We Are Young, We Are Strong tells the story of the 1992 Lichtenhagen-Rostock riots.
  • We Are Young, We Are Strong tells the story of the 1992 Lichtenhagen-Rostock riots.
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The 5th Annual German Currents Film Festival adds a new, somewhat surprising name to this year’s roster of theaters. Jack kicks things off on Saturday night at Balboa Park’s Natural History Museum, while across the Prado, MoPA’s Joan and Irwin Jacobs Theatre plays home to a pair of family matinees. And while it’s the last place one might expect to find a film festival, you can figure in the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center as one of this year’s screening venues. German Currents San Diego program director Tobias Queck assures me the blu-ray image looks great — just don’t expect the full-dome treatment.

The festival runs October 24 and 25. For more information, visit germancurrentssd.org. Here are my thoughts on two of this weekend’s offerings.

We Are Young, We Are Strong

Video:

We Are Young, We Are Strong

Sunday October 25, 2015, 5:30 p.m. at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

It was the biggest anti-immigration riot Germany had seen since, well...you know. On August 24, 1992, a group of angry, disillusioned youth took it upon themselves to attempt a mini-ethnic cleansing on a refugee shelter located in the Lichtenhagen district of Rostock that housed a group of journalists and over 100 Vietnamese emigrants.

The events unravel from the alternating points-of-view of the victims, most notably Lien (Trang Le Hong); their aggressors Stefan (Jonas Nay), Jennie (Saskia Rosendahl), and Goldhahn (Paul Gäbler), among others; and Martin (Devid Striesow), a politician torn between duty and his love for a hoodlum son. Director and co-writer Burhan Qurbani remains steadfast in his refusal to varnish the truth. When asked his thoughts on a final solution to the refugee problem, Robbie (Joel Basman) — easily the gang’s most repugnant (and watchable) member — suggests they find meaningful employment, echoing Hitler’s inspirational rallying cry, “Arbeit macht frei.” The phrase, German for “Work sets you free,” greeted prisoners on their way into Auschwitz.

The events leading up to the riot are shot in black-and-white and composed for 1.85, with the climactic clash playing out in color and widescreen. The Monday morning quarterback in me thinks a move from a vibrant, sprawling ’Scope canvas to a cramped, achromatic inferno might have been a wiser, more logical artistic choice. But cinematographer Yoshi Heimrath handles each format with equal aplomb, his sleek, steady aerial work and sinewy passes through the crowd adding tension with every turn. For the most part, Qurbani refuses to use the violent payoff as a means reuniting his characters. Don’t expect a tearful father and son reunion to cap things off. But by the same token, I could have done without the cheesy shot of the two lovers’ hands meeting amidst soft focus background flames.

To the cheers of locals, some 3000 strong and all acting like participants in a giant tailgating party, Stefan gets to throw out the first Molotov. Given the film’s relatively small budget, the re-creation of events is surprisingly spectacular.

Even though the story made headlines, it’s time to issue a SPOILER ALERT! No one was hurt as a result of the attack. Can one imagine a payoff such as this in an American action film? In lesser hands, this could have dissolved into violent video game trash like The Raid films. Without showing sympathy for his aimless characters, Qurbani instead focuses on what led to the atrocious act, and why it took place at this particular point in Germany’s post-Reunification history.

It’s a film that’s as topical as today’s headlines. The front page of this morning’s Yahoo News read, “German anti-migrant rally highlights European backlash.” Hopefully, the timeliness will help the film find an American distributor. I’ll be conducting the post-show Q&A with Burhan Qurbani. Please join us for what’s sure to be a spirited discussion.

About a Girl

Video:

About a Girl

Sunday October 25, 2015, 12:30 p.m. at the Museum of Photographic Arts

Though it’s screening as a family matinee, I’d be sure and keep the little ones away from this dark, death-obsessed black comedy about a rebellious girl whose failed suicide attempt leads to what the program notes describe as a discovery of “what fun life and love can really be!”

The film opens on what’s become a blistering digital cliché: the current boyfriend of 15-year-old Charleen’s (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) mother unwittingly stumbles into traffic and is instantly flattened by an oncoming CG bus. Whatever happened to the trusty unattended manhole or coma-inducing banana peel? They’ve been relegated to the same dust-covered cliché bin that will one day soon play home to this plot contrivance.

Smart-aleck Charleen displays an unhealthy affinity for suicidal singers (Hendrix, Winehouse, and especially Cobain). Meanwhile, Mom (Heike Makatsch) is too busy with her own life to notice any warning signs. And best friend Isa (Amelie Plaas-Link) tries her best to understand. Unable to take her seriously, Charleen instead credits Isa’s good looks with rendering her invisible.

After surviving a hairdryer in the bathtub, Charleen must face the embarrassment of being the only botched suicide in her class. It takes some time for About a Girl to find its legs. It isn’t until mother and daughter begin to bond and love arrives in the form of bespectacled geek Linus (Sandro Lohmann) — he chauffeurs Charleen around in a shopping cart and has a burning desire to play dunk-and-fry with his hamster — that director Mark Monheim and his talented young star find their groove.

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