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Top 10: German film recommendations

Updated: May 15, 2021

The first of Moment‘s‘Top 10s’ is brought to you in the form of a comprehensive rundown of German film recommendations. Whether you’re twiddling your thumbs during the eighth week of lockdown here in the UK, or are simply looking to expand your knowledge of international film, the following list constitutes a sound foundation for exposure to the world of German cinema.

Photo: Free-Photos via Pixabay

1. Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin, Wim Wenders, 1987)

Wim Wenders’ tale of two invisible angels moving through and quietly observing life in 1980s Berlin serves as a poetic depiction of the coldness of a Wall-divided city, tuning into the various stories and predicaments of its inhabitants. The film moves with the slowness and consideration of its two central characters, while its use of black and white make it striking, captivating, and yet all the more dreamlike.


2. Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt, Tom Tykwer, 1998)

Run Lola Run follows an intense race against the clock as Lola has 20 minutes to get 100,000 German Marks to her boyfriend, Manni. Characterised by its exploration of the butterfly-effect, the film sheds light on how lives can be changed tangentially by a single encounter. The video-game-esque quality and dynamic cinematography award the film even greater excitement and vibrancy. Visually striking and unique, and with a high-energy electronic soundtrack, Run Lola Run offers 90 minutes of pure adrenaline.


3. Good Bye, Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003)

Good Bye, Lenin! adopts a light-hearted approach to the GDR and East Berlin. Wolfgang Becker’s tragicomedy follows the story of Alex, the son of fervent socialist Christiane. Christiane falls into a coma and awakens eight months later in a post-Wall, unified Germany, where capitalism begins to permeate the East. Alex finds himself caught in an increasingly preposterous and risky web of lies and façade to protect his mother from suffering any further fatal shock. Suffused with Ostalgie – nostalgia for East Germany - and questioning the lengths we are prepared to go to in order to protect our loved ones, this social satire makes for humorous yet emotional viewing.


4. The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)

Von Donnersmarck’s Oscar-winning feature film debut offers a poignant tribute to a nation in a dark period of mistrust, secrecy and betrayal. Set in mid-80s East Berlin, the film follows the love story of the playwright Georg and his actress lover, Christa-Maria, which plays out under the sinister scrutiny of a Stasi official who is forced to question his own moral principles. A haunting, suspenseful watch.


5. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, Robert Wiene, 1920)

Presented as a flashback, Wiene’s silent horror centres on Franzis, a student in the small town of Hostenwall, whose friend falls prey to an insane hypnotist and his somnambulist associate. Said to be the first example of German Expressionist cinema, ‘Caligari’ is characterised by its famously jarring angles and tilting surfaces. The crazed whirlwind mirrors the mad hypnotist’s mind state and serves as a wider representation of the turbulence and instability in Germany during and following WW1.


6. Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)

Generally regarded as a pioneering science-fiction film, Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent epic poses important questions about science and progress, and portrays an antagonism between the working class and society’s upper echelons which is just as relevant today as it was in Lang’s time. Bold shadows, unusual camera angles and stylised sets leave the viewer confronted with a visually striking dystopian nightmare.


7. M (Fritz Lang, 1931)

Almost nine decades after its release, M remains dynamic and ahead of its time. Set against a backdrop of a cold, 1930s Berlin, this classic German thriller presents a thought-provoking character study of the child murderer Hans Beckert. Lang’s first venture into sound film explores themes of justice, criminal culpability and the human psyche, and the skilful contrast of sound and silence and unique mise-en-scène combine to form a chilling portrait of the killer’s inner turmoil.


8. Das Boot (Wolfgang Petersen, 1981)

Wolfgang Petersen’s seminal film Das Boot tracks a World War II German submarine crew in their fight for survival during the battle of the Atlantic. Famous for its claustrophobic interior shots, Das Boot offers the viewer 145 minutes of suspense. The men of U-96 have many unseen enemies; while their main opponent is the Royal Navy, the crew must also battle against a cramped living space, crushing water pressure and their own descent into madness.


9. Downfall (Der Untergang, Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)

Set almost entirely in the equally claustrophobic Führerbunker, Hirschbiegel’s 2004 historical war drama presents defining moments of the Battle of Berlin, depicting Adolf Hitler’s final days and the collapse of the Third Reich. The film traces the last-standing members of Hitler’s inner circle: Eva Braun, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph and Magda Goebbels, resulting in a sinister, gripping, and deeply harrowing account.


10. The Wave (Die Welle, Dennis Gansel, 2008)

Dennis Gansel’s socio-political thriller draws inspiration from the true story of a high school teacher in California who designed a classroom exercise in order to educate his students about the dangers of National Socialism. The film follows a fictionalised social experiment which questions whether fascism could still rise in today’s society, depicting how horrifically easily mass movements can find their footing and coerce a generation.


Honourable mentions

  • Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)

  • Christiane F. (Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, Uli Edel, 1981)

  • Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)

Coming soon…

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