Focusing on Germany
Every year, EIFF focuses on two key countries and their national cinema. This year the Festival will feature a Focus on Germany. To give you an insight into the inspiration for this year's selection, Chris Fujiwara introduces you to German cinema.
In the 1970s, Edinburgh International Film Festival played a key role in creating a critical context and an international public for what had lately become known as the New German Cinema. EIFF 1973 featured retrospectives of Werner Herzog and Rudolf Thome. The following year, a major New German Cinema programme included premieres of Wim Wenders’ Alice in the Cities, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul, and Alexander Kluge’s Part-Time Work of a Domestic Slave. Phil Hardy noted in his report on the festival: “The range of films currently being made in West Germany is phenomenal... The German films [at EIFF] were amazing.”
In 2014, for the 40th anniversary of that landmark programme, EIFF will present (in partnership with German Films) a German Focus, with screenings of new and retrospective titles. How has German cinema changed over the last 40 years? The introduction to the EIFF catalogue in 1974 noted that “the sheer diversity of the New German Cinema is probably its most striking feature,” and the same words can be written today, though with a small “n” for “new.” The influence of the New German Cinema is elusive, though its surviving auteurs remain active.
The years since 1974 saw the emergence of another loose grouping of filmmakers — the Berlin School (Christian Petzold, Thomas Arslan et al) — whose collective works fit no more comfortably under a single stylistic umbrella than could the films of Wenders and Fassbinder. Then there are the many outstanding German directors who belong to no “school” at all: Tom Tykwer, Andreas Dresen, Fatih Akin...
How to make sense of the diversity of current German cinema — other than by just digging in, which Edinburgh has not stopped doing? Consider last year, when EIFF introduced a number of noteworthy German films to UK audiences. Jan Ole Gerster’s wryly comic debut feature Oh Boy, the winner of Germany’s national award for best film of 2013, is a slice of Berlin life as experienced by a young man of means who has placed himself on the margins of society and finds his options running out. In Thomas Arslan’s Gold, a stark Western, the emphasis is on the band of outsiders formed by a group of German immigrants on a doomed northwest trek in search of wealth. The film invites us to speculate on what remains of the culturally German under harsh physical conditions in a nation of immigrants.
Among the German documentaries we showed last year, The Turtle’s Rage, Pary El-Qalqili’s hard-edged and compassionate documentary about her father, a Palestinian living in Berlin, depicts Germany indirectly, through the father’s harried indifference. Thomas Riedelsheimer’s Breathing Earth: Susumu Shingu’s Dream is a lucid and graceful view of an artist’s worldwide quest for a site for a large-scale environmental sculpture project. Thomas Heise’s Consequence, the study of a crematorium, is, as its director confessed when he came to Edinburgh to present it, a willfully small and self-contained work, but one made with an elegance and a precision that would be capable of sustaining much more expansive films.
EIFF 2013 offered some glimpses of the range of contemporary German film; for 2014, we propose a deeper and wider view. As I write this, the Berlinale has announced much of its lineup, which includes new work by, among other directors, Heinz Emigholz (who is also having a retrospective at Rotterdam), Maria Speth, Dominik Graf (one of the vigorous and most intelligent of Germany’s contemporary auteurs) and Volker Schlöndorff (one of the leading figures of New German Cinema, still going strong). It promises to be a good year for German cinema.