Another pulse-taking of a Germany still in recovery from — and in thrall to — the far-left terrorism of the 1970s, “The Weekend” reunites former radicals when their last comrade is released from prison. Nina Grosse’s film takes considerable liberties in adapting the 2008 novel by “The Reader” author Bernhard Schlink, eliminating some characters whole, rejiggering others and excising some broader political-parallel musings. Result is an accomplished, consistently interesting but not especially satisfying drama of limited appeal to offshore auds less familiar with the historical events in question.
After 18 years behind bars, Jens (Sebastian Koch) is finally being released, news that his sister Tina (Barbara Auer) spreads to some of their onetime allies in the Red Army Faction, aka the Baader-Meinhof Gang. (In this fictive scenario, none represent specific real-life figures in that militant group, in contrast with some other recent film treatments.) It’s a small, uneasy guest list at this “little welcoming get-together”: Jens’ former girlfriend, Inga (Katja Riemann), accompanied by her husband, Ulrich (Tobias Moretti), and journalist Henner (Sylvester Groth), who’s written a book about their shared past.
Jens isn’t entirely pleased by the reunion, which gets off to a rocky start when he denounces Henner’s tome for “reducing it all to armchair psychology and disavowing our political ideas,” while Ulrich — who entered Inga’s life after this tumultuous early chapter had ended — bluntly dismisses the RAF as killers whose lofty goals didn’t justify the deaths of innocent people. What’s more, though they haven’t been in contact for years, a still-smoldering spark between Inga and Jens has the potential to upend her now well-ordered bourgeois life. There’s also another piece of unfinished business: the matter of who in the group turned police informant, resulting in Jens’ capture and imprisonment.
Afraid to be left alone with her brother, Tina begs the others stay for the whole weekend. Things get even more turbulent when Inga’s shallow wannabe-actress daughter, Doro (Elisa Schlott), turns up, then promptly summons half-brother Gregor (Robert Gwisdek), who bitterly resents Jens for his perceived abandonment.
Schlink used the same basic premise to explore not just the conflict between ’70s radical fervor and middle-aged yuppie complacency, but also to draw comparisons to the Nazi era and the post-9/11 one. Grosse has dropped the latter, perhaps wisely, and also trimmed the cast list.
Yet despite that narrowed focus, the characters feel even less developed than in the novel, which some complained was already frustrating in that regard. Solid performances can only do so much to fill in the gaps, let alone imbue a murky non-ending with some import. Particularly for viewers who know little of the long shadow cast by the RAF, this glummer Deutsch “Big Chill” will provide scant insight of the kind provided by such prior similarly themed pics as “The Legends of Rita,” “The State I Am In,” “The Day Will Come” or (natch) “The Baader Meinhof Complex.”
Though there’s perhaps less than meets the eye here, that’s precisely where “The Weekend” is most effective: Benedict Neuenfels’ lensing balances human intimacy and the pastoral environ with a sharp intelligence echoed by Mona Brauer’s editing. Other tech and design contributions are thoughtful.