“Dear Thomas” or “Rabiye Kurnaz against George W. Bush”, who will win the Lola this Friday at the gala in the Berlin Palais am Funkturm?
Both are the favorites at the 72nd German Film Awards, with twelve nominations and ten nominations for the six candidates for best film. Both deal with contemporary history, Andreas Kleinert’s wildly existentialist biopic about the GDR writer Thomas Brasch, who died young in 2001, as well as Andreas Dresen’s political tragic comedy about Rabiye Kurnaz’s fight for the release of her innocent son who was imprisoned in Guantanamo. Alone against the state, alone against world politics.
If things go right, “Dear Thomas” should carry away the Lola in gold. The drama, shot in irrepressible black and white, depicts Brasch’s being a stranger in the GDR and later in the West, with Albert Schuch as the sometimes irresistible, sometimes unbearable leather jacket macho who wrestles with the freedom that is denied to him. After leaving the country, he is courted as an underground star in West Berlin and New York and yet remains lonely as a dog.
Kleinert has created a series of images for his hero’s daring thinking, in which he assembles fragments from the life of an exuberant, dissident, desperate existence. Splinters of memories, dream sequences, documentary scenes, hard cuts, wounds: a film that chews glass like the boy lying next to the rebellious little Thomas in the cadet school. And with great actors, in addition to Schuch, above all Jörg Schüttauf as a Jewish-communist remigrant and functionary’s father, who betrays his son, as well as Jella Haase in the role of the young Katharina Thalbach.
“Dear Thomas” is undoubtedly the more aesthetically exciting film compared to Dresen’s homage to a courageous woman of Turkish origin, a heroine of everyday life. But he depoliticizes the David versus Goliath story in his feelgood movie in favor of the human touch.
The film prize, which is awarded in 20 categories, is an instrument of cultural promotion, the most valuable cultural excellence initiative in Germany, with 250,000 euros alone for the nominations in the main category Best Film and a further 250,000 euros alone for the Lola in Gold. A total of almost three million euros will be awarded. They come from the casket of the Minister of State for Culture, so they are fed from taxpayers’ money. That is the major difference to the undeposited Oscars, Cesar’s, Baftas or Goya’s, which bestow prestige on the winners and at most indirectly ensure more money in the box office.
A premise that needs to be reminded again and again. A grievance is no less annoying because it is being perpetuated and you actually get tired of arguing over and over again. That you can’t vote on art (like the almost 2,200 voting members of the German Film Academy), but only argue.
That a qualified jury – and not a political proportional representation jury as it was until 2005, before the Academy took over – decides in favor of the greatest risk rather than the work most capable of reaching a consensus, rather than the swarm intelligence of the industry, which is also inevitably biased.
Or that last year it was not the most outstanding film art that was awarded gold, Dominik Graf’s Kästner adaptation “Fabian”, but Maria Schrader’s more pleasing science fiction melodrama “I am your human”. Schrader is a great actress and director, but her best work to date, Before the Dawn Treader, went completely empty-handed in 2016.
This year, too, productions of excellent quality are missing from the nominations for best film, above all Sabrina Sarabi’s impressively quiet peasant drama “No one is with the calves”. Only Saskia Rosendahl was preselected as the main actress. Instead, ready-made goods compete for the main prize.
Karoline Herfurth’s relationship drama “Wunderschön” and Sönke Wortmann’s university lesson “Contra” about a chauvinistic professor and an unrecognized migrant take up virulent subjects: sexist obsession with beauty and racism in the academic world.
Herfurth tackles traditional images of women with wit and verve, but she doesn’t create cinema images from them. Wortmann manages no more than a contemporary variant of the outdated plot of “My Fair Lady”. A man wants to teach a woman how to speak properly (at the debating contest), which in turn leads to her turning him from a fiend into a human. The images do not surpass the level of an average TV production.
Of course, a healthy film industry needs titles like this, needs audience and box office successes – but there are numerous other funding sources for this. “Beautiful” saw 1.5 million viewers, “Dear Thomas” 62,000. The film prize cannot close the historical gap between film art and commerce in this country. But he can help ensure that art survives.
Well, there is Sebastian Meise’s harrowing prison drama “Great Freedom” (eight nominations) with Franz Rogowski and Georg Friedrich about the persecution of homosexuals in Germany before paragraph 175 was abolished.
In the black, dehumanizing hell of prison, the dim light of a smoldering cigarette is often the only thing that softens the darkness, in a world without a sky, without hope. The sparse light models the battered bodies delicately captured by the camera – if cinematographer Crystel Fournier doesn’t win an award, the academics won’t have eyes in their heads.
It’s just stupid that “Große Freiheit” is a half Austrian production, with an Austrian director, half Austrian cast, shot mostly in Magdeburg, but produced equally. When Meise’s film premiered in Cannes in 2021 in the “Un certain regard” series, it was perceived as an Austrian production, it was even the Austrian candidate for the Oscar 2022.
Certainly no festival visitor in Venice last year would have thought of considering “Spencer”, number 6 among the Gold Lola contenders, to be a German film. Kristen Stewart plays Lady Di, directed by the Chilean Pablo Larraín in this close-up of a woman who breaks with the conventions of the Royals and yet chokes on them: the fourth contemporary story in the main candidates.
Like “Dear Thomas” and “Great Freedom”, “Spencer” also portrays a tragically bonded character, this time in a deliberately paranoid-overbred ambience. Perhaps the accumulation of such screen characters can also be read as a symptom of the immense pressure people are currently suffering from.
“Spencer”, a German film? It was produced by Komplizen Film from Berlin, with a majority, as they say. Here, too, most of the filming took place in Germany. Almost five million euros of German funding went into the 18 million dollar production, in which Great Britain, the USA and Chile are otherwise involved, each apparently with smaller sums. What “Spencer” allows according to the regulations Lola participation.
Nothing, absolutely nothing against co-productions. As a film country, the Federal Republic is too small anyway for titles to be amortized at the local box offices. Nothing against the creative work of the accomplice filmmakers Maren Ade, Jonas Dornbach and Janine Jackowski.
Academy director Anne Leppin points out that something like this has happened before, citing “Cloud Atlas” by Tom Tykwer (and the Wachowskis) and Roland Emmerich’s “Anonymous” as examples. But these are German directors. It’s true, the prize money doesn’t go to them at all, but to the producers. But that doesn’t make the irritation any smaller.
Why is it that international themes and filmmakers are obviously more attractive to creative German producers? Why are local directing works in Cannes and Venice only very rarely in competition?
Has the German film scene come to terms with its own mediocrity, content itself with two or three artistically semi-outstanding productions a year? Otherwise, in addition to the economic motto, does the cultural motto now also apply, the main thing is that the film is shot in Germany? Apart from the fact that the viewers of Maren Ade would sooner see a film again instead of a production achievement, six years after “Toni Erdmann”.
At the beginning of her tenure as Minister of State for Culture, Claudia Roth’s predecessor Monika Grütters tried to help the weakening art of film and to counteract the leveling effect of federalism in a country pot and influential, co-producing TV stations with more targeted cultural funding.
Nothing has changed. One more reason that Roth picks up the ball. After all, it is she who presents the Lola statuettes for the best film at the end of the gala, in gold, silver and bronze.