As my previous post was on Norway, I should mention this German-Norwegian co-produced film, directed by Georg Maas, I saw last spring (French title: D’une vie à l’autre; in German: Zwei Leben) and that is mainly set in Norway (and is in Norwegian and German, with some English). Here’s the description from the review in Film Journal International
The film ingeniously blends two extraordinary and related chapters of 20th-century German history. One chapter is the Nazi’s Lebensborn program that paired SS officers and Aryan women (also from occupied countries later in the war), tasked to produce the “racially pure” babies for the Fatherland the Nazis envisioned. The second, more recent chapter concerns the East German (GDR) Stasi (State Security) exploitation of the then-grown children (the former illegitimate “Nazi brats”) and their records from the Lebensborn program that the Stasi used for their spying activities on both sides of the wall before it came down.
Two Lives, which uses frequent flashbacks to move its story across generations and countries, begins in 1990 when the Berlin Wall has just fallen and East Germany is no longer. Well, not quite, because Stasi archives have become available to the West and reveal new aspects of Communist history and spying. Among the scholars, government officials and legal noses combing the now-available files is reformist German-Norwegian lawyer Sven Solbach (Ken Duken).
In Norway on a now-peaceful home (even homey) front is Katrine (Juliane Köhler, star of Oscar-winner Nowhere in Africa and Downfall), also an issue of the Lebensborn program years before in Norway. But she was sent as a baby to Germany and raised in what was to become Communist East Germany where other “Nazi brats” ended up. But in 1990, Katrine, who has been reunited with her Norwegian mother Ase (Liv Ullmann), now enjoys a rich family life in Norway, where she lives in a quaint seaside town with her handsome and loving ship captain husband Bjarte (Sven Nordin), daughter Anne (Julia Bache-Wiig), and her mom. Ase, not exactly blameless, had, we are to believe, a relationship with a Nazi soldier in occupied Norway who fathered Katrine.
Katrine now has a successful graphic-design business and is in a lovely place (both geographically and spiritually) until Solbach comes into her life. A reformer at heart, he asks her and Ase to be witnesses in a case he champions against Norway in his effort to get reparations for war children like Katrine who were separated from their Norwegian mothers. Many of these children became stuck in what became East Germany, where travel to the West was forbidden.
But something’s rotten in the state of Norway and it’s not just the mysterious discovery of a woman’s body in the woods…
One may read the full review here (warning: it contains spoilers). It’s a good, engaging Cold War thriller—the pic was Germany’s submission for the 2014 best foreign film Oscar—and with solid acting—notably Juliane Köhler—, though I wasn’t sure how I felt about the ending. Mais c’est pas grave. I recommend it. Variety’s review is here, The Hollywood Reporter’s here, trailer is here.
In regard to the Cold War—and on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall last weekend—, there is a new, not bad German film, ‘West’ (German title: Westen; in France: De l’autre côté du mur), directed by Christian Schwochow, that I saw last month at Paris’s annual Féstival du cinéma allemand (call me an oddball but I saw six films at this over six days, all of which will be posted on at some point). The pic is set in Berlin in 1978, about a mid 30ish woman named Nelly (actress Jördis Triebel, who won the best actress prize at the 2014 German Film Awards for her role in this) who manages to smuggle herself across the Berlin Wall with her ten-year-old son Alexis (Tristan Göbel). But instead of finding immediate freedom in the West she is sent to a transit center in West Berlin, where defectors from the East remain until receiving residence and other permits from the authorities—including the Allied Forces, who were the supreme political authority in the city—, and that involves an interrogation gauntlet that can last months. Far from being welcomed with open arms, defectors were viewed with suspicion, as being possible Stasi agents whose flight from the East was enabled. And in Nelly’s case, there was added suspicion in view of her having cohabited with a Soviet/Russian scientist posted in East Berlin, the father of her son and who, three years earlier, she was told had been killed in an automobile accident while on a visit to Moscow (but was he really?). The interrogations here are mainly carried out by the Americans (the CIA operative, in an interesting casting choice, is played by the multilingual Franco-Burkinabé actor Jacky Ido). The climate of suspicion and distrust pervaded the transit center—some of whose residents had been there for over a year—, where almost everyone was suspected by everyone else of being a Stasi agent. And the psychose began to affect Nelly as well, who wanted to get the hell out of the center but was finding it complicated. As the poster below reads (in French), ‘West’ evokes ‘The Lives of Others’ and ‘Barbara‘ but skillfully differentiates itself from them. The film was supposed to have opened in the US last week but seems not to have. THR’s review is here, trailer is here.
Back to Scandinavia, I will briefly mention two Danish films seen in the past year. One was ‘Northwest’, directed by Michael Noer, which is a crime drama set in the mean streets of Copenhagen, or, more precisely, in its downscale multiethnic banlieue called Nordvest. It’s a well-done genre film of criminal gangs and the shit they do. One novelty in it—for a non-Dane comme moi at least—is seeing gang-bangers with names like Jamal and Ali trash-talking in colloquial Danish. So in the phantasms of Bat Ye’or & Co. (see previous post), these lowlife lumpens are the shock troops who will transform le vieux continent into Eurabia. GMAB. Reviews are here, here, and here, French reviews (mostly tops) are here. Trailer is here.
The other pic was ‘R’—just the letter—, co-directed by Michael Noer and Tobias Lindholm (who directed the very good ‘A Hijacking‘ and co-wrote the screenplay of the equally very good ‘The Hunt’). It opened in the US in 2011 but, for some reason, took three years to make it here. It’s a prison drama—set in the baddest penitentiary in the state of Denmark—, bearing a strong resemblance to Jacques Audiard’s 2009 ‘Un prophète‘. This one, while not quite on the same level as the aforementioned French chef d’œuvre, may be seen, though, in view of its violence and relentless bleakness, may also not be seen, particularly if one is looking for something more uplifting and/or entertaining. US reviews (generally good) are here, French reviews (mostly good, which is why I went to see it) are here, trailer is here.