“Deutschland 09”, which premiered Friday at the Berlin Film Festival, brings together the cream of German film-making to offer a decidedly pessimistic take on the direction of the country since that euphoric November day in 1989.
The worst economic slump since World War II, a state trampling on civil liberties in the name of fighting terror, disaffected youth turning toward extremism – the film paints a hyper-critical self-portrait.
Fatih Akin, the Turkish-German film-maker who scored arthouse hits with “Head-On” and “The Edge of Heaven”, focuses on the true story of a former prisoner of the Guantanamo anti-terror jail who has accused Berlin of refusing a US offer to release him despite its vocal opposition to the facility.
Akin features an interview with an actor playing Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen but life-long resident of Germany who was held for almost five years before being released from the prison in Cuba without charge in 2006.
“This was also a German scandal,” Akin told a news conference with his 12 fellow short-film directors. “This case changed the way I look at the world … and I didn’t want it to simply be forgotten.”
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a candidate for chancellor this September, was forced to appear before a parliamentary panel to defend himself against accusations he had personally blocked Kurnaz’s release.
Akin bristled when a reporter asked why the man playing Kurnaz, who frequently appeared in public with bushy facial hair growing down to his chest, was shown without a beard.
“Because he doesn’t wear one anymore,” he snapped. “Maybe you should get a bit informed.”
The project is modelled on the 1978 compilation of short films “Germany in Autumn” by seminal directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Volker Schlöndorff when the country was rocked by a wave of left-wing terror attacks. Tom Tykwer, who gained cult status in 1998 for his groundbreaking heist caper “Run, Lola, Run” and who opened the Berlin festival this year with the finance sector thriller “The International,” said he had aimed to shine a light on “the new Germany.”
“I guess it was pretty reckless to bring together 13 quite eccentric personalities and try to unite it all under one umbrella,” Tykwer said.
“We couldn’t really identify the theme running through all the films until after we were finished,” added Angela Schanelec, whose “First Day” with scenes set at dawn opens the film.
Swiss-born Jewish director Dani Levy drew big laughs for his satire on cantankerous Berliners and his own ambivalent relationship with the denizens of the city where the Holocaust was planned.
“Yes, I have faith in Germany,” Levy tells a psychiatrist in a scene that could have appeared in a Woody Allen movie. “But what happens if the global economic crisis goes on?”
The psychiatrist prescribes pills that send Levy into a dream world in which his grumpy neighbours shower him with kindness. But he panics when his young son suddenly takes flight. The boy winds up in the “first Nazi village in the new Germany” where the skinheads take him for the new “Führer” sent from the heavens.
“For all the heavy things I could have put in, there was a lot of humour too,” he said.
“Deutschland 09” is screening out of competition at the 59th Berlin Film Festival which will crown the winners of its coveted Golden and Silver Bear prizes Saturday before wrapping up Sunday.