German Language Films



First, we’d like to send our weekly Thank You to Wandering Through the Shelves for encouraging us to broaden our horizons. Because one can’t survive on a diet of Office Space and superhero movies alone, this week we tried to catch up on the German-language movies that we’ve missed. I for one had some serious catching up to do. If not, I would have been stuck picking Das Boot or something.

I re-watched Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon (2009) to keep its complex themes and Funny Gamesnarratives fresh enough in my mind to be able to write about it. As I struggled once again to read the subtitles camoufalged by the black and white background, I thought about the impact that Haneke’s sadistic Funny Games (1997) had on me. A few months ago, I blasted Haneke’s rationale for his brutal and twisted home invasion story. While at first I resented being shamed for sitting through torture porn, I now appreciate the film for what it made me think about and the discussions it inspired with some of you. Also, while at first I was struck by the film’s sadism, now in retrospect I find myself admiring its restraint.

counterfeitersI’m only just now getting around to 2007’s Oscar-winning The Counterfeiters. Stefan Ruzowitsky’s film tells the true story of a counterfeiting operation within within a concentration camp manned by Jewish prisoners forced by the Nazis to make loads of fake currency. The counterfeiters face a dilemma. Helping the Nazis complete their mission could help them win the war bu failing to meet their deadline could get them executed. Not all the prisoners agree on how to proceed and the tensions between them separate this from other Holocaust movies by focusing on the characters and their complex thoughts and feelings.

Finally, Revanche (2008) tells the story of a cop who kills an accompliceto a bank robbery in the revancheline of duty and the dead girl’s bank robber boyfriend who has sworn revenge. The cop’s wife gets caught in the middle Departed-style. There’s nothing sexy about being either a cop or a crook in this movie and nothing exciting about using your gun. The weight of a single act of violence is felt by everyone involved throughout the movie as both men carry a crushing feeling of guilt with them everywhere they go. Revanche means both revenge and new beginning. This movie’s about both.



Screw you, German language films. I waded my way through Metropolis (a 1927, 2.5 hour black and white non-talkie monstrosity about “the future”) and A Coffee in Berlin (a greasy, effeminate James McAvoy lookalike whines his way around cafes), and bits and pieces of The Blue Angel (Marlene Dietrich failed to inspire) and Christiane F. (mostly a David Bowie tribute) and I decided, fuck this, I’m just gonna talk about Werner Herzog instead.

wernerHerzog is a German film director, producer, screenwriter, author, actor, and (apparently) opera director, considered to be one of the greatest heavyweights in New German Cinema. Roger Ebert once said that Herzog “has never created a single film that is compromised, shameful, made for pragmatic reasons or uninteresting. Even his failures are spectacular.”

At age 14, he was inspired by an encyclopedia entry about filmmaking, which he claims gave him “everything I needed to get myself started” as a filmmaker – well, that plus the 35mm camera he stole from the Munich Film School. Oh, sorry, Werner, “I don’t consider it theft—it was just a necessity—I had some sort of natural right for a camera, a tool to work with.” Artist, thief, sometimes both.

I know him and love him especially for his documentaries. In fact, Grizzly Man might be the grizzlymanweirdest and most spectacular documentary I’ve ever seen. It’s about this grizzly bear “enthusiast” Timothy Treadwell who loved them so much he decided to live among them. He believed himself to be to be the Jane Goodall to bears, spending something like 13 summers with them, but he was also kind of an idiot, shooting Steve Irwin-like footage that no one asked for while ignoring the number one rule that even children know about bears. You need to watch this film. Ebert, delighted and appalled by the film, said that Treadwell “deserved” Herzog.

Herzog once promised to eat his shoe if Errol Morris finally finished a film project he’d been working on for years. In 1978, when Morris’ film Gates of Heaven premiered, Werner publicly cooked then ate his shoe, an event capture and made into a documentary by Les Blank (called Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe). Herzog hoped to encourage others to tackle incomplete work, but he could never be mistaken for a slouch himself.

IntoTheAbyssIn Into The Abyss, Herzog changes direction a bit. There’s not much narration, and he doesn’t appear on-screen. Instead, he lets a convicted murderer on death row tell about the crimes he says he didn’t commit just 8 days shy of his impeding execution. The film doesn’t dwell on guilt or innocence. Although Herzog is upfront about being anti-capital punishment, the movie is mostly apolitical but seeks simply to contribute to the conversation.

Werner Herzog always picks interesting subjects to study, but he himself is nothing short of a fascinating one himself.


21 thoughts on “German Language Films

  1. mattasshole

    I love your focus on Werner Herzog. Into the Abyss was the first movie I ever saw at TIFF and Herzog himself was by far the most interesting speaker I’ve ever seen at the festival. And I agree with you about The Blue Angel. That was a bit of a chore for me.


    1. Jay Post author

      Well thanks for taking the brunt of this one on your shoulders this week. I found that with my spirit and energy lagging, I just couldn’t get into subtitled movies. Sean and I did watch Metropolis together, and for two and a half hours he not only read aloud all the title cards that he knew I wasn’t catching, but also started offering play by play for the action on screen. I think I liked Sean’s version better than Lang’s.


      1. seanathant

        Metropolis was a chore but I’m glad we saw it. The visuals are stunning when you consider it is from the silent era. It is really amazing the little world they created with miniatures and robot suits!


  2. Brittani

    Aww, I loved A Coffee in Berlin! lol

    Grizzly Man, Good lord that doc was fascinating and horrifying at the same time. I felt like Herzog tried really hard to be on Treadwell’s side, then half way through said “fuck it, this guy is crazy.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Myerla

    Guten Tag.

    Haven’t seen any of your choices Matt, though I do wanna see Funny Games. Heard plenty about it.

    I’ve seen two Herzog docs, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Into the Abyss both are amazing and only two of his feature film Aguirre the Wrath of God and nosferatu both of which I was kinda ‘meh’ on.

    Did you hear the story of Herzog being shot whilst filming an interview with Mark Kermode, a just shrugged if off saying its a flesh wound. Brilliant.


    1. Jay Post author

      Yes I did hear that. What a guy.
      I tried watching Fitzcarraldo, one of his fiction films, and I couldn’t really get through the Opera.


  4. Wendell

    I need to see Funny Games. Really soon. Been putting it off for too long. I’ll be discussing The Counterfeiters in a few weeks.

    Jay, hope you’re feeling better. Nice write-up on Herzog.


  5. joelnox

    I am seriously unfamiliar with German film seeing perhaps six in total, Metropolis, which I enjoyed although once was enough, being one of them. I’ve also seen The Blue Angel, I hadn’t thought of it probably since I was underwhelmed as you were. Marlene most definitely had not hit her stride yet.

    I haven’t seen any of yours, I’m most intrigued with The Counterfeiters of your choices. I also enjoyed the info about Herzog who I’m familiar with by name but haven’t seen any of his films. I did consider Grizzly Man when it was playing in the theatre but everyone talked about how crazy the guy was and the resolution and I decided to give it a pass.

    As I said I really struggled to come up with a list. I have several German directors whose American work I admire, Fritz Lang, Lubitsch, Murnau, Douglas Sirk, however all those are English language films but at last I did manage to come up with three:

    Run Lola Run (1998)-Lola has 20 minutes to find and replace the money her boyfriend has lost, get it to him and stop him from committing a crime. Intense, propulsive action film with a fantastic performance by Franka Potente who could not be tougher.

    The Harmonists (1997)-From 1927 to 1934 the Comedian Harmonists were a wildly popular singing sextet who toured extensively throughout Germany. The film’s focus is really the trajectory of their career but once the Nazi incursion gains momentum the group’s Jewish members aren’t allowed to perform in public any longer causing a crisis within the group.

    Taxi zum Klo (1980)-Frank, a closeted high school teacher compulsively cruises for sex in public bathrooms eventually meeting a man he enters into a relationship with, not that it stops his behavior in the slightest. While his lover wants a more permanent arrangement Frank can’t stop his wandering ways. How long can it last and how long before his secret becomes known at work? A real snapshot of a bygone era, the hedonistic, freewheeling time just before AIDS firmly clamped the lid on this kind of unfettered behavior shown here, the sex is very explicit and real. Written and directed by the film’s star Frank Ripploh this was a succès d’estime winning several critic and festival awards and becoming a cult success during its original release.


  6. BroadBlogs

    Interesting. With regard to films that have something to say but can come across looking like torture porn, I wonder if it ends up being a distraction? I’m also wondering if it is used in part to get more audience, But I’m wondering if it keeps a lot of audience away — like me.


  7. Wandering through the Shelves

    Jay, I understand how you feel. I think many of the German films that comes to mind immediately are either artsy (which are likely to go over my head) or are about the WW2/Nazis or Communism (which are depressing). There have been some lighter fares that I’ve watched but nothing memorable, so what I’m really curious is if there’s any good contemporary German comedies and dramas.


  8. Pingback: Super Happy Foreign Films! | Assholes Watching Movies

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