Berlin & Beyond Film Festival 2012: “Barbara”, “Lessons of a Dream” and “Westwind”


Christian Petzold‘s glimpse into the life of the eponymous named Berlin doctor who has been banished to East Germany and kept under ever-scrutinizing eyes of Stasi officers certainly has all the plot elements one would find in most nail-biting espionage thrillers.  Yet this is not that movie.

Told with great subtlety – both in performance, pacing, and technique – Petzold’s second film of the year (his first being the exceptional entry into The Dreileben Trilogy, Beats Being Dead) was a joy to watch, and with the exception of the 2006 film, The Lives of Others, was a nice change of pace from the more clichéd dramas that are set in the GDR (German Democratic Republic) of the 1980’s.

I’m sure a lot of viewers will be able to notice some Hitchcock-like moments which will surely rattle their nerves a bit, but for me, that desired reaction Petzold was clearly aiming for just didn’t resonate.  Partly because the film’s conclusion involving the fate of a sub-plotted teen-ager was too predictable, but mostly because regardless of how good the performances were, there wasn’t enough there to make me feel for the characters.  As a film that pays close attention to atmosphere and getting the feel of the period right, it succeeds.  If only it were able to do that with its human characters.

One last thing to mention.  Regardless of my nitpicks, rendering this movie not the best-of-the-best, I still can see why it has been chosen as Germany’s official entry to represent the Country in the Best Foreign Picture category at next year’s Oscars.

Showtimes for Barbara – Thursday, Sept. 27th 7:00pm (Castro Theatre)

Lessons of a Dream

Sebastian Grobler‘s Lessons of a Dream tells the story of how football, or as we Americans call it, soccer, was first introduced to Germany.  Sure, the subject matter is a fun and interesting piece of history to make a movie on, but unfortunately all the comedy and drama became vastly overshadowed by cloaks of a “good-teacher-tames-wild-class” clichéd storyline, a musical backdrop reminiscent of the corniest of  Spielberg‘s more sentimentally soaked dramas (War Horse, E.T., etc.), and stiff acting performances amongst noticeably fake facial hairs.  Shame on you, make-up department.

With all that being said, this film was still able to elicit a stream of tears from me, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for soccer, ahem, football movies, regardless of how poorly made they are.  And I was tired.

Showtimes for Lessons of a Dream – Saturday, Sept 29th 10:30am (Castro Theatre)


Westwind is based on a true story about two East German teen sisters and one life changing 1988 summer while traveling abroad in socialist Hungary.  The film is part low-key coming-of-age drama, and part Romeo & Juliet – minus the many deaths, that is.

This too was shot with all the care of a director and film crew whose grasp on the language of film is secure.  In other words, very well executed.  Sure, the ending was a bit corny and predictable, but in the overall context of the film I’m able to forgive such sappiness.

Showtimes for Westwind – Wednesday, October 3rd 11:30am (Castro Theatre)


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