25 June 2017 | oliverdriesen
Quiet but atmospheric
Wilhelm (Bruno Ganz), a Stalinist, dyed-in-the-wool communist apparatchik, turns 90 in the final stages of the German Democratic Republic. The year is 1989, and thousands upon thousands of people are deserting the GDR for a better life in the capitalist west. The movie is basically about Wilhelm's birthday party where friends, family and party officials come together one last time to pay their tributes. But there is an elephant in the room, some inconvenient family news, that is about to break. Suddenly, the old party veteran is confronted by his past and that of his generation of antifascists. This is a quiet little film, carried by the minimalist but precise performances of Ganz and Evgenia Dodina, who plays the heavily drinking, Russian daughter-in-law messing things up at an otherwise much too rigid and stiff birthday ceremony. You will probably enjoy this film more if you haven't already read Eugen Ruge's novel, like me, because it focuses on more or less one single day out of this 500-pager. Still, it has a "real GDR" feeling about it, comparable to Lives of Others, which is quite an achievement in itself. Some reminiscence of Vinterberg's Festen without the shaky hand-held camera. Plus there are moments of that old Downfall madness evoked by Ganz, only this time at the other end of history. So I recommend it for a rainy Sunday afternoon when you are not in the mood for all-out action but for thought provoking and sometimes painfully funny storytelling.