Tuesday, May 24, 2011

At reRun/GastroPub, the best double-bill in town: WE ARE THE NIGHT and THE WAVE, two by German filmmaker Dennis Gansel

OK: It's probably the only double-bill in town just now. But, damn -- it's a good one! Imagine: A classy, fast-moving vampire flick with lesbian/feminist tendencies and a smart socio-political thriller in the guise of a high school genre movie. Either film is worth seeing -- and paying for -- on its own. But at Brooklyn's best-kept secret, reRun/Gastropub, you get 'em both -- first-run, too -- for the price of a single ticket. What the films have in common is their director/co-writer, German semi-wunderkind Dennis Gansel, shown above, who is building up a resume of hip, smart movies that boast content, style, and high entertainment value.

In 2004, Gansel's Before the Fall (Napola) burst across Europe (it didn't open here until 2006). An interesting film featuring strong performances, it laid out how very seductive the Nazi stance and mentality must have been to the Austrians and Germans of that period. If the movie didn't quite convince me in toto, it was impressive enough to have remained with me over the past half-decade. Now, with his 2008 work THE WAVE, we're able to see further evidence of both Gansel's talent and his lingering interest in how fascism gains entrance into the mindset of a population -- particularly its youth.

Based on a novel by Todd Strasser, which, in turn, was based upon an "experiment" that took place at Cubberly High School in Palto Alto, California, in 1967, during which a teacher demonstrated via his students how even would-be democratic societies are not immune to the appeal of fascism. (The teacher is played here -- and very well -- by Jürgen Vogel, above.)

Gansel's film also demonstrates the seductive ease of fascism, providing it has a good enabler. In it we see a particular class of gung-ho students in present-day Germany, within a single week, infect its peers, parents and even, perhaps, its teacher, too, into capitulating to the joys of power and conformity.

This 107-minute movie is by necessity a little too schematic (a four-, six- or eight-hour miniseries might have made the story less so). Yet within its tight framework, Gansel is able to conflate everything from school, home, sports, drugs, drama club, love life, exercise and parents into his quite believable social canvas.

If you think our own USA-grown high school kids can be scary, wait till you get a taste of the German version organizing itself into a proto-fascist group. "Jens is totally transformed," notes one delighted parent, with pride. Run for the hills. Interestingly enough, it's the negative characteristics -- sexual jealousy, lack of parenting and sense of community -- that makes these kids fertile ground for the seeds of fascism, even in a society that is beginning to be multi-colored and multi-cultural.

Frightening, crazy, and perhaps a tad unduly telescoped (could all this take place within a single week?), The Wave is still enormously entertaining.  Beautifully acted by the whole ensemble, especially the award-wining Frederick Lau (two photos above) as the most susceptible student, and Max Riemelt (above) and Jennifer Ulrich (below, left) as the wavering (he more than she) "good kids" in the group.

One one level The Wave (in German, with English subtitles) probably scared the hell out of its home-state audiences (come on: it couldn't happen here again?!). In the USA, it will probably just stimulate conversation and entertain -- because we, of course, are so much wiser and multi-cultural.  Don't bet on it, boys and girls.


The beautiful Ms Ulrich and Mr. Riemelt both appear also in Gansel's other film on display, WE ARE THE NIGHT. Though made a mere two years after The Wave, the actors seem to have aged a decade and grown even more alluring, particularly Ulrich (below). That she's playing a vampire -- those creatures caught forever at the age at which they are "turned" -- of course helps matters. Unlike the junk-food, Tiddlywinking Twilight series, these vampires are the real thing: nasty, brutish and... gorgeous.

They're all ladies, too: No male vamps to be seen. When you learn the reason for this, you'll be chuckling mightily, as these vampires are both lesbian (shades of Daughters of Darkness, but this new one's a lot more frisky, frightening fun) and feminist -- the latter in these girls' own blood-sucking manner, of course.

In the stellar German cast is Nina Hoss (on poster, top, and above, left, in fang-mode) as the top-tier vamp. Ms Hoss -- who has shone in films as diverse as Yella, Jerichow and A Woman in Berlin -- is clearly slumming here. And enjoying it a lot, as any good actress should. How often do classy stars get the chance to vamp 'n camp like this?

Especially charming (for a vampire) is Anna Fischer (above), who comes across like a just-past-her-teen-years Jennifer Tilley. She's the youngest of this killing crew, and her despair at realizing, upon awakening, that she has both fucked and then finished off the young doorman who's had a crush on her, is a moment very nicely done.

The romantic leads are played by Karoline Herfurth and Mr. Riemelt (above, right), and Herfurth -- as the young woman who's been recruited by Ms Hoss but who does not quite fit into things -- proves a fine protagonist who goes from scary/scrappy (two photos up) to glamorous (below) in no time. (And wasn't this dinosaur/ferris-wheel theme park, above, just used in the recent Hanna?)

Gansel has given his first real genre movie a plentitude of class (the movie looks very good), incident (note the terrific pre-credit opening on an airplane), pace (it rarely slackens) and power (he draws from the myth's major themes but makes them his own). Turns out there's plenty of life left in the bloodsucker genre, after all.

The Wave and We Are the Night (the latter is dubbed into English, by the way; too bad, but fortunately, this does not ruin the movie), part of IFC Films' popular Midnight series, open this Friday, as a double bill, at the reRun/Gastropub. Click here (or on the link previous) for screening times and whatever else you might need. This is a special engagement of sorts.  Further theatrical screenings will begin in June, and the films hit VOD, as usual with IFC, around the same time.

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