Monday, November 2, 2020

Movie with Abe: The German Lesson

The German Lesson
Directed by Christian Schwochow
Released November 6, 2020

A clear and proven way to take away someone’s individuality is to prohibit them from doing the things that make them feel unique and which they know they do well. Suppression of the arts, including the banning of books, stifles creativity and suggests a conformity that can be stifling to those who best know how to express themselves in artistic ways. It is unlikely that someone who spends most of their time painting or writing will fully give it up, even if forced to do so, and the decision to continue finding an outlet through which to share their vision of the world may have both political and emotional consequences.

Siggi (Tom Gronau) is an inmate in a German prison after World War II. He is given a writing assignment and begins to remember the formative moments that got him to where he is. A defining memory that sticks out from his past involves his father (Ulrich Noethen), a loyal Nazi officer, and his orders to stop his friend Max (Tobias Moretti) from painting, an activity no longer permitted by the Nazi regime. The younger Siggi (Levi Eisenblätter) has an admiration for Max and an interest in his art that puts him at odds with his father and the prevailing sentiments of the world around him.

This film is based on the 1968 novel by Siegfried Lenz, which was influential in Germany when it was published and has since become available internationally. This is one of many books and films to explore adherence to problematic commands and policies and how the enforcement of or subversion of them had a tremendous impact on people and the continued existence of free thought (see “The White Ribbon” for a great example). Siggi being tasked to write about it serves as an explicit meditation on who he is as a person and what his actions have meant to him, particularly as they relate to the example his father set.

This concept is thought-provoking, but the execution is lacking. The visuals and costumes are strong enough, yet there isn’t much that actually occurs over the course of its lengthy 125-minute runtime. Siggi doesn’t have much of a personality when he is first introduced in prison, and it’s easy to chart how he loses his innocence and energy without needing to follow the events of the film. This film could be used as a decent teaching tool, continuing to probe the reasons that people refuse to adhere to regulations knowing the risks and the importance of free speech, better than as a film in its own right.


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