Willkommen To The 12th Annual Audi Festival of German Films

The dashing Alexander Fehling in Shores of Hope, showing at the Audi Festival of German German Films
Alexander Fehling in Shores of Hope, showing at the Audi Festival of German German Films

The Goethe-Institut unveils its 12th annual Audi Festival of German Films, kicking off in Sydney on April 30th, followed by Melbourne on May 1st before heading on a grand tour of Australia.

With 45 films on offer, festival director Arpad Sölter has assembled an eclectic mix of cinematic gold, allowing fascinating insights into rarely glimpsed facets of German life.

Opening night kicks off with Two Lives (Zwei Leben), by writer/director Georg Mass. Set in Norway in 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this taught thriller unravels the identity of East Berlin-raised Katrine (Viky Kreips) as declassified documents dredges up dark secrets that hark back to WWII.

Also set during in East Berlin, this time behind the wall, Shores Of Hope (Wir Wollten Aufs Meer), by writer/director Toke Constantin Hebbeln, with co-writer Ronny Schalk, crafts an intriguing tale of subterfuge as dock worker Cornelis (a dashing Alexander Fehling) and best friend Andreas (August Diehl) plot an escape at sea.

Their friendship is tested when Stasi agents grow suspicious, and the men choose very different paths, driving a terrible wedge between them.

Throw in Cornelis’ love affair with a Vietnamese cultural exchange student (Phuong Thao Vu) and the scene is set for a tumultuous affair that soars between action thriller and intensely intimate emotional drama.

Fehling looks every inch the classic movie star. Already a big name in Germany, with a recent turn in Quentin Tarrantino’s Inglorious Basterds, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hollywood takes note.

Diehl and Thao Vu are both fantastic, conjuring palpable electricity in this complex tale of love and betrayal. Exhilaratingly painted in deep, blue hues, both literal and figurative, this is a polished and engaging offering.

Transpapa, written and directed by Sarah-Judith Mettke, is a cracker of a film that explores sexual identity with a deft hand. Gorgeously shot, with a perfectly judged balance between drama and humour, it’s an intriguing twist on the odd couple routine.

Maren (a fantastic Luisa Sappelt) is an introverted and moody teen who, as the movie opens, is dumped by her boyfriend for not putting out. A fractious relationship with her mother, Ulrike (Sandra Borgmann) is further tested when news arrives that her father is back in the country.

What Ulrike hasn’t told her is that her former husband Bernd (an inspired turn by David Striesow) is now living as Sophia. What could have so easily descended into farce is actually handled with a supple grace and immense warmth, as both newly identifying mother and resistant daughter at first dance awkwardly around each other, then clash fiercely before finding common ground.

Charged with a great deal of hope, this is inspirational cinema and a refreshingly honest look at transgender life.

Lost In Siberia (Ausgerechnet Sibirien) is a light-hearted and engaging comedy, not to be confused with the dark 1991 film of the same name that explored Stalin’s gulags.

Instead, Ralf Huettner’s movie, based on a novel by Michael Ebmeyer, follows the misadventures of uptight businessman Matthias (Joachim Król) as he travels to Siberia in an attempt to modernise the efforts of his Russian counterparts.

Taking a pot shot at the stereotype of German efficiency, Matthias finds himself in an uphill struggle as a colourful cast of equally archetypal, vodka-swilling Russians, including the charismatic Vladimr Burkalov as the secretive Artjom, and the beautiful Natalja (Svetlana Tsvichenko) who attempts to bribe Matthias into an arranged marriage, push back against him.

The overly simplistic humour is lifted by stunning cinematography and an unexpected tangent, when Matthias falls for ethnic Shor throat singer Sayana (Yulya Men), and her ethereal, traditional vocals that captivate his imagination and turn the film on its head.

It uncovers a distant world that’s so alien to the concrete wasteland in which the film begins as to be thoroughly compelling. A touch overlong, the eventual road trip is fascinating stuff and an unworn path well worth taking.

Stephen A Russell