German cinema is often disregarded when good films are being suggested, and it rarely gets much recognition on the international stage. Here are some films in German, well worth your consideration. They will have subtitles, and I urge you not to switch them off, and watch an inferior, dubbed version instead. I won’t be responsible if you do!
Fear eats the soul. This 1974 film, directed by Rainer Fassbinder, tackles not one, but two taboo subjects. The love of an older woman, for a much younger man, and the inter-racial aspect that he is an Arab. The reaction of the family is much as you might expect, and the whole storyline is set against a background of increased immigration into Germany at that time. What makes the film stand out for me, is the central performance of the lead actress, Brigitte Mira. This dowdy, middle-aged lady delivers a magnificent performance, as the woman who is prepared to give up everything for the chance of happiness. Here is a trailer, with subtitles.
The Lives of Others. This 2006 film is distinguished by winning both The Oscar and Bafta for best foreign film, as well as numerous other prestigious awards. Set during the repressive regime in the former East Germany (DDR), it concentrates on the obsession developed by a secret policeman, for one of the subjects of his surveillance. The lead actor, Ulrich Muhe, gives a mesmerising performance of restrained intensity, that is riveting to watch. It really is almost completely flawless as a film, and one of my all-time favourites. This is the official American cinema trailer.
The marriage of Maria Braun. Another Fassbinder film, this time from 1979. Set during the last days of World War Two, Maria has been waiting in vain for the return of her husband, who she was only with for one night, before he left to go to the war. She believes him to be missing, or dead, and tries her best to survive, with the terrible shortages, and the eventual arrival of the American occupation forces. Again notable for the lead actress, the incredibly sexy and captivating Hanna Schygulla, at the peak of her career. Here is the German trailer.
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. This 1974 film was directed by Werner Herzog, and starred the strange actor Bruno S, who died in 2010. He had a difficult background, spending time in mental institutions, and this is apparent in his style of acting. This casting was perfect for the role of Kaspar, an unusual man, able to say only one phrase, which he repeats constantly; abandoned as a child, held prisoner in a shed, and eventually let out into the world as a child-like adult. He is taken in by the local community, and becomes the ward of a kindly scholar, who helps him, and gives him an education. The film is set in 1828, and is supposedly based on a true story about just such a person. Worth watching for Bruno S alone, though the other performances are well rendered too. This subtitled clip is a joy, as Kaspar discusses logic.
Stalingrad. Make sure you get the 1993 version, and also make sure that it is not dubbed. This war film focuses on one unit, sent from a relaxing posting on the Italian coast, into the hell of war that was the battle for Stalingrad. It is unusual to see a war film from the German perspective, and all the more refreshing for that change. This film has it all, though only for fans of the genre. The action scenes are relentless and breathtaking, and the weapons and uniforms are all unusually authentic, and convincing. There are no star players, at least none easily recognisable to non-German viewers, so it is much easier to believe in the characters. The cast, whether playing German or Russian troops, are all excellent, and many war film cliches are avoided, or at least minimised. If you like war films, and have never seen this one, don’t let it pass you by. This is a clip in German. Don’t let that put you off, the battle scene speaks for itself.
So there you are. Five film recommendations to start you off; a chance to explore a part of European Cinema you may never have considered. There are many more to come, so if this sort of thing doesn’t interest you, best avoid it.