In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts (In Times of Fading Light)Berlin Film Festival 2017
The poetic title here refers to the Russian term for early autumn – when the days become shorter and the nights colder – but it is soon evident that it also serves as a potent metaphor for the historical setting of the film. Berlin, capital of the GDR, 1989: the yellowing leaves and dead trees become clear and provocative symbols of a system that held so much promise but disintegrated before our very eyes.
The plot centres around the 90th birthday celebration of Wilhelm (Bruno Ganz), a high-ranking veteran of the German Workers Party. Over the course of the day, friends, admirers and former colleagues come to pay their respects to the individual who has struggled for the rights of the working man for almost his entire life. The elephant in the room, however, and what only a few select people are aware of, is that Wilhelm’s grandson, Sascha (Alexander Fehling) has fled to the West. Wilhelm is forced to reflect on the multitude of schisms and failings within his family and his party. The crumbling family structure hides allusions and becomes a powerful symbol for the collapse of the GDR.
The aesthetics of In Times of Fading Light home in on period recreation without frill or flair: the outskirts of Berlin clad with a few old Ladas and Trabants and the limited, muted colour palette typical of East Germany in the 80s. The style of the movie feels grand on a small scale; we are limited to a few locations and a tight team of naturalist players. But the acting is gripping and urgent on almost every level, especially Ganz, who offers the audience a warm but dubious character to wrestle with: the dozy, half-senile communist who still defends his ideals, although he knows that the days of the GDR are numbered.
The film remains immediate and compelling, blending poignant drama and black humour together brilliantly. Unfortunately, the feature is stilted by some tired clichés that have become shallow as we have seen them time and time again in the GDR genre. Ganz’s performance distinguishes In Times of Fading Light from its predecessors but not enough to make it a truly remarkable film.
In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts (In Times of Fading Light) does not have a UK release date yet.
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