Monday, 12 June 2017

In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts (3 Stars)

"In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts" (engl. "In times of fading light") is a biographical novel about the Umnitzer family from 1940 to 2001. However, the film only shows a single day in the life of the family, October 1st, 1989, the 90th birthday of Wilhelm Powileit, the family patriarch.

Wilhelm Powileit, played admirably by Bruno Ganz, is the second husband of Charlotte Umnitzer, so he's only related to the rest of the family by marriage, not by blood. His family and the local community look up to him as a hero. On his 20th birthday he joined the German Communist Party and has been a member ever since. In 1940 he fled to Mexico to avoid persecution as a Communist. In 1952 he returned to East Berlin, the capital of the German Democratic Republic (DDR).

Every year on this day he celebrates his birthday with his family, his friends and Communist Party officials. Every year he's given yet another medal for his faithful service to the DDR. He has a shoe box full of medals, most of which look identical.

This year is different. In six days time it will be the 40th anniversary of the DDR, but everyone is talking about the political problems facing the country. Massive numbers of young people are fleeing the country to go to West Germany, not directly but via Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The party officials fear that the DDR is falling apart. Wilhelm's grandson Sascha fled to West Germany the previous day, leaving his wife and son behind. The family has agreed not to tell Wilhelm in order not to spoil his birthday, but the secret comes out when Wilhelm's daughter-in-law Irina gets drunk and talks about it.

This is a dark comedy, overlaid with symbolism. The dinner table collapses before the meal, just as the DDR is collapsing around them. Neither the family nor the party officials can do anything to repair the table.

I've given the film a relatively low rating because it was too slow and plodding to get me mentally involved. However, I'd like to watch it again when it's released on Blu-ray. I suspect it's a film that could grow on me.

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