Lars Kraume revisits postwar German history in “The Silent Revolution,” a story of idealistic young pupils in East Germany who, in 1956, unite in solidarity to honor the victims of the Hungarian uprising against the country’s communist regime and Soviet military.
Based on real events, the story is set around the same time as Kraume’s last theatrical feature, “The People vs. Fritz Bauer,” about the West German prosecutor who was instrumental in the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann — a film that went on to sweep the German Film Awards in 2016.
“The Silent Revolution,” which screens in Berlinale Special Gala, similarly focuses on protagonists with unwavering moral convictions and the courage to take a stand.
Described as “Dead Poets Society” meets “The Lives of Others,” the film is based on Dietrich Garstka’s novel of the same name in which the author recounts his own experiences and those of his 18 classmates.
The story of “The Silent Revolution” very much mirrors that of “The People vs. Fritz Bauer,” says Kraume, who became interested in Garstka’s book while working on his previous film.
“I had come to the question of how it must have felt like to live in Germany after the Third Reich,” Kraume says. “Both films deal fundamentally with the question of how this deeply damaged country could move forward, how Germany sought a way out of this horrible past and towards a new future. The German Democratic Republic, as a state and society, was one way, the Federal Republic of Germany was the other. Both attempts were difficult. I tried to show that in both films.”
“The Silent Revolution” follows an entire class that decides to hold a minute of silence for the victims of the Hungarian revolt, which overthrew the country’s socialist government and, for a short time, established new leadership, before the Russian military invaded, killing thousands and restoring a Moscow-friendly regime.
After hearing about the incident, East Germany’s education minister visits the school and demands that the pupils name the instigator behind the affair. With the state seeking to set an example, the kids are enveloped in a political storm.
Kraume’s film showcases a talented ensemble cast that includes up-and-coming young actors like Leonard Scheicher, Tom Gramenz, Lena Klenke, Isaiah Michalski and Jonas Dassler. The director praises casting director Nessie Nesslauer’s eye for new faces. Nesslauer has cast all of Kraume’s feature films and most of his TV productions since 1999. “She can recognize the potential of young actors before they’ve had a chance to prove it in a number of films.”
The film also stars Kraume’s regular collaborators, such as Florian Lukas (“The Invisibles”), Ronald Zehrfeld (“The People vs. Fritz Bauer”), Jördis Triebel (“The Verdict”) and Burghart Klaussner (“The People vs. Fritz Bauer”).
“It’s wonderful, as always. That’s the reason I try as often as possible to work with these actors,” Kraume says.
With the exception of Klaussner, all of the actors playing adult roles of parents and teachers grew up in East Germany, Kraume adds, noting that some were able to develop their characters based on memories and observations from their childhood.
Kraume set the film in the city of Stalinstadt (modern-day Eisenhüttenstadt) rather than the town of Storkow, where the incident actually took place, due to the former’s well-preserved early East German architecture and its history as a planned socialist model city that symbolized the hope of a new beginning when it was built in the 1950s.
Discussing the film’s themes and historical context, Kraume says historical films must have a message that is relevant to the present day. “In this case, it’s that at some point in your youth, you have to become political. There is no choice, then or now. If you don’t have your own opinion, one that you stand up for, you have nothing at all.”
“The Silent Revolution” is produced by Akzente Film & Fernsehproduktion in coproduction with ZDF, Zero One Film and Studiocanal Film, with Studiocanal also handling world sales.