German film might be enjoying something of an upswing, but its content could hardly be called upbeat. Forget Hollywood-style happy-endings -- Germans like to keep it real, as this year's Berlinale shows.
"Netto" - a film that tells it like it is
While Germany continues to struggle with a floundering economy and rising unemployment, its filmmakers are making the most of a bad lot. Joblessness, loneliness and the harsh reality of modern-day Germany might not be much fun for the country's 5 million unemployed, but at least the national angst is supplying an increasing number of directors and producers with plenty of material.
It's a strategy that's catapulted German film into international movie theaters and brought the local industry accolades unparalleled since the heyday of German cinema in the 1920s and 30s.
From glamour to gritty reality
Back then, though, it was all about glamour. Screen goddess Marlene Dietrich was Germany's biggest star. Today, its actors are more earthy -- Franka Potente might have been snapped up by Hollywood but she's hardly an old-school diva. German cinema appears to have discovered the working classes, and it certainly hasn't done its popularity, or its sales, any harm.
Berlin Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick (photo) can take much of the credit for the change. He took charge in 2001, pledging to promote German film and introducing the "Perspektive Deutsches Kino" category, managed by Alfred Holighaus.
Among the 67 new German movies being shown at the festival are the three official competition entries, as well as the six features and three documentaries that make up the "Perspektive Deutsches Kino." What links them all is their unflinching, warts-and-all look at what makes today's Germany tick.
Berlinale Film "Netto"
Take "Netto," the directorial debut of Robert Thalheim. Its protagonist is Marcel, an out-of-work country music fan and armchair philosopher, whose 15-year-old son one day turns up on his doorstep in the Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg. It's a bittersweet comedy that confounds conventional feel-good logic, instead embracing a very German brand of kitchensink realism. Marcel might be Hollywood's idea of a loser, but he's a typical example of the characters populating contemporary German cinema.
"Let The Cat Out of The Bag"
Even grittier is Florian Schwarz's "Let the Cat Out of the Bag." Set in a bleak and cheerless Leipzig, it tracks 24 hours in the life of its three lonely protagonists. Its portrayal of the impossibility of relationships, loveless sex and social exclusion makes for uncomfortable viewing, but it's already scooped the "First Steps" award.
A slice of real life
At the high-end of the festival, meanwhile, is Marc Rothemund's "Sophie Scholl - the Final Days" about a doomed resistance fighter in World War II.
Its lead, Julia Jentsch, is already being tipped as a likely winner of the Silver Bear -- a success that would cement the triumphant return to form of the German film industry marked last year when "Head-On," a German production, landed the Golden Bear.
The movie was another example of German directors keeping it real. Quoted in Handelsblatt, Beki Probst, director of the festival's marketplace, explained the appeal.
"What people want to see are films that depict a slice of real life and don't just live off their special effects," she said.