Berlinale Reviews: Es war einmal in Deutschland

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Munich-born director Sam Garbarski, who scored a hit with Berlinale audiences with his 2010 film Irina Palm starring Marianne Faithfull, returns to the festival with a German-language film set in 1946 Frankfurt.



Directed by Sam Garbarski

Starring Moritz Bleibtreu, Antje Traue, Mark Ivanir, Hans Löw, Tim Seyfi, Anatole Taubman

Running Time: 101 minutes

Festival Section: Berlinale Special Gala

Rating: Good

Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run, The Baader Meinhof Complex) stars as David Bermann, a wily Jewish businessman who survived the Holocaust. He managed to stay alive due to his sharp wit – he was spared from the gas chamber due to his ability to tell jokes and pressed into service as an entertainer for the SS.

A beautiful but ostensibly cold female German-Jewish U.S. Army majorinterrogates him

After the war, he endeavors to establish a linen business – something that his family was known for before the war. He wants to save up enough money to emigrate to the U.S., but is hampered by the U.S. authorities administering post-war Germany. His wartime past catches up with him, and he is denied a business license and is interrogated as a suspected Nazi collaborator. A beautiful but ostensibly cold female German-Jewish U.S. Army major played by Antje Traue (Pandorum, Man of Steel), interrogates him. Over time, beguiled by his narrative, she begins to develop a soft spot for him.

The film is rich in period detail and is beautifully lensed

Bleibtreu delivers a meaty and mature characterisation, and the role shows his versatility as an actor. The lesser-known supporting players, particularly those who play the employees of his newly-founded company, are right there with him, with their idiosyncratic quirks and passionate explorations of survivors’ guilt. The romance in the film is a bit underdeveloped and unconvincing, but a tragic subplot, involving one of the employees recognizing the former SS man who gave the order to burn a synagogue in which his family was at worship, makes the film a more powerful experience than what initially meets the eye.
Next Berlinale screening: Monday, February 13, 3 p.m. At Haus der Berliner Festspiele

Release date in Germany: Thursday, April 6

Rating system: Excellent, Good, Average, Poor, Awful

Review by Kirill Galetski

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