Thursday, 3 February 2011

Die Wellen (The Wave - 2008)

Viewing context:
Initially added it to my LoveFilm list after hearing Nemone (the 6Music radio presenter) talking about it to a film cricic they had on through the day.

Directed by Dennis Gansel, who directed a film in 2004 called Napola, which looks inteesting. What is more impressive though, is that he also wrote it (although it is based on a book) along with Peter Thorwart. The writing credit is important for Gansel as it was a better written film than it was a directed one.

What Happened:
A teacher, introduced as quite the punk rock loving, self figured anti-hero teacher, Rainer Wenger (J├╝rgen Vogel) gets stuck teaching autocracy for a week rather than his favoured Anarchy. After ten minutes of the students’ indifference to the subject and their complete disregard for the power of a dictatorship, flatly refusing that it would even be possible that the circumstances in modern day Germany could create a dictatorship, Wenger gets creative and begins to introduce themes and concepts that get the kids’ attention. His ideas begin to gain some traction as it transforms into a movement, aptly called ‘The Wave'.

The upperschool setting situates it as an issue for Germany’s youth, who are arguably more settled in the western dogma of consumerism and individualism than their previous generations. Yet the setting can easily be seen as a convenient way to tell this story that could be allegorically projected onto society as a whole, with different students representing different social types.
The film shows just how easy it is to get caught up in a movement; for the seemingly apathetic and aimless to so quickly attach themselves to something, to anything. It was less a comment on whether autocracy or democracy was better, but more on how people will so easily have their will bent for an easier life and to fit in, whether this will is being bent by a dictator like Stalin or by brands like Adidas. It managed to be critical of both sides of the coin, which I always believe helps any argument; it never came across as a preaching statement, it just feltnatural, which was precisely Wenger's intention in the first place. What is left for society? A space between apathetic nihilism and of sheep-like drones following the masses.

What it did particularly well:
The main thing I would like to highlight is how aesthetically youthful the film was. The seemingly petty adolescent problems (I say seemingly because from the hormone fuelled, unwisened mind of the teenager, these things really are life and death - god I wouldn’t be a teenager again) were interjected with the more grand politics in a way that not only made it seem much more plausible, genuine and less preachy, but I would imagine that it also makes the film accessible to that social group; those that think it doesn’t matter, that aren’t already engaged in these sorts of debates or discussions.
I expected the film to be much more mature, much more nuanced and sophisticated, both in the aesthetics and in its handling of the subject matter. When it wasn’t this at first, I was a little jarred, but had it been, it would have missed that connection with the social type it was depicting. If only the typical privileged, middle aged, middle class people were going to watch it in their local art cinema then it would have been a complete waste. (This is clearly a crass exaggeration, but there is truth in the fact that had it been more pretentious seeming, it would have disinterested many in society. An unfortunate fact).

What unimpressed or didn't quite reach potential:
There was one slight gripe, but this could come from my knowledge-gap of the average German teenager. These kids all seemed pretty smart and quite politically engaged already. There was a point when Wenger says ‘at least I am getting through to them’. Well, I was never fully convinced that they were the kind of kids that needed getting through to. Compared to kids at my school (myself included), these lot were pretty much political geniuses to begin with.

Performance of the film:
I would say Frederick Lau as the unhinged Tim gave the best performance. Mostly for the early part of the film when you begin to see the signs that his trajectory is inevitably going to carry this too far; that he is so genuinely dedicated to, and excited about this because he has nothing else. He was enough his own character, but also enough of that type of character, that you could see how this type of individual would be very typical in this kind of movement.

Scene of the film:
Although the end scene was really tense; the whole film had built up to a final payoff and the film, despite the potential pitfall, did not drop the ball at the end, I still think that the scene where the students bomb around town putting stickers up and tagging all the walls, restaurants, buses, police cars, etc was a great way of showing you the sort of youthful energy and sense of change that is at the heart of this type of movement. It was entirely plausible, none of those caught up in it became majorly political, which is what was great. It was a very genuine depiction of how a group of high school kids - and then symbolically by extension the whole of society - could get so wrapped up in something

Final Word:
It seemed genuinely anchored in the perspective of the youth, which is what made it so plausible and allowed me to get caught up in the wave (I have no willpower, that cheesy line was just irresistible).

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