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Culture

German Filmmakers Cast Critical Eye on Their Country at Berlinale

Germany is alternately portrayed as a sick hospital patient, a surveillance society, and a nation intent on burying its past in a series of short films presented Friday, Feb. 13, at the Berlin Film Festival.

berlinale flag

German directors took unsparing looks at their country in a series of short films at the festival

Germany '09 is the result of a collaboration between 13 German film producers, each asked to capture a personal impression of contemporary Germany, in a film of up to 12 minutes in length.

The resulting 150 minutes, subtitled "13 Short Films About The State of the Nation," offer bleakly critical, yet also humorous portrayals of the German psyche, touching on issues that are rooted within the country's history but also resonate beyond Germany's borders.

"Sick House," by Wolfgang Becker (director of "Goodbye, Lenin!"), depicts Germany as a crumbling hospital. Doctors argue about how to treat a dying crash victim, patients are held in endless lines and an expressionless man waits for a jolt to surge through the nation.

German malaise is also prescribed a medical remedy in Dany Levy's film "Joshua," in which the Jewish protagonist takes a herbal concoction to combat his pessimism about the country's future.

The touchingly ironic film shows the medicine's startling effect. Not only does the world immediately appear less glum, but the protagonist's young son is sent on a flight of discovery across the capital,Berlin.

"Preventive Action," by Hans Weingartner, is based on the true case of an academic who was spied on for 11 months, then arrested and treated as a terror suspect, despite a lack of compelling evidence.

Tilda Swinton

Actress Tilda Swinton heads the jury at this year's event

Weingartner says, in Germany, "anti-terror laws are used systematically to collect information about people" who have never perpetrated a crime, thus reversing the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Fatih Akin is deeply critical of the state in "Being Murat Kurnaz." The film reenacts a newspaper interview with the Turkish-German former Guantanamo detainee who accused the German government of doing too little to secure his release.

Collective memory

Several of the short films deal with collective memory, without specifically touching on the trademark themes of Nazism, World War Two or former Eastern Germany, commonly associated with Germany's past.

"The Road We Don't Walk Together," by Dominik Graf, features old buildings across Germany, which bear testimony to the past. They are all scheduled for demolition to make way for new, light buildings not burdened by history.

The closing film, "Seance," by Christoph Hochhaeusler, describes a future moon colony where the memories are made public of the only person left with recollections of Germany.

Other films include "Fractur," by Hans Steinbichler, about a man's anger when the typeface of the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper changes.

Steinbichler, whose protagonist Riesch Beintl is an anagram of his own name, admits that he was deeply angered by the change in layout.

Director Tom Tykwer, right, and actor Clive Owen at an even for the film The International

Director Tom Tykwer, right, and actor Clive Owen at an even for the film "The International"

He says the film explores his surprising reaction, which he bases on the fact that in Germany, despite the best education and upbringing, "we are all skilled anti-Semites and racists."

"Feierlich Travels," by Tom Tykwer (The International), follows a business traveller through a world of globalized brands, and Romuald Karmakar's Ramses gives a glimpse of the life of a strip club owner in Berlin.

New demons

"A Democratic Discussion at Designated Times," by Isabelle Stever,

shows how young pupils learn to resolve disputes through classroom

discussions, and Bias, by Silke Enders, is a snapshot of people's lives at a children's soup kitchen.

The film sequence which, Karmakar says, "cannot be representative" in its scope, is completed by Angela Schanelec's film First Day, which captures timelessness in daybreak scenes across Germany.

The ensemble presents a country ready to bury the ghosts of the

past, while encountering new demons troubling the collective psyche.

At the opening press conference, a foreign journalist challenged the film's directors to show the film internationally as it "could correct Germany's reputation abroad".

The international perception of Germany, he says, "is far more positive than what is being shown in this film."

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