Es war einmal in Deutschland (Bye Bye Germany)Berlin Film Festival 2017
To be self-reflective about the dark past of one’s own country’s history via cinema can result in movies that yearn to be meaningful, to make a statement and an obvious conclusion. Unless you make a comedy. Covering dark subject matter with a light touch is a difficult balance to achieve, and Es war einmal in Deutschland (Bye Bye Germany) gets it right… much of the time.
Stories of the Second World War seem to be oddly conclusive, to suggest that the whole affair was wrapped up in 1945; so Es war einmal in Deutschland takes an interesting perspective in that its characters live in a displaced persons camp near Frankfurt in 1946. David (Moritz Bleibtreu) is a Jewish peddler who was a successful wheeler and dealer before and during his time at a concentration camp. While he’s grateful for his liberty, he would enjoy it more with a large pile of cash, and so he enacts a scheme where he and his friends sell linens to local Germans at an outrageous markup. It’s a simple scam without guilt, since these very people were the ones who championed David and his cronies’ journey to the gas chamber, or at least feigned ignorance about what was really going on in their own country.
While it’s hardly pretending to be Ocean’s Eleven, the playful nature of the con is where much of the amusement of the piece comes from (even though the stakes are not exactly high). Naturally, characters have to examine their own pasts, what has happened to them and to their country, and wonder whether it’s even their country anymore. These moments are not contrived, but are entirely expected.
The film has been picked up for European distribution by the German arm of Warner Bros. and with this kind of weight behind it, it might receive an international push in the manner of Good Bye Lenin! in 2003. The movie has even been given a comparable English retitling, Bye Bye Germany, since Es war einmal in Deutschland translates as Once Upon a Time in Germany. It remains to be seen whether this sometimes awkward balancing of darkness and light will be so well received by international audiences.
Es war einmal in Deutschland (Bye Bye Germany) does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Es war einmal in Deutschland (Bye Bye Germany) here: