Germany 1999, 97 minutes
Levi comes down into the valley to trade cattle, as he does every year. It’s a traditional, predictable way of life – not much changes in the countryside. But this year’s going to be different. This year Levi hopes to win the hand of Lisbeth, the daughter of Farmer Horger.
This year is different. Strangers have come to the valley, railway engineers repairing a tunnel, and they’ve brought a breath of the outside world and its changing attitudes. Farmer Horger won’t sell cattle to the Jew, and someone slashes the tyres on Levi’s van. It’s 1935: Hitler has been in power for two years, and Germany is sliding towards the horrors of world war and the holocaust. Levi tries desperately to assimilate into a society that increasingly pushes him away. Lisbeth sticks up for him, but she’s part of the same society.
Tensions between families, races, classes, religions and countries are almost as old as humanity itself. There’s always Us and Them – sometimes it matters more than others. And we’ve all heard the story of the star-crossed lovers, we know it ends in tears, why tell it again? Because this story isn’t so much about the lovers as their times, when everything is changing and everyone, whether they realise it or not, decides where they stand. Again, the rise of Hitler’s Germany is an oft-told tale, but director Didi Danquart is anxious to leave behind what he sees as the old, easy divisions of good and bad, guilt and innocence. Everyone is a child of their time, and, although individual choices have to be made, it often makes little difference where you stand when the ground is moving under you, and the top of the slippery slope may be hard to see. Most people just try to get on with their lives, compromise, and, in the end, have their decisions made for them. And that’s another story as old as time that needs to be told and retold; not to excuse anyone but to help us understand how such things can happen and good people can do bad things – or nothing – so that evil triumphs.
Director: Didi Danquart
Screenplay: M Döcker, Didi Danquart (from a play by Thomas Strittmatter)
Photography: Johann Feindt
Cast: Bernd Michael Lade, Bruno Cathomas, Cast: Caroline Eber, Eva Mattes, Georg Olschewski, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Noethen
“Very forceful. Utterly convincing in the build-up of fear. Chilling!”
“The tyranny of bullies – no (single) one was really ‘on top’.”
“A truly terrifying film”
“Brilliant. Just the right pace for a community where little and (yet) everything happens – but the ending wasn’t right (for me).”
“Unusual and interesting. The actor who played Levi resembled Tim Curry (perhaps)?”
“Oklahoma mit Nazis!”
“A nice twist on an old tale, if (somewhat) unlikely. Many echoes of Reitz’s Heimat and good to see Eva Mattes 20 years on.”
“An interesting film for Germany to make.”
“Excellent. Wonderful prioritisation of (the) German situation then, and (the) love-story subjugated to it.”
“Do Germans find this film painful or is it just history (as we might view a film showing British concentration camps in the Boer war)? A Jewish cattle dealer in the Black Forest, though? Sounds unlikely.”
“The last flicker of interest died with the rabbit!”
“How can you maintain this standard? A great beginning to the season.”