Like Agnieszka Holland’s “Angry Harvest” or Claude Lelouche’s reimagined “Les Miserables,” Franziska Schlotterer’s first fiction feature “Closed Season,” takes place during WWII and centers on a German peasant hiding a Jew for his own purposes. In this instance, an impotent farmer saves a young Switzerland-bound Jewish man stranded in the Black Forest, trading sanctuary for progeny, as he asks his guest to impregnate his frau. Unsurprisingly, complications ensue. The pic treads familiar ground, somewhat unimaginatively. But given the apparently inexhaustible interest in Holocaust-themed films, this competent, nicely atmospheric German-Israeli co-production has the seed to travel.
The film is bookended by ’70s-set scenes in Israel where Bruno (Max Mauff), a German youth, has come to a kibbutz to deliver a letter from his dead mother to the biological father he never met. After some initial resistance, Avi (Rami Heuberger) consents to read the letter and tells his son the story of his conception.
Outside of these wraparound segments, “Closed Season” rarely shies away from cliches, especially in its contrast between the cloddish, drunken peasant and the sensitive, cultivated Jew. Though not a bad fellow, the farmer, Fritz (Hans-Jochen Wagner, excellent), is almost as crude and brutish as the animals he tends, comparing his surrogate parenthood to bringing a bull to his cow. His uptight spouse, Emma (Brigitte Hobmeier), not one to take chances, wants nothing to do with hiding a Jew, and is at first repelled by the idea of lying with the stranger.
Once Fritz abandons the idea of witnessing the impregnation, and once Albert(Christian Friedel), as young Avi is called, plies Emma with poetry and classical music — and proves quite gifted between the sheets — she falls head over heels for the young man, who declines to share her sentiments.
Suspense is created by frequent visits from the newly promoted head of local Nazi forces (Thomas Loibl), an old friend of the family, and by the increasingly convoluted emotions among the odd threesome bound together by the vicissitudes of love and war.
Production values are pro. Helmer Schlotterer keeps the action mainly limited to the farm and a nearby tavern, with the modest sets and costumes completely convincing. The routine of work around the farm (to which Albert contributes), with its natural interplay between people and animals (and one cow in particular), contrasts nicely with the awkwardness of human interaction.