this timebracket, because not much attention has been given in or outside of Germany to the huge variety and quality of German films that have been made since the Unification. While in the 70s "New German Film" became known around the world and some of its directors were hailed like celebrities, the last fifteen years of filmmaking in Germany seem to have gone by unnoticed - hence giving the impression that there was nothing worth noticing.
This is as far from the truth as possible, as beside a huge mass-production of mainstream films, there have remained many artists at work whose output can be compared in terms of quality to that of any director working today. And besides the already established, there has emerged a wide variety of talented young filmmakers, comparable to the tendencies in other industrialist countries like Japan or South Korea. But it seems that as long as no label can be put on a country's output - no unifying tag, no "new wave" to be named - critics and filmfestivals tend to ignore them, focusing instead on more bankable regions, until another one comes along. Luckily, I don't get paid to write still another praise on the new Iranian cinema to remind even the most ignorant cineaste of what has been apparent for over 15 years now, but am instead free to focus on more important - which means ignored - issues. This thread is aiming to present such a neglected area.

I'm not a filmhistorian, and I'm also not the most knowledgable person when it comes to pointing out an evolution that has been taking place for over twenty years now, but after the supposed end of "New German Cinema" in the 80s (which btw. only included filmmakers from the western part of Germany) it has become apparent that if anything, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unifiying of Eastern and West Germany has fueled the creativity of most artists working with film, leading them to seek new ways to relate to this historical situation. Though it may have taken some time until these events could have led to a view that wasn't neither "West" nor "East". The early 90s in Germany were thus cinematically not a blooming landscape. Though creativity surely wasn't missing, money was, and it took some measures until things improved economically. But suffice to say that this wasn't too big an obstacle for the most determined filmmakers, many of which chose TV instead of cinema to be at least able to realize some projects. However the exact situation, the amalgamation of "eastern" and "western" talent soon led to some artistic highpoints, which I will try to present here in the future.

Beside commercial cinema that was overall going its usual course with ups and downs every few years (the last years seem to indicate an up again), there remained filmmakers with their own personal vision which paved the way for a new generation. Michael Klier, Dominik Graf, Heinz Emigholz, Rudolf Thome, Hartmut Bitomsky or Elfi Mikesch are some of those who inspired younger artists to respond either in similar or opposed attempts of their own. Not to mention older German filmmakers who had left a rich cinematic legacy after they had stopped working.
Some of the new talents are already beginning to get a reputation, others are still struggling. To list a few names (only a selection): Achim von Borries, Tom Tykwer, Michael Hofmann, Sren Voigt, Phillip Grning, Hans-Christian Schmid, Angela Schanelec, Christoph Schlingensief, Thomas Arslan, Ulrich Khler, Benjamin Quabeck, Valeska Griesebach, Matthias X. Oberg, Andreas Dresen.

I have limited myself to the years 1990 - 2005, because I think that newer films will have it much easier, because a change of attitude has also become apparent. Films from Germany have started to tour the festival circuit more frequently during the last few years, and have garnered some awards and attention. And when the "Cahiers du Cinema" critics focused their attention on a couple of films from Berlin in one of their issues some time ago, this also lead to a rethinking of the quality of German cinema among the more ignorant writers at home. I'm not sure though if I can be overtly enthusiastic about this, as I still think the (recent) past needs a reminder.
I realize that this write-up of mine is very selective and insufficient in describing even the basic processes which were taking place in the area of film during the last twenty years in Germany. But this isn't its aim or purpose. I'm neglecting most of the negative trends and effects here, because more than enough has already been said and written about this. Anybody interested can look up the publications and writings on this subject if he or she wants to (and if the German language doesn't present too big a challenge). What I want, is merely to point out a few films and directors who made great films in Germany which were for the most part ignored. I think it is as important to appreciate what is, as the pointing out of faults and that which could have been but is not. Sadly I have the strong feeling that most of the critic activity of the past years concerning films and filmmakers in Germany has been focused on the negative side. Here I will hopefully succeed in presenting a counter-balance, so that everybody complaining about German films and their quality will be able to sit down and watch some of the worthwhile products of this "maligned" period. And as it is said that some of the best products usually aren't appreciated in the homecountry...
I strongly wish that at least some of the recent great german films will be recognized and appreciated in the future. Or maybe now and here by you.

In the late 90s, I was as disappointed and bored by German movies as the regular audience and the more inattentive cinephiles whom I was slowly becoming a part of. German films were for me either bad comedies or heady history-lessons without much entertainment value (not to speak of any artistic aspirations). Thus my initial surprise was huge, when I saw something worthwhile for the first time. 23 (1998) directed by Hans-Christian Schmid, was not only a good film with a good script, direction, camerawork, editing and acting, but it was also entirely made in Germany by Germans. This ray of light was for me shortly after followed by a viewing of Oliver Hirschbiegel's Das Experiment (2000) - which I sadly still didn't get the opportunity to revisit. While a couple of years ago it had only taken me to see Takeshi Kitano's Hana-Bi (1997) on TV to get converted to Japanese and World Cinema, German films needed some more attempts to denounce my doubts. But the search for more buried treasures had begun.
The final and last change came when one day by accident, I saw Matthias X. Oberg's Unter der Milchstrae (1995). I had taped it from TV purely out of curiosity over the title (and the fact that Christiane Paul played in it), and it had already been lying on my shelf with other unseen films for quite some time when I decided to give it a chance. I haven't seen the film in years, but at that time, it had seemed to me one of the greatest films I had ever had the joy to experience. In my eyes it was on the same level as some other excellent films from 1995, like Dead Man, Xich lo, To vlemma tou Odyssea or Underground. When I'll revisit the film for this thread, I hope I will be as inspired by its second viewing as I was by the first.
After this event I had an incredible stroke of luck with subsequent German films, culminating around 2004 with my having been able to experience three masterpieces at the Cinema. Heinz Emigholz' Goff in der Wste (2003), Rudolf Thome's Frau fhrt, Mann schlft (2004), and Angela Schanelec's Marseille (2004).

Some other films that will be revisited and - if worth - presented here include:

Identity Kills (Sren Voigt / 2002)
Die Polizistin (Andreas Dresen / 2000)
Lichter (Hans-Christian Schmid / 2003)
Verrckt bleiben - verliebt bleiben (Elfi Mikesch / 1997)
Sophiiiie! (Michael Hofmann / 2002)
Bungalow (Ulrich Khler / 2002)
Der Felsen (Dominik Graf / 2001)
Verfehlung (Heiner Carow / 1991)
Die tdliche Maria (Tom Tykwer / 1993)
Nichts bereuen (Benjamin Quabeck / 2000)
England! (Achim von Borries / 2000)
Madrid (Daphne Charizani / 2002)

I'm sure there will also appear some other unknown films which I too will be seeing for the first time. Along with the reviewed films, I'll try to give as much information as possible on the availability and content of a DVD or Video edition.

The beginning is going to make another revisit, L'amour, l'argent l'amour by Phillip Grning, which began production in 1996 but was finished as late as 2000.

Re: New German Films (1990 - 2005)

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Apr 12, 2006 1:12 am

Nice job, A! Looking forward to reading more about some of these films. Angela Schanelec's Marseille especially sounds intriguing. Btw, if you like, I can cover Schmid's Lichter for you.

Re: New German Films (1990 - 2005)

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Apr 12, 2006 4:06 am

Also, your article seems to have re-inspired me. I'm reviewing a new German film which I'm not sure if you've seen but I liked it quite a bit.

Re: New German Films (1990 - 2005)

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Apr 12, 2006 4:07 am


*A 2006 U.S. Release*

Shot on video, Maren Ade's striking debut feature, The Forest for the Trees ( Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen), is an acute and absorbing study of a human being on the verge of disintegrating both emotionally and psychologically. Eva Löbau plays Melanie Pröschle, a twentysomething school teacher who leaves her rural home and a longtime boyfriend to pursue better opportunities elsewhere. After landing a job in a suburban high-school, Melanie realizes that things aren't what she expected or wanted them to be. She not only has to deal with unwelcome advances from an older colleague, but her enthusiastic new teaching methods aren't honored by teachers and students alike, partly because she came in as a substitute halfway through the school term. Melanie's situation doesn't turn out to be much better on the domestic front: she tries to befriend her neighbor Tina (Daniela Holtz), who works at a boutique, but her intrusive methods and a lack of understanding of urban social codes gradually cause her to become alienated, not only from others but also from herself and reality in general.

Ade, 27, mostly shot The Forest for the Trees in her hometown of Karlsruhe, with guidance from her parents who are both school teachers. The film, which was her graduation project for Munich's film school, proves that she had developed a keen sense of the highs-and-lows associated with the profession before she went forward. And in accomplishing her task, she's certainly aided quite well by Löbau (winner of the Best Actress prize at the prestigious Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema in 2005), whose small, subtle mannerisms are capable enough to cause a ripple effect, yet they never detach her from exhibiting her inner humanity. Even if Ade isn't breaking any new ground with this film -- the likes of Antonioni and Tsai haven't left much for others to explore when it comes to modern urban alienation and its residual effects -- her vision still impresses, ultimately because she somehow bypasses the genre's pitfalls and finds a way to leave Melanie, and us, on a high.

Grade: B+

*THE FOREST FOR THE TREES has been to quite a few film festivals, including Hong Kong, Toronto and Sundance (it won the Special Jury prize there). The film didn't get a theatrical release in the U.S. but it was issued on DVD by Film Movement.

*It was part of my Secondary Best of '06 LIST.

Re: New German Films (1990 - 2005)

Postby trevor826 » Wed Apr 12, 2006 10:34 am

Great start to a truly neglected area of cinema A, can't wait to read more.

Cheers Trev.

Re: New German Films (1990 - 2005)

Postby A » Thu Apr 13, 2006 5:03 pm

Nice start arsaib.
I haven't seen the film yet, so also something new for me. Am looking forward to your comments on Lichter.
Anyone else who has seen german films from this period he or she liked, feel free to contribute.
I'll try to finish my piece on "L'amour" this week.

Re: New German Films (1990 - 2005)

Postby arsaib4 » Thu Apr 13, 2006 11:07 pm

Great! I'm anticipating good things from the very French sounding "L'amour."

Re: New German Films (1990 - 2005)

Postby A » Sun Apr 23, 2006 10:26 pm

Sorry for the delay, but I was absent for over a week, due to my moving out of Berlin. As of now, things are better I would say. At least I have a PC again, and daily access to the internet
So here's my review.

Re: New German Films (1990 - 2005)

Postby A » Sun Apr 23, 2006 10:30 pm

Lamour, l'argent, l'amour
Love, Money, Love (2000 / Germany, Switzerland, France / Philip Grning)

Marie and David. Two loners. Both living in Berlin, both in the 20s, and both with a crappy job. He a scrapyard worker, she a prostitute. Employment at its lowest, with no future in sight, the moment being all one can think of, all one has to think of. The lowest of the working class. At least she gets a bigger amount of money than he does, and she can work anyplace her kind is always wanted - and, even more important, there is no pimp in sight. So both are also self-employers in the worst of ways. What can come out of such a situation, such a constellation. A love story, probably a dedicated denouncement of society. Well, yes and no. What Grning offers us instead of a melodramatic and clich-ridden didactic play, is an essayistic and fragmented self-discovery trip towards inner freedom.

In her first acting role, Sabine Timoteo plays the seemingly self-assured but emotionaly troubled Marie who gets teased out of her shell through an insistent and sensitive human being, played by newcomer Florian Stetter. Though amateur actors, both give incredible performances, once again proving the importance of a talented director who brings the best out of both. Especially Timoteo, who delivers a performance that isnt easy to stomach. Alongside other awards she deservedly won the Bronze Leopard for Best Actress at the 2000 Locarno Film festival. Besides the fabulous actors there is the remarkable camerawork of Sophie Maintigneux, who is maybe best remembered for her work on Eric Rohmers The Green Ray. She uses the 1:2.35 widescreen format not in a static way as one could expect, but is always on the move, generating an equivalent to the characters inner unrest and giving the feeling of being on the road, always searching for something that keeps slipping out of reach.

When Marie runs into David during her working hours on the street both instantly fall in love. But as the characters themselves, Grning keeps the viewer in an uncertainty regarding their feelings or motivations. Following a night after which David proposes that they both go on a trip, together, towards the sea the displacement of the characters becomes also more obvious. They dont seem to fit in their environment, while merging ceaselessly with it. The locations keep changing, while the situations keep repeating themselves. After Marie has thrown David out of her apartment in the morning after both spent the night together, he visits her on the street. She seems both pleased and disturbed by his presence, once more rushing him off. A few days later it is she who storms into his apartment, finally starting the trip that will change both lifes forever. The game soon gets repetitive. New town, new people, new problems. Money, carelessly spent on the way has to be earned in a hard way. It doesnt help much that in the course of the film David gets both arms broken. Soon Marie has to start working again, employing David as her pimp. But while Marie is more or less resistent to the luxuries money has to offer, she seems the whole film obsessed by it. For her it is some kind of fetish, an object that in represents all she is capable of achieving in a materialistic world. David on the other side, at first concerned about every cent, becomes less and less reluctant in spending it. Additionally there is the problem of physical contact. While both seem spiritually connected from the beginning, any physical or sexual contact that isnt alienated from ones feelings becomes a huge obstacle for Marie to overcome. They fight, split, reconcile, fight again, all the time victims of their surroundings and a system that keeps them locked and is supportive of their problems. But as the title suggest, in the end love overcomes all obstacles. Deprived of their car and their belongings, they are stranded at a forlorn seacost, where Marie finally regains her hope. She burns the remaining money and admits her love to David. What is left is the sea and the sky, and the changing of tides in the neverending flow of time.

The person in charge of the whole operation is clearly Philip Grning. Besides directing and producing, he also edited the film, wrote the script and sometimes even did the camerawork . An auteur in the best sense, Grning nevertheless doesnt try to impose any personal style on the film, that keeps unfolding in a most natural way, seemingly born out of itself. The characters and the locations all exist in their own right, never giving the impression of a forced or ego-driven project. Fast-paced as the film appears, viewers might by irritated that the same director is also responsible for the three hour meditation about life and spirituality Into Great Silence that keeps touring the festival-circuit after having won The special jury Prize at last years Sundance Film festival. All the more credit to Philip Grning for letting each film determine its own rhythm. Like Kurt, the dog David and Marie take with them everywhere they go, the very flexible camera follows each and every step of the protagonists, registering banal as well as intimate moments. Grning is always the perfect observer. Never judging, never preaching, always showing. The love, the hate, the desperation, the alienation, the people, the landscape, coldness and warmth, sometimes from afar, and sometimes so near that it hurts. The shots presented are at once immediate and allegorical, the daily events gaining an importance and relevance that also transcends them. Out of the monotoneous repetition grows an awareness for the realities that cannot be grasped easily, cannot be categorized. If you only engage with it. Same goes for the viewers of this film. You wont get any answers, but if you observe closely you might start giving them to yourself.

Featuring an eclectical mix of music, from Calixico and Snowpatrol over The Velvet Underground to Bob Dylan and even Mozart, the whole film can also be seen as a long fugue, an ode to life, and to its basic principles. Everything changes, everything is constantly in movement. And what can keep the whole together and offer some kind of sense could be love for those who are able to find it.


I watched the film on a Region 2 DVD under the shorter title Lamour. Released in Germany by the company Epix it has german, english and french subtitles. Picture format is 1: 2.35, running time 124 min, and the audio track is optionally stereo or dolby digital 5.1.
Extras are very extensive and include amongst others an alternative ending (c. 30 min), Interviews with the director, Behind the scenes, deleted scenes, the original treatment of the film, and the short film Sehnsucht by Tobias Mller.
You can get the film at the German Amazon site (just type in, and search in the DVD section to find it)

Re: New German Films (1990 - 2005)

Postby arsaib4 » Mon Apr 24, 2006 4:20 am

Thanks for the review and the link. I'm pleasantly surprised to learn about the subtitle options. What about the extras; are they also subtitled?

L'Amour is also available here. This site is better suited for foreigners (click on the appropriate flag at the top). Shipping charges from German sites are quite a deterrent though.


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