More than any other European nation, Germany has established itself as one of the dominant forces in world cinema.
than any other European nation, Germany has established itself as one of the
dominant forces in world cinema. Many experts
highlight the post war New German Cinema period as a truly revolutionary time
for film. Directors like Werner Herzog,
Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder were at the forefront of this movement and
created some incredible films. Yet, these masters were preceded by some true
geniuses from the silent film era. Names like Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau are
synonymous with the best of early German cinema. Often harsh and
uncompromising, but ultimately beautiful and meaningful, Germany has produced
an endless stream of magnificent films. Greg Evans offers up a list of some of
Germany’s very best cinema.
Has there ever been a more enduring figure than Max Schreck’s Nosferatu? Now 90 years
old, F.W. Murnau’s silent horror masterpiece has not lost any of its energy and
power. Although only a rough and unofficial adaptation of Bram Stokers Dracula, in terms of its legacy, Nosferatu may have
surpassed the original thanks to its lasting influence and importance in the
history of cinema. The iconic scene of Nosferatu’s shadow climbing up a
staircase remains one of the most memorable shots in film history.
Out of all the New German Cinema directors, Wim
Wenders has probably been one of the most commercially successful. He picked up
the Cannes Palme d’Or in 1984 for his classic Paris, Texas and other films, like Pina, Kings of the Road and
Buena Vista Social Club, are
some of the most beloved amongst cinema aficionados. Wings of Desire, though, may be his strangest but most accomplished
work. Set in Berlin, we follow two invisible angels who roam the city and
observe its inhabitants. At times there isn’t too much of a story as we study
and listen in on people’s thoughts and problems. While Bruno Ganz is superb as lead angel Damiel, the star of the show is Colombo actor Peter Falk who gives a magnificent performance as himself. His on
screen presence should never be doubted. Narratives aren’t important when you
have poetry of this magnitude on screen.
A series of strange events and awful crimes in a
small village are the central mystery of the profound and beautiful White
Ribbon. As the film opens, we are told by the narrator that he believes that
the events which are about to unfold, are what ultimately leads to the dark
period that pre-World War One Germany was about experience. The German title; Das
weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte, translates as ‘The White
Ribbon, a German Children’s Story’ and the children are the focal point
throughout. The crimes that take place are believed to be retaliation to the
oppression and regulations enforced upon the infants. Director Michael Haneke states the film is about
“the origin of every type of terrorism, be it political or religious nature”.
Cabinet of Dr Caligari
One of the oldest films in history, The Cabinet
of Dr Caligari, remains one of the strangest and creepiest movies ever. This
silent, expressionist film recounts a couple’s encounter with the dastardly Dr
Caligari and the mysterious somnambulist, Cesare. As this horror story
develops, a series of demented murders take place as the mystery unravels. The
Cabinet of Dr Caligari’s influence can be still be seen in modern cinema. The
use of flashbacks and texts, contorted sets, plus the twist ending makes this
one of the most important films in the world.
Goodbye Lenin is one of the funniest, sweetest
and best films about the fall of the Berlin Wall. It follows the story of the
Kerner family who live in the eastern part of Berlin, where their mother is a
devoted communist and loyal part member. However, she suffers a near fatal
heart attack and falls into a coma. While in the coma, the Berlin Wall falls
and Germany is reunited. To avoid breaking their mother’s heart, her children
devise a series of elaborate set ups and stories to prevent her from finding
out the truth. Although it is a political film, Goodbye Lenin is more about
family and the lengths some go to show how much they love one another.
Fear Eats the Soul
Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a true maverick who
lived life to the full. Married twice but openly gay, Fassbinder divided
opinions from all sectors of society. He died of a drug overdose at the age of
37. During his life, he made around 45 films. His most renowned is Ali: Fear
Eats the Soul, an odd love story between an elderly German woman and a middle
aged Moroccan man. Something of an eccentric mix between Harold and Maude and Brief
Encounter, Ali turns the love story into a political and racial commentary.
In a post war Germany, and shortly after the Munich terrorist attacks, Ali and
his fellow countrymen are constantly discriminated against and his wife (Emmi)
is shunned by her friends and family. Love prevails, but the fear of
humiliation and judgement will always linger in the air.
Fritz Lang was so far ahead of his time that its
debatable if that time has even
arrived yet. To call Metropolis a masterpiece would be an understatement.
Nothing quite so visionary, audacious or accomplished has come along since. The
futuristic, dystopian sci-fi is the story of a workers’ uprising against the
rich of the city. So many ideas and influential scenes take place in
Metropolis, that it would be hard to pinpoint them all. Let’s just say that
many films have tried to recreate and capture its greatness, but nothing has
come close to Lang’s staggering achievement.
Based upon the final days of Adolf Hitler‘s life, Downfall is an
unlikely and incredible insight into the life of one of history’s most
notorious figures. As his party, army and country crumble around him, Hitler
clutches at straws trying to preserve what he spent his life constructing. The
saddest part of Downfall is that it shows just how desperate and foolish people
were to believe in such an evil ideology. The needless deaths of so many people
in those final days could have been avoided without the blindness that ensued. Bruno Ganz gives a career best
performance as a deluded and broken Hitler and almost makes you sympathise with
this monster. Don’t let the Youtube parodies put you off, Downfall is as
powerful a film as they come.
Lives of Others
The East German Stasi were one of the world’s
most secretive police forces. They would employ master spies and sophisticated
surveillance techniques to trap anyone they believed was conspiring against the
communist state. The Lives of Others centres around a couple (playwright Georg Dreyman and actress Christa-Maria Sieland) and Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, the Minister of
Culture, who is spying on them. As the plot unfolds, suspicions arise and
developments thicken. Whilst he is supposed to be reporting on the couple,
Wiesler begins to sympathise with them and an emotional bond grows between the
two. Highly intellectual and moving, The Lives of Others takes an in depth look
into the world of the secretive East Germany and winds up telling an absolutely
The Wrath of God
If there is a more in demand director on the
planet at the moment that isn’t Werner Herzog , they must have passed everybody
by. Herzog’s films are like no others. Harrowing, shocking, moving and
overwhelming, the Herzogian imprint has become one of the most recognisable
symbols in cinema. 1972’s Aguirre, The Wrath of God is Werner Herzog’s depiction of Spanish conquistadors’ quest for
the fabled city of El Dorado. More importantly, it’s his best feature film.
Made on location over five weeks, the production tested every actor and crew
member to their limit as they clambered over mountains and hacked through dense
forest. This testing excursion is clearly evident. As Aguirre and his ill-fated
soldiers aimlessly float through the jungle, insanity and delusion take hold.
Ideas of incest and blasphemy contrast vividly against the violent finale.
Aguirre’s stunning visuals and
visceral colouring have seen it become a much referred to and influential film.
While the real life accounts of explosive confrontations between Herzog and
lead actor Klaus Kinski have become
legendary. (Tales of Kinski acting at gunpoint and extras being shot have been
widely played down by Herzog.) What makes Aguirre so stunning is that it is so
unlike any other film. Bleak, horrific and completely mad, it still manages to
engender an overriding feeling of hope and prosperity. What The Wrath of God
is, is unknown but it may look something like this.