The collapse of a modest family farm in a German-speaking community in northern Argentina provides “Germania” with a potent starting point, but tyro director Maximiliano Schonfeld’s impressively mounted drama has little follow-through. Though it’s only partly realized, what’s onscreen indicates a filmmaker with potential, particularly if he can match his technical command with interesting, fully addressed ideas. With its heavy Euro overlay on a Latin America-set tale, this is prime fare for continental buyers, and can look forward to an excellent fest journey.
Bucolic opening images of young people playing in fields outside a German enclave in Entre Rios state belie a grimmer reality that has beset one family farm. A pair of sequences set in the family’s chicken coop reveal in breathtaking detail that the fowl are dying off with startling rapidity. A plague has set in, and there’s little the family’s mother (Margarita Greifenstein) and her strapping son, Miguel (Lucas Schell), and daughter, Brenda (Brenda Kruetli), can do to reverse it.
Indeed, plans are already under way to depart for a German burg in Brazil, and much of “Germania” is about the three family members — the dead father is buried in the local cemetery — saying goodbye to their nearest and dearest in the tight-knit community. Schonfeld (whose short “Invernario” was set in a similar environment) stages the farming conditions with expressive, even terrifying realism, including the burial of a dead cow and a palpable feeling of the earth in full rebellion against the humans trying to control it.
Miguel’s friends come together for one last game of soccer and a dip in the creek, and the scenes carry with them the poignant sense of childhood drifting away. For the most part, however, the human side of the tale is far less convincingly delivered.
A town party, complete with polkas and beer steins, could easily be set in any rural Teuton village, with only the peculiar and distinct German dialect (a rough equivalent could be rural Quebecois French) indicating that we’re not in the old country. But because non-pro Greifenstein is such a wooden, inexpressive actor, this sequence is considerably less affecting. A detour into half-baked melodrama, involving Brenda and a local worker, is particularly misjudged, crying out for further dramatic development. As it is, the story feels stranded between feature and short, indicating the possibilities of a bigger tale that never actually happens.
Schell, a non-pro like Kruetli and Greifenstein, capably gives “Germania” a core of sadness, though there should be more of him onscreen; his is a young, rough-hewn presence with dirt under his fingernails. Kruetli, however, registers with less emotional impact than she should. Supporting roles, played by local non-pros, such as the women singing in the town church where Miguel serves as an altar boy, sometimes result in a near-docu atmosphere.
Such spiritual inferences, plus the German-in-Latin America setting, draw unflattering comparisons with Carlos Reygadas’ “Silent Light.” But “Germania” looks and sounds fabulous, with world-class cinematography by Soledad Rodriguez and a detailed, potent soundtrack crafted by soundmen Manuel de Andres and Nahuel Palenque and composer Jackson Souvenirs.