×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlin Film Review: ‘The Silent Generation’

An anodyne, deeply respectful mainstream retelling of a fascinating footnote in East German history.

Director:
Lars Kraume
With:
Leonard Scheicher, Tom Gramenz, Lena Klenke, Jonas Dassler, Isaiah Michalski, Ronald Zehrfeld, Carina Wiese, Florian Lukas, Jördis Triebel, Daniel Krauss, Michael Gwisdek, Burghart Klaußner, Max Hopp, Judith Engel, Götz Schubert.

1 hour 51 minutes

A fascinating footnote in mid-20th-century German history gets an expectedly worthy treatment by writer-director Lars Kraume in “The Silent Revolution,” one of those deeply respectful historical fictionalizations where the good people are allowed character development and the bad people largely remain very, very bad. Set in 1956 when a senior classroom of East German high schoolers subversively held a two-minute silence for those just killed in the Hungarian Revolution, the film sticks to a classic mainstream retelling (roughly based on the memoir of one of the participants) where the only unforeseen element is an odd Christian overlay. Box office in Germany and Austria will likely be strong, but apart from some continental European distribution, it’s hard to see this getting any kind of international traction.

Helpful text at the start reminds audiences that the film is set five years before the Berlin Wall went up, at a time when it was still possible for East Germans to travel to the West provided they could plausibly state their reasons for the journey. The locale is Stalinstadt, today’s Eisenhüttenstadt, a city on the Polish border within relatively easy reach of Berlin (the real events took place even closer to Berlin, in Storkow). Kurt Wächter (Tom Gramenz) and Theo Lemke (Leonard Scheicher) head West to put flowers on Kurt’s grandfather’s grave, and while there they sneak into a cinema. A newsreel of the ongoing uprising in Budapest offers a very different take than the propaganda at home, and they return to school inspired by the thought of a Soviet-bloc nation rising up against the occupier.

Eager for more news, the boys learn that schoolmate Paul (Isaiah Michalski) has an eccentric uncle Edgar (Michael Gwisdek) with a radio tuned to the U.S.-sponsored RIAS broadcasts, so a group from class meet there in the evenings and hear that their soccer hero Ferenc Puskás was killed in the revolution (the news was subsequently proven to be false). With the putative death of the sportsman as an official excuse, Kurt proposes an in-class moment of silence to honor the fallen Hungarians.

A few discourage the idea, most especially rabid pro-communist Erik Babinski (Jonas Dassler), but the majority agree and they go ahead without telling their teacher, who blows a gasket at their unexplained silence until finally Erik reveals it’s a protest action. Principal Schwarz (Florian Lukas) tries to contain the whole thing, but word gets to the district school board, whose chairwoman Kessler (Jördis Triebel) comes to investigate, refusing to back down until the ringleaders are identified.

To give the students some background, Kraume fills in a few family stories. Theo’s working-class father Hermann (Ronald Zehrfeld) turns out to have been involved in the 1953 East German Uprising (odd that his 18-year-old son wouldn’t be aware of what his father did just three years earlier), and tries to prevent his boy from making a similar “mistake.” Kurt’s father Hans (Max Hopp) is a City Council Chairman whose short temper is clearly hiding some nasty secret, while his mother Anna (Judith Engel, forced into just one expression) displays all the mannerisms of a battered wife. Added to the mix is Lena (Lena Klenke), Theo’s girlfriend who shifts her attentions to Kurt when the former temporarily loses his political backbone.

Subtlety is not Kraume’s strong suit, as previously demonstrated by his film “The People vs. Fritz Bauer”: How convenient that Erik enters church just when his minister stepfather (Götz Schubert) is speaking of the betrayal of Christ. Or when he subsequently barrels in with a gun and the beam of light illuminates a large crucifix. Similarly, a steel factory is presented as the very opposite of Soviet industrial propaganda, turned into a fiery hell-hole set against a brooding sky, accompanied by infernal clanging. Kraume wants everything so scrubbed that when Kurt is on the eve of escaping, it’s hard to focus on anything other than the way his blond hair forms a perfect swoop under his hood.

Performances are generically earnest, which is the most that can be expected with such an anodyne script where broadly-drawn characters like Kessler are over-the-top in their brutish behavior. It’s fitting therefore that the repetitive schmaltzy orchestrations seem so tediously familiar.

Berlin Film Review: 'The Silent Generation'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale Special Gala), Feb. 15, 2018. Running time: 111 MIN. (Original title: “Das schweigende Klassenzimmer”)

Production: (Germany) An Akzente Film & Fernsehproduktion, Zero One Film, Studiocanal Film, ZDF, Wunderwerk production. (International sales: Studiocanal, Issy-Les-Moulineaux, France.) Producer: Miriam Düssel. Co-producers: Caroline von Senden, Thomas Kufus, Kalle Friz, Isabel Hund. Executive producer: Susanne Freyer.

Crew: Director, writer: Lars Kraume, based on the book “Das schweigende Klassenzimmer” by Dietrich Garstka. Camera (color, widescreen): Jens Harant. Editor: Barbara Gies. Music: Christoph M. Kaiser, Julian Maas.

With: Leonard Scheicher, Tom Gramenz, Lena Klenke, Jonas Dassler, Isaiah Michalski, Ronald Zehrfeld, Carina Wiese, Florian Lukas, Jördis Triebel, Daniel Krauss, Michael Gwisdek, Burghart Klaußner, Max Hopp, Judith Engel, Götz Schubert.

More Film

  • Steven Gaydos, Jacob Weydemann, Katriel Schory,

    Variety Celebrates 10 Producers to Watch in Cannes

    CANNES–Variety honored its 10 Producers to Watch for 2019 at a brunch on Monday morning at Cannes’ Plage des Palmes. Launched at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998, the annual event fetes 10 producers from the U.S. and the international film community who share a common commitment to bold, original, provocative storytelling. The films produced by [...]

  • Cannes Placeholder Red Carpet

    Cannes: KKR and Atwater to Launch Library Pictures, Boost Local-Language Film

    Local-language film making is to get a fillip through the launch of Library Pictures international. The company is backed by a consortium of investors led by media investment firm Atwater Capital and a newly formed Germany-based media company established by KKR. The new firm is intended as a content financing entity to support industry-leading filmmakers [...]

  • After21_0020.ARW

    Sequel to Independent Movie Hit 'After' Launches in Cannes

    “After,” the highest grossing independent film of the year so far, is set to return with a sequel, with stars Josephine Langford and Hero Fiennes Tiffin reprising their roles. Voltage Pictures is selling the new pic in Cannes. The first film, which had a reported production budget of $14 million, grossed more than $50 million [...]

  • Liam Gallagher and Son shopping at

    Cannes: Screen Media Buys 'Liam Gallagher: As It Was' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Screen Media has acquired North American rights to Charlie Lightening and Gavin Fitzgerald’s feature documentary “Liam Gallagher: As It Was.” The film follows the former Oasis frontman as he finds himself on the periphery of the rock ‘n’ roll world after years spent at the white hot center of the music world. Screen Media will [...]

  • La Casa de Papel Netflix

    Madrid Region Booms as an International Production Hub

    Madrid is booming as never before in its 125-year film history; arguably, no other European site is currently transforming so quickly into a global production hub. A 20-minute drive north of the Spanish capital, a large white-concrete hanger has been built beside the Madrid-Burgos motorway, at the entrance to Tres Cantos, a well-heeled satellite village and industrial [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content