Berlin film fest grapples with Nazi past, far-right threat

Author: Agencies

This week’s Berlin international film festival is wrestling on- and off-screen with the weight of the Nazi past and the menace of a resurgent far right.

The 74th Berlinale, as the event is known, has a reputation for confronting political realities head-on with high-profile movies and hot-tempered debates.

German director Julia von Heinz brought together an unlikely pair, US actor Lena Dunham and Britain’s Stephen Fry, for her drama “Treasure” about a Holocaust survivor who returns to Poland with his journalist daughter.

Inspired by a true story, the film shows their journey following the fall of the Iron Curtain, after decades of family silence about the Nazi period.

Fry plays the seemingly jovial Edek searching for a connection with his uptight daughter Ruth.

Their travels take them to Edek’s childhood home in Lodz, where they make the chilling discovery that a family living in his old flat is still using his parents’ porcelain tea service, silverware and a green velvet sofa they abandoned when they were deported.

Fearful it is the last chance to record his memories, Ruth convinces Edek to return to Auschwitz.

‘A NEW PERSPECTIVE’ — Von Heinz, speaking after a warmly received screening, said that a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the wake of the Gaza war had spurred her to finish the film for the Berlinale. She rejected suggestions there had been “enough” movies dealing with the Nazi period. “There can never be enough stories to be told about this and I think we are giving it a new perspective.” Fry added: “While history may not repeat itself, as somebody once put it, (it) rhymes and there are similar feelings now as we know rising up.” The actor, who had several relatives who were killed at Auschwitz, said it was “an extraordinary feeling” to shoot scenes outside the former death camp. Dunham, who also lost ancestors in the Holocaust, insisted its lessons are both rooted in the Jewish experience and transcend it. “It’s important to acknowledge that the far right, be it here or in the US – there’s an incredible and shocking amount of anti-Semitic rhetoric and there’s also a shocking amount of Islamophobic rhetoric, anti-black rhetoric, transphobic rhetoric,” she said. “The goal is to isolate people based on their identities and make them feel inhuman and that’s a universal story unfortunately.”

RESISTANCE ‘SUPERHEROES’ — “From Hilde, With Love,” starring Liv Lisa Fries of international hit series “Babylon Berlin”, also debuted at the festival over the weekend. It tells the true story of Hilde Coppi, a member of the “Red Orchestra” anti-Nazi resistance group, who gave birth to a son in prison while awaiting her execution for “high treason” in 1942. Director Andreas Dresen grew up in communist East Germany, a region where the far-right AfD is poised to make strong gains in key state elections later this year. He said that in school resistance members were often portrayed as larger-than-life “superheroes”, meaning many felt incapable of having similar courage to stand up to authority. Fries, whose vivid portrayal impressed critics, said Coppi joined the Red Orchestra in trying to sabotage the Nazi war effort out of a basic sense of right and wrong. “It was not only decency but also a sense of solidarity – solidarity is always worth standing up for,” she said. Dresen stripped the movie of historical images familiar from Nazi movies such as “waving swastika flags and thumping jackboots”. “Political terror is part of our present and unfortunately not as far away as we would like,” he said. “I really wish this film weren’t so topical.” “From Hilde, With Love” is one of 20 films in competition for the festival’s Golden Bear top prize Saturday.

COMMITMENT TO ‘EMPATHY’ — the two films premiered amid a fierce debate over whether the Berlinale should continue to invite AfD politicians to its galas. A bombshell revelation last month – that party members attended a meeting outside Berlin at which mass deportations of foreigners and “poorly assimilated” German citizens were discussed – raised the stakes. After initially insisting that the elected representatives should attend, the Berlinale backtracked and disinvited five AfD officials, citing its commitment to “empathy, awareness and understanding”. The move was widely praised by the artistic community, but dissenters argued that democratic culture meant tolerating even offensive views. Kenyan-Mexican actor Lupita Nyong’o, the festival’s first black jury president, was asked whether she would have attended the opening ceremony Thursday in the presence of far-right officials. “I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question,” she replied. “I’m glad I don’t have to be in that position.”

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