Based on John le Carré’s novel and set in Hamburg post 9/11, A Most Wanted Man is a superior anti-terrorism spy thriller as different agencies take an interest in an illegal Chechen Muslim migrant.
With new anti-terrorist agencies competing against traditional policing methods, head of unit Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote, Moneyball) needs to keep one step ahead, made the more urgent by the presence of a distrustful CIA agent, Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright – Wonder Woman, Moneyball). When Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin – Black Sea, Our Kind of Traitor), believed to be involved in some way in the laundering of money supporting terrorism, appears in Hamburg, all interested parties are placed on high alert.
The last serious film role before his untimely death, Hoffman gives a superbly subtle lead performance as he manipulates and cajoles behind the scenes, desperate to ensure Karpov’s safety in order to follow the money. With human rights lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams – Sherlock Holmes, Disobedience) in tow, an intricate jigsaw of a narrative unspools from director Anton Corbijn (Control, The American) – albeit a strangely cold, unemotional unspooling.
Mesmerising ambient and neo-classical sound from one of the greatest contemporary musicians around, Tripping With Nils Frahm is a wholly immersive concert experience filmed in the legendary Funkhaus Berlin.
Intimate in performance, soaring in sound, director Benoit Toulemonde (TV’s Une soirée de poche) perfectly captures the close-up of fingers caressing piano keys through to emotive, trance-like reverence of audience members. The music may not be to everyone’s taste, but sound and image are beautifully complemented in a sublime hypnosis of a 90 minute concert film.
Visceral and lyrical, the horror and inhumanity of trench warfare cruelly unfolds in this extraordinary adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s seminal anti-war novel.
Patriotic fervour sees four schoolboy friends lie to enlist in the German army. But they are quickly confronted by the brutality of life on the front as Ludwig is killed on their first day. As the narrative hones in on Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer in his film debut), the three are befriended by the older, seasoned Stanislaus ‘Kat’ Katczinsky (Albrecht Schuch – Berlin Alexanderplatz, Lieber Thomas). Bäumer and Kat become inseparable as the war ticks slowly by and negotiations begin by Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl – Rush, Woman in Gold) for a speedy armistice.
Perfectly capturing the chaos and futility of war, All Quiet on the Western Front, directed by Edward Berger (Jack, TV’s Deutschland 83), is a powerful sweep of history, a dour, deeply moving, visual excess of a feature. Bleak it is – bleak it needs to be.
Nominated for 9 Oscars in 2023 including best film, adapted screenplay, visual effects – won 4 for best foreign language film, cinematography, original score (Volker Bertelmann – Ammonite, Lion) and production design.
Uncomfortable viewing it may be but Downfall and the last days in the collapse of the Third Reich and suicide of Adolf Hitler is mesmerising as it is provocative.
Fear among the Nazi loyalists within the Berlin bunker increases as the Russian army moves closer to the city. Yet their Führer (an extraordinary Bruno Ganz – Wings of Desire, The Reader) initially refuses to consider defeat. Ordering counterattacks by non-existent regiments, accusing generals of treason, it becomes increasingly obvious that all is lost. As any attempt of a sense of normality within the bunker wanes, the decision is made to either flee or die via cyanide.
Claustrophobic, confronting, powerful, Oliver Hirschbiegel (13 Minutes, Five Minutes of Heaven) explores in microcosm the charm, manipulation and ultimate betrayal of Hitler. It’s a controversial approach but, in avoiding morbid fascination, Hirschbiegel portrays evil with a smiling face.
Nominated for best foreign language film Oscar in 2005.
A paean to the (then) divided city of Berlin, the langourously paced Wings of Desire gently and artfully questions mortality as angels watch over the people living their daily lives.
Shot in both colour and black and white, Damiel (Bruno Ganz – Downfall, The Party) yearns to return as a mortal, to experience sensory feelings of emotion and taste. Falling in love with a trapeze artist, Marion (Solveig Dommartin – Faraway So Close, S’en fout la mort), he and colleague Cassiel (Otto Sander – Faraway So Close, Rosa Luxemburg) visit others as observers, watching and guiding but never seen (except by children). A visiting American director (Peter Falk – TV’s Colombo – as himself) unable to see Damiel is fully aware of his presence.
Lyrical, sensory, atmospheric, with its ceaseless camera movement, this iconic European New Wave film of the 1980s from director Wim Wenders (Pina, Paris Texas) encapsulates the zeitgeist of the time. Featuring, among others, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Wings of Desire is a wordy poem to the mundane, a visual diary of the everyday as, like the angels, we overhear thoughts, hopes and aspirations.
Oscar-winning German film, The Lives of Others sees a hardline Stasi agent, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe – Schtonk!, Straight Shooter), become increasingly involved in the life of a successful theatre director under surveillance.
A seemingly too-good-to-be-true supporter of the regime, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch – Never Look Away, Bridge of Spies) falls under suspicion of the authorities. But Wiesler becomes increasingly aware that there are other, more personal reasons as to why Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme – Downfall, The Baader-Meinhof Complex) has placed Dreyman on the Stasi priority list.
In his first feature, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (Never Look Away, The Tourist) creates a claustrophobic tension within the confines of the world of 1980s surveillance. With its no-frills, dialogue-driven narrative, a believable scenario unfolds as time ticks away towards the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Winner of the 2007 Oscar for best foreign language film.
A dialogue-heavy adaptation of the bestselling novel by Robert Harris, Munich: the Edge of War ramps up the tension as British PM, Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons – Justice League, Dead Ringers) looks to avert war by travelling to Munich to meet with Hitler and Mussolini.
As negotiations begin, Chamberlain’s private secretary, Hugh Legat (George Mackay – 1917, Pride) has been tasked with making contact with former Oxford friend, Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewöhner – Jonathan, Je suis Karl). Working for the German government, Hartmann has a stolen document of significant interest in his possession.
Whilst the high-level talks between heads of government are well documented, the fictional espionage tale is a compelling cat and mouse as nothing goes quite to plan. Directed by Christian Schwochow (Deutschstunde, Je suis Karl), it’s an enjoyable if uptight and emotionally uninvolving narrative.
A quiet, understated love story with the tinge of a thriller, Jerichow is spare in its loose adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice as a dishonourably discharged Afghanistan veteran Thomas (Benno Fürmann – In Darkness, Farewell) returns to his home village of Jerichow in the former East Germany.
Offered work as a delivery driver, Thomas finds himself attracted to Laura (Nina Hoss – Barbara, Yella), wife of the boss (Hilmi Sözer – Brother & Sister, Die rote Zora). Games of power and trust slowly unfold as the ebb and flow of the narrative shift between the three.
Somewhat flat as a love triangle but more successful in its suspense, this early film sees director Christian Petzold explore the position of an outsider in isolated society, a theme he more successfully returns to in later films ((Phoenix, Barbara, Transit).
Adapted from a storyline within the novel The Dark Room by British writer Rachel Seiffert, Lore explores the impact politics and war has on ordinary, young lives.
As panic ensues with the Russian army moving into Germany, 14 year-old Lore (Saskia Rosendahl – Never Look Away, TV’s Berlin Babylon) is charged by her parents, senior members of the Nazi Party, with the safety of her four younger siblings. They must head north west and the relative safety of Hamburg and their grandparents. A country ravaged by war and faced with starvation, Lore must find a way to protect as she is confronted by the results of her parents beliefs – including needing the help of a young Jew (Kai-Peter Malina – The White Ribbon, Pilgrim) to travel cross-country.
An Australian/German coproduction directed by Cate Shortland (Somersault, Black Widow) and shot in German, Lore is a raw yet impressionistic gem of tension, fear and sensuality with a sublime soundtrack provided by Max Richter adding to the harrowing end of innocence.
A quiet drama set in 1980s East Germany finds a highly-placed Berlin doctor banished to a provincial hospital as punishment for applying for an exit visa.
Distrustful of those around her, Barbara (Nina Hoss – Yella, A Most Wanted Man) remains distant whilst plotting to defect. But, in spite of constant harassment by Stasi agents, Barbara’s values slowly change as she witnesses the commitment of the head of the clinic (Ronald Zehrfeld – The People vs Fritz Bauer, TV’s Babylon Berlin) to his work and the people around him.
A subtle telling by writer/director Christian Petzold (Transit, Yella), Barbara is an understated slowburn as it weaves the personal and the political into its engrossing narrative.