If there is any theme to this year’s German film days, it is war. Or rather, the consequences of war. A full three of the six films on offer take place in the aftermath of wars, Frantz just following the first World War and the other two the second.
Now that Nazis have become all the rage again thanks to Trump, and Reductio ad Hitlerum is no longer a conversation killer but rather a starter, what do the Germans themselves have to say about the subject?
‘The People vs. Fritz Bauer’ is a well-acted, well-made but rather traditional reading of the Post War era. Sure, there are still Nazis at high levels of government in West-Germany in the 50s, whom are not in favour of dragging skeletons like Eichmann out of the closet lest they throw unwelcome light on other dark pasts. As history it works well, without perhaps contributing much new to the conversation. The theme of German war guilt has been explored many times before.
Rather more revisionist is the Danish-German ‘Land of Mine’. Talking about German suffering during the war or just after has been something of a taboo in Germany, as this might somehow, as happened after the first war, exonerate them of their own guilt. But now that the world seems to be falling into the grips of fascism again, this time with the victors of World War Two going first, perhaps it is time to consider the crimes of others. Just because the enemy is bad doesn’t mean all your actions are necessarily good.
‘Land of Mine’ addresses the fate of German soldiers in Denmark immediately after the war, who are starved and mistreated and made to dig up unexploded mines at great risk to life and limb. It is relentless and merciless and ruthlessly engaging. Director Martin Zandvliet is best known for character drama such as Applause and Teddy Bear, but here he manages to portray history in a way we have never seen it before.
Perhaps it really is always the losing side that learns the most from war. Perhaps the moral certainty of the victorious powers at the end of World War Two is what is bringing about their undoing today. ‘Land of Mine’ is an important film with important questions to ask, but most importantly, a totally engrossing two hours.
The German Film Festival in Reykjavík runs until February 19th. For schedule and more info, click here.