Directed by Matti Geschonneck (2017)
Ah, yes, the fall of the Soviet Union and its running dogs: one never regrets a chance to enjoy a reprise. In this elegiac, allegorical piece, hardline Stalinist Wilhelm Powileit (Bruno Ganz, in a terrific performance) is celebrating his 90th birthday at home with his loving family and respectful party apparatchiks. There’s a nice spread on the rickety old dining table (furniture that should have been assembled by grandson Sascha (Alexander Fehling) – he’s the only one with the know-how, but Sascha is not there, having apparently gone off his feed about his marriage, work, and life in general.)
Sascha’s lugubrious father Kurt (Sylvester Groth) thinks Sascha is mentally ill. Why else would a young man spurn the embrace of the intellectual and material paradise that is the German Democratic Republic? Because he understands that the East German Workers’ Paradise is a sun about to flame out, that’s why. It is 1989 and the Marxist edifice, built on misery and lies, is less than another birthday away from extinction.
Wilhelm is sliding into dementia yet senses the end of things, lapsing into generational recriminations, mild sexual harassment, nostalgia and the singing of old love songs favoured by Stalin. His wife, Charlotte (Hildegard Schmahl), takes the opportunity to wistfully imagine paths she might have taken, without her heroic husband whom she is trying to poison. And Kurt is like a deer in the headlights, torn between fears for his son, daughter in law and Russian lush of a wife, Irina (Evgenia Dodina, in a tour-de-force of alcoholic insouciance).
This is a good interior tale of a people awakening from collective slumber, some grumpily, some still dazed from sleep. The production hammers home its theme much like Wilhelm crudely drives nails into the creaking dining table – the faded light, the dying foliage, the peeling paint and crumbling buildings, the birthday flowers waved away as vegetables for the cemetery, the collapsing table as a young lad (the future) reaches over to select something choice – it’s all there and yet the metaphors don’t get in the way too much, so good is the ensemble, so ruefully amusing the script, and so neatly filmed the scenes, stagey as they are. There is an eerie sense of sheep released from a pen, not having a clue what to do now. The party winding-down before Death pays a visit – the old grandma heading off into the street and vanishing – Irina drinking the house dry and then heading back to the old country one last time but unconscious – this is how Communism ends, not with a bang but a whimper.
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