Memory politics haunt Berlinale after scandal over Nazi past

As the Berlinale reels from revelations that its founding director Alfred Bauer was a high-ranking Nazi, the issue of memory politics looms large over the film festival's 70th anniversary.

Memory politics haunt Berlinale after scandal over Nazi past
Golden Bear candidate Rithy Panh said cinema had a role to play in the "fight against totalitarianism". Tobias Schwartz / AFP
reparations for Europe's first major film festival of the year were overshadowed by a newspaper report last month alleging Bauer had been more involved in the Nazi regime than previously thought.
The “Alfred Bauer prize” has been removed from Saturday's awards ceremony, and the Berlinale has commissioned the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) to investigate its founding director's Nazi ties.
“With Alfred Bauer, it is probably the case that certain voices raised (his Nazi links) at the time, but it was swept under the carpet and is only coming out again now,” IfZ director Andreas Wirsching told AFP.
While the festival wrestles with its own history, a number of films on the programme set out to challenge dominant narratives about the past.
In “Speer Goes To Hollywood”, which premiered in Berlin this week, Israeli director Vanessa Lapa documents the efforts of Nazi architect Albert Speer to whitewash his image after the war.
The highest ranking Nazi not to be sentenced to death at the Nuremberg trials, Speer's memoirs later became a best-selling book and never-made Hollywood film project.
Using conversations between Speer and producer Andrew Birkin, Lapa subtly exposes the absurdity of the architect's reputation as the “Good Nazi”.   
“Speer is a good example of how long an accepted Nazi perpetrator could tell his own story as if he and those in his milieu didn't have so much to do with it,” IfZ director Wirsching told AFP.
Whitewashing the past is also an issue in Brazil, according to director Marco Dutra, whose film “All the Dead Ones” is up for the Golden Bear in Berlin.
Brazil's far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has claimed racism is “rare” in the country and recently appointed Sergio Camargo as head of the institute for Afro-Brazilian culture — a man who has said slavery was “beneficial” to those
of African descent.
Dutra takes the opposite view with “All the Dead Ones”, which is set in late 19th century Sao Paulo, a decade on from the abolition of slavery.   
“Despite numerous, still respected theories which claim that Brazil is built on a mix of identities, the reality is very different. It is a very racist country,” he said.
Hiroshima and the Holocaust
Another Golden Bear candidate, Rithy Panh, added that cinema had a role to play in the “fight against totalitarianism”.
Panh's film “Irradiated” confronts the viewer with harrowing images of both Hiroshima and the Holocaust.
“The film is a cry of hope, a cry to conjure misery. We think that these things are in the last century, but they are repeating themselves again and again,” said the French-Cambodian director.
Nigerian director and archivist Didi Cheeka of the Lagos Film Society, meanwhile, believes that cinema can help a society come to terms with its past.
“It is always much more dangerous when images are suppressed,” said Cheeka, whose short film “Memory Also Die” uses previously forgotten footage from
post-war Nigeria.
Speaking to AFP at the Berlinale, he said archive film could challenge “official narratives” about the brutal Biafra War, which nearly tore apart newly independent Nigeria in the late 1960s.
Cheeka argued that because people were encouraged not to talk about the conflict for decades, resentments are now bubbling up in modern Nigeria.
“I see resentment in my part of the country, which lost the war… people are now talking about it in a bitter, resentful way.”
By restoring footage of the war from the colonial-era archives, Cheeka aims to “help bridge this divide and help people come to terms with what happened.”

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7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers

To celebrate the works of women in the German film industry, and at the conclusion of this year's special outdoor Berlinale, we have compiled a list of seven must-watch German films directed by women. 

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers
A scene from System Crasher. credit: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Peter Hartwig

This year’s Oscars marked the first time in its almost 100-year history that two female filmmakers – Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell – were nominated in the Best Director category. Only five women have ever been nominated for this award. Zhao took home the gong, becoming just the second woman ever to do so.

In 2021’s Berlinale Festival, 60 percent of the films in the Generation category were directed by women — with 75 percent of female filmmakers making up the Kplus selection (a category for younger audiences).

Here is a look at seven films by some of the most influential female directors in German cinema.

Never Sleep Again (1992) — Pia Frankenberg

Featured in Berlinale’s Retrospective series, meant to showcase female filmmakers, this film is written, directed and produced by Cologne-born filmmaker, Pia Frankenberg.

The film follows three female friends through post-unification Berlin, who are making their way to a wedding when their car breaks down. They wander through the streets of former East Berlin, roaming in and out of bars meeting men. 

The dilapidated sites of the former Cold War frontier city, still scarred by World War II, become a place for sheer endless personal experimentation where the women begin to reconfigure their lives and loves.

Frankenberg’s impressionistic portrait of three women in the city reflects on the state of the newly unified Germany, where for a moment all possibilities seemed radically open. (Available on Mubi, Binged)

The German Sisters (1981) — Margarethe Von Trotta 

Considered one of the classics of the New German Cinema movement, The German Sisters tells an intimate story of Germany. 

Based on the real-life story of the Enslein sisters, it is an expression of director Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political. It’s the story of Juliane, a feminist journalist and her sister, Marianne, who is a terrorist revolutionary. The film, which won six awards at the Venice Film Festival including the Golden Lion, was Margarethe Von Trotta’s third film and first collaboration with Barbara Sukowa. The director-actor duo went on to do six more films together. (Available on Mubi, Prime)

Margarethe Von Trotta on set in 1975. Photo: dpa | Bertram

Toni Erdmann (2016) — Maren Ade 

Toni Erdmann is a German-Austrian comedy which was directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade. The film, which premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, was named the best film of 2016. 

Meant to showcase the intricacies of a father-daughter relationship, the film pairs carefully constructed, three-dimensional characters in a tenderly funny character study. A hard-working woman reluctantly agrees to spend time with her estranged father when he unexpectedly arrives.

As a practical joker, the father does his best to reconnect by pretending to be her CEO’s life coach. (Available on Mubi, Kanopy, Prime, Vudu)

I Was at Home, But (2019) — Angela Schanelec 

I was at home, but (Ich war zuhause, aber) is a 2019 German drama film directed by Angela Schanelec. At the Berlinale that year, Schanelec won the Silver Bear for Best Director. 

The film is a story about a 13-year-old student, Phillip, who disappears without a trace for a week and suddenly reappears. 

It maps the existential crises his mother and teachers are confronted with that change their whole view of life. The film features several plots, which tell the stories of several people who are all connected to Phillip in some way. It has scenes with long silences, to contrast ones with heavy dialogue, which critics believe makes this film a cinematic masterpiece. (Available on Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, Vudu, or rent on YouTube).

The Audition (2019) — Ina Weisse

This film has been described as a symphonic study of human behaviour. It’s the story of a violin teacher, who takes great interest in mentoring a student for an audition. Anna, the violinist and teacher played by Nina Hoss, shows plenty of compassion toward the boy at first, but their relationship becomes much more strained as the date of Alexander’s audition nears and Anna begins to put him through musical torture. Come the day of the exam, events take a tragic turn. (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Pelican Blood (2019) — Katrin Gebbe 

Pelican Blood is written and directed by Katrin Gebbe, who won the 2014 Preis der Deutschen Filmkritik (German Film Critics’ Prize) for her first film.

It tells the story of a woman who trains police horses. She adopts her second child, a severely traumatised five-year-old girl. When the girl shows violent and anti-social behaviour, her new mother becomes determined to help her.

The film has been described as raising fascinating questions – how do you draw boundaries for a child who seems to ignore them or even takes a perverse pleasure in overstepping them? What can you do as a parent when you realize that your love and protection aren’t enough? (Available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime)

System Crasher (2019) — Nora Fingscheidt

Another film about a rebellious child, System Crasher picked up a whopping eight German Film Awards after its release in 2019.

The film has a powerful political message about the inadequacies of the universal child care system. The protagonist, Benni, is a violent nine-year-old girl who suffers from psychotic episodes. Her key social worker, Frau Bafané, tries to get Benni into special schools or facilities; dozens turn her down and Benni is too young to be effectively sectioned as an inpatient.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fingscheidt says, “There’s a very German dimension to the film in the obsession with bureaucracy, with rules that need to be adhered to. Rules like, ‘this child cannot stay in this home because they are getting too emotionally attached,’ when that institution may be the first place where a child has begun to open up.”

The film has received an incredible amount of international recognition, garnering 45 international awards. (Available on Netflix)