September (1 1/2 Stars)


This has to be one of the most bizarre movies I have ever seen and I am quite disappointed by it, it is a German film and I normally enjoy German films but this one…I don’t know.

The film is about 4 families/relationships living and how their lives are effected by the 9/11 Terrorist attacks. It’s sort of a snap-shot in time into four families. There is not real storyline and there is no real progression through the film. There are just four stories that sort of meander through the film. It’s a film that leaves you with more unanswered questions rather than solutions and resolutions.

It reminds me a lot of Crash or Brooklyn’s Finest a meandering storyline that tries to be arty and I don’t know, maybe I am missing something, but I just don’t get them. I think this film was lost on me. I’m not a fan of the whole genre of films.

Four Minutes (3 Stars)


Four Minutes had an interesting enough storyline, an elderly woman, Traude Krueger (Monica Bleibtreu), is a piano teacher within a Women’s prison, uptake on the lessons is slow so the warden encourages her to find new students. One woman, Jenny Von Loeben (Hannah Herzsprung), with a severe attitude problem turns up and Traude refuses to let her play the piano. With this refusal, Jenny throws a fit of rage and nearly kills a prison warden, but she succeeds and is able to gain access to the piano – where she plays fantastically. Traude senses the Jenny’s talent and agrees to teach her. Traude begins to learn about Jenny and her life whilst together they try to nurture the girl’s talent and overcome her defence mechanism as they try for a prestigious music competition, where the young woman has just four minutes to prove her talent.

The film itself is a little slow, painfully slow in fact and whilst it is interesting I did feel that it’s lack of momentum failed to sustain my interest throughout the film. I don’t suppose the added situation of a very elderly cat, when is losing his marbles helped either. I would have to pause the film every 20 or so minutes to sort out one of his various demands (Food, Outside, Food, Outside, Entertainment, Sort out Confusion, More food…you get the idea). I guess this added level of distraction made the film drag on even longer, which I don’t think was the films fault.

Whilst Bleibtreu and Herzsprung gave gifted performances, I think a lack of script failed to develop this into a true winner of a film, which is a pity.

Stalingrad (5 Stars)


If I was perhaps a bit annoyed about Before the Fall for its atypical portrayal of students, Stalingrad was an excellent choice to counteract that.

Stalingrad is a portrayal of one army division as they are transferred from Italy to the Eastern Front. In the first world war, the Eastern Front had been rather successful for the German army. Although they had initial assessed that the Russian Empire would fall within six weeks of attack, it actually took 3 years, the German army was able to knock out the Empire and end the Russian involvement in the war by 1917.

The second time, Germany attacked the now Soviet Union initially went very well. Causalities were three times higher for the Soviets than they were for the Germans. But with the onset of Winter, the tables started to turn for the Germans and by the time the Battle of Stalingrad had ended, Germany had been dealt it’s first major military defeat.

This film tells a very realistic story of what it was like to be a German soldier during that catestrophic loss. I don’t really want to speak much about the film because I don’t want to form any opinions that could influence someone watching it.

The only thing I do want to say is put it on your must seen movies list. If you don’t have a list. Make one.

My only gripe is not so much the film but the dubbing. I use to always watch films dubbed and I use to prefer it. Now I have been learning German I have started to watch a lot more German films, the majority of which are not dubbed. I also watch documentaries and primary footage that is usually subtitled but rather dubbed. All I can say now is I HATE watching dubbed movies. I much prefer reading them.

Before the Fall (4 Stars)


1942, Friedrich Weimar (Max Riemelt) an ordinary nobody and son of a factory worker boxes impresses a teacher for a National Political Academy (NaPolA); an elite Hitler boarding School where graduation ensures a successful future in the Third Reich and no doubt a glittering career. and gets an interview. A dream come true for Friedrich.

This is a coming of age story during the Third Reich. The ‘correct’ way to come of age would be to succeed within the school and become a machine-soldier, perfect for the Fatherland, obey, follow and fight.

Three boys stand out. Siegfried (Martin Goeres) from the start is seen as unworthy of being an elite member of society. Albrecht (Tom Shilling) is the son of an elite member, sent to a prestige school to follow in his father’s footsteps, and given a easy-ride through the school. Friedrich, the perhaps the most roughest rock to be beaten and shaped into a Nazi elite diamond.

This is a great film, that makes you believe that resistance and defiance was rampant through the ranks, that not everyone was brainwashed and willingly followed extreme propaganda designed to make those seen as non-Aryan as criminals and filth not worth living. This film tells a story that is untypical story. In a similar way to Schindler’s List tells an untypical story. It’s a great story, a boy faced with a decision stands up and rebels – but it is not the real story. The real story is the story of the other boys, as the other caption puts it. The some 15,000 boys who successfully past through the school full of the ideology of hate and went to spread the message of hate. This film is great for showing that the system didn’t always work, but it did work, really well.

Free Fall (3 1/2 Stars)

This film is currently on Netflix (Amazon). Marc Borgmann is following in the footsteps of his father and becoming a police officer. He’s living the dream when his pregnant gilfriend moves in with him and they begin setting up home for the arrival of their child. Only whilst at the academy a fellow trainee, Kay Engel and Marc begin to develop a friendship, which quickly changes when Kay, who is gay makes an advance on Marc. Marc at first rejects Kay, but his feelings begin to turn. Conflicted Marc begins to struggle with his love for his girlfriend and unborn child and his love for Kay and it’s implications.

This has received quite negative ratings and only grossed just under $600,000, I’m not sure why because I think it is a good film. I thought the storyline was better than the recent Doctor Forster which has been on the BBC and somehow seemed more realistic than the BBC. Maybe that was become Doctor Forster was so much more of a drama, and I was very much away I was watching tv. This film was much more subtle and to me reflected more of a fly on the wall documentary style drama and much more realistic than Doctor Forster.

Berlin 36 (3 1/2 Stars)

Currently available on Netflix (Amazon). Berlin 36 is a fictional story based on the real life story of Gretel Bergmann (Karoline Herfurth) and Dora Ratjen (known as Marie Ketteler, played be Sebastian Urzendowsky).

The 1936 Berlin Olympics is approaching and the Americans increasingly unhappy about the treatment of Jewish citizens in Germany and their ban from competing within the Olympic Games have threatened to boycott the games. In order to ensure America come to the Olympics Gretel Bergmann, one of the top female high jumpers is recalled from Britain to complete in the Olympics for Germany. The only problem, Gretel had fled Germany to go to Britain to escape Nazi persecution because of her religion. Now with the threat that her family who remain in Germany, Gretel must return and complete.

Whilst I admire the Americans efforts in suggesting a boycott if Jews are not allowed to complete, I really like seeing the reverse side of that decision. Although it was a noble effort by the Americans, you cannot help but feel for Gretel who must return from security to return to her homeland that has declared she is no longer a German citizen to compete for the glory of a fatherland she is not allowed to belong to. It must have been absolutely terrifying.

Equally heartbreaking if the story of Marie or Dora as she was really known, who for different reasons than Gretel is a prawn in a Nazi game which she’s little benefit for her.

Hannah Arendt (4 Stars)

This film is currently available on Netflix in the UK, you can watch it here (or get it here on Amazon).

I was struggling with this film a little bit – I didn’t know whether to place it at 3 1/2 stars or 4; the last thirty minutes really were really good so I cemented that it should be given 4 stars.

As a historian I struggle sometimes with films about historical events, particularly the Holocaust as that is one of my fields of interest. I like the idea of a film because it is able to give a voice to an idea or a subject and that voice can be transmitted to a wider audience than perhaps a book. Take for example the film, The Grey Zone. The title comes from a chapter from Primo Levi’s The Drowned and The Saved, and it challenges the idea the Holcocaust was or still is seen as a black vs. white. Good vs. Evil. Bad Nazi vs. Innocent Jew. He argues history doesn’t like a narrative that doesn’t fit into this black and white morality; but what happens when it’s not clear cut…there were Jews who collaborated with the Nazis…and thus they enter a grey zone – they are not innocent victims nor are they Bad nazis. Levi argues that he cannot judge these people, he was a survivor of the Holocaust and he said I cannot judge a fellow Jew for making the decision to prolong their live, even if it was only for a few months. I like that film The Grey Zone brought this argument to a wider audience, this idea that you cannot see the Holocaust as a purely black or white phenomena, however the problem with the film is that I think it forces the viewer to judge the Jews portrayed within the film and then forces you to change that view. Whilst that is good because it gets you thinking and challenges you, I still can’t help but think the original spirit of The Grey Zone has been lost with the film.

Oh this occasion though I learn more on the idea that this historical film was good because it portrays a great female writer who is perhaps not given as greater credit as she deserves. The film is set in the 1960s and is about Hannah Arendt. Hannah Arendt was a German-Jew who fled to Paris in 1933 after the Nazis came to power. Under German occupation of France, Arendt was sent to Gurs internment camp – where she was able to escape to America. In 1951 she published her first great work, The Origins of Totalitarianism – a book which has ranked highly on several top 100 books. Eight years later she became the first female lecturer at Princeton. This was a woman who was writing remarkable work at a time when Arendt was the wrong gender in academia. I think it’s important to recognise her achievements for her own right, but also to recognise that she did this at a time when a woman’s role was seen in the kitchen. Today, we see the 1960s as the beginning of a sexual revolution and the growth of gender equality, and whilst we can point the origins to there it was not an overnight magic wand that improved gender equality.

The film centres around the Adolf Eichmann trial, Arendt’s coverage of it and her subsequent publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. This film helps to highlight some of the controversy surrounding her publication, not least because the book was seen as sympathic to Eichmann and particularly damning towards Israel, but also about some Jewish leaders, particularly those that were seen in league or collaborating with the Third Reich.

Whilst I agree with Levi’s argument that people cannot judge Jews who collaborated with the Nazis in order to prolong their lives, or save as many Jews as possible. I also admire and agree with Arendt. Whilst everyone was arguing Eichmann was a monster, Arendt disagreed and said he was just a man obeying the law, a normal bureaucrat doing a job. In some regards that is very true, what happens when the political system is geared towards the mass extermination of Jews. Do you do you job and follow that system, like a soldier obeying orders…or do say this breaks an international morale code, even if it didn’t break an international code until after the war. I like also that Arendt was not afraid to criticise Jewish collaborators and see all Jews as this Innocent Jew label and she addressed this murky grey zone which exists.

Whilst she is not without controversy and I do agree with some of the critique against her I can draw a parallel with an argument I made with the Historikerstreit. The Historian’s quarrel to give it it’s English name was a debate in the late 1980s in West Germany about the crimes of Nazi Germany. Reading the original article that sparked the debate, I said it wasn’t as controversial now as it was at the time, because we’ve internalised the debate and gotten over the shock of it and reassessed our arguments. I drew a parallel in this argument to the writing of David Irving, who was convicted in Austria for Holocaust denial. Whilst I don’t agree with Irving’s work I do think his controversial work set us into a backlash to prove him wrong and helped us cement key ideas and go over the evidence and strengthen our argument – which is not a bad thing. History would be very boring if no one was brave enough to challenge the status quo and go with the same evidence and never question it. History is not black and white and it is always an interpretation – one that needs to be always challenged and questioned.

What I admire about Hannah Arendt is that she wasn’t afraid to leave her traumatic life events with her own experience with the Holocaust to one side and listen and really judge Eichmann’s trial and come up with a commentary that was different from what others were thinking and then not afraid to publish that argument. Even after the backlash it created. This film helps bring that idea to the forefront, which I think is a good thing.