Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2011 German Gems

I made it to the Castro Theater on the Saturday night of German Gems to watch two films.

The Architect starring Josef Bierbichler & Hilde van Mieghem; German with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website
She Deserved It starring Veronika Ferres; directed by Thomas Stiller; German with subtitles; (2008)


Josef Bierbichler (The White Ribbon) stars as Georg Winter, the eponymous architect. He seems grumpy and alcoholic as the film opens. His life seems quite comfortable - well paid architect, nice looking wife, two kids in college, etc. When he receives word that his mother has died, he becomes morose at the thought of returning to the small town he grew up in. His spirits are worsened when his wife and children accompany him.

As they arrive in town, the tension is thick. Georg has unresolved issues towards his late mother and some of the townsfolk. In addition, his wife is the nagging sort, his son is unfocused in his studies and his daughter seems lost in the world. Petty arguments and recriminations amongst the family become the norm until a bombshell is dropped. Georg father a child to one of the townfolk while married to Eva. After that, the family literally goes their separate ways.

It seems that sexual tension was foremost in the director's mind. Everyone seemed to has latent issues...even hinting at incest between Georg and Reh, his daughter and Reh and her brother. A scene that struck me as amazing was set in the bathroom. George, Eva (his wife) and Reh run naked in the German snow. Upon returning to the house, the three of them congregate in the bathroom. Reh takes a shower with an open shower curtain, Eva is nude while drying off with the towel, Georg is shaving and the son comes into urinate. They continue their conversation as if it were quite normal. Maybe my American prudishness is showing but for me, that scenes encapsulates the family and their dysfunction.

Actually, there was another seen which was bizarrely fascinating. Jan, the brother expresses his overall frustration to his sister. She asks if he was to "kick her heels." I thought the line was mis-translated or perhaps a literal translation for some German slang. I was wrong, it was meant literally. That is weird enough but the director framed the shot as if the brother was having sex with his sister from behind, the rhythmic pounding suggesting coitus...until the camera panned down to their feet.

Despite the incestuous overtones and fetishes, I found the film engaging and wondered if such a film is considered odd by German standards. I suspect it would have little chance of any release in the US. There were nice performances by Josef Bierbichler (Georg) and Hilde van Mieghem (Eva).


Prior to She Deserved It, Festival Founder Ingrid Eggers announced that the director Thomas Stiller was not able to attend the screening. However, they had a family counselor in attendance who would speak to audience afterwards. This elicited a few laughs (including myself) but Eggers was dead serious; both in the presence of a therapist and the need of therapy by the audience.

The film, which was a TV movie in Germany, was a heavy-handed but effective tragedy based on a true story. Three teenagers (two girls and one boy) lured a female classmate to a secluded area and beat her to death because she was flirting with one of the girl's boyfriend. That's more than enough to build a film around. There are a number of subplots involving the ringleader, Linda (Liv Lisa Fries). Stiller let (or encouraged) Fries to play the role with an over-the-top fury that it is distracting. Her behavior is explained through the plot but Fries performance tried too hard for its own good. At one point, she and her band of delinquents take a walker away from an onld woman and taunt her. The scene played out very amateurishly.

More bizarre was the acquiescence of her conspirators - her best friend and her boyfriend. It was never explained why they would go along with such an act or even associate with such a dislikeable person such as Linda.

Linda, on the other hand, was a complex character. The dual victim of incest and a bullying and disbelieving mother, Linda finds some solace and tenderness in caring for her mentally retarded brother. Despite all her histrionics, Fries was able to evoke empathy from me towards Linda. Another aspect that Stiller and Fries did right was put Linda in a short haircut which made me think she was a teenage boy when I first saw her. This androgynous look matched up with Linda's rebellious behavior and provided a contrast for later in the film when she is in prison and lets her hair grow out. The vulnerability Fries displays in those scenes almost make up for overreaching performance at other times.

The four actors who played Linda's and Suzanne's (the victim) parents were outstanding in their roles. I believe the four actors were Martin Feifel, Veronica Ferres, Oliver Mommsen and Jule Ronstedt. Ferres and Ronstedt were particularly effective as the mothers of Linda and Suzanne, respectively. Linda's mother is domineering before the murder and defensive afterwards. Suzanne's mother didn't register with me prior to the murder but depression afterwards was deeply moving. The signature moment for me was when she brusquely nudged a puppy dog aside to get something out of the refrigerator. Later she and Linda have a very moving confrontation which exposes Linda's insecurities and the older woman's compassion.

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