Thursday, January 14, 2016

Franziska Schlotterer's CLOSED SEASON: yet another surprising tale out of The Holocaust

They have no end, these stories that keep rising, year in and year out, from the ashes of the destruction of the Jews in the Nazi-occupied territories during World War II. The latest -- sort of, it was made in 2012 but is only now arriving in U.S. theaters -- is a small-scale tale of a husband, wife and the interloper who becomes a odd but necessary part of their "family." CLOSED SEASON (Ende der Schonzeit), co-written (with Gwendolyn Bellmann) and directed by Franziska Schlotterer (shown below), takes place in the Black Forest area of Germany in the middle of WWII, and, with the exception of a few local townspeople (along with a few others shown in Israel at the film's beginning and end). is basically a three-hander: quiet, intimate and at times even lyrical.

Though telling an unusual (that's putting it mildly) tale, the movie should leave little doubt that such a thing could and probably did happen during this time and place. Still, to its credit, the film does not claim that it is -- as is every other movie these days -- "based on true events." Slow-moving, somewhat obvious, and lacking much action (except in sexual situations), Closed Season is certainly no "breakthrough" of any sort. Yet the dialog and direction are strong enough to carry it along, and the performances in particular are top-notch.

As the pivot point of this movie, Brigitte Hobmeier (above) brings a fine combination of distance, dignity, anger and passion to her role of the put-upon (in more ways than one) wife. As her stern and seemingly thoughtless husband, Hans-Jochen Wagner (below, left) does wonders with a character that could easily seem remote and unfeeling. By movie's end we're in his corner every bit as much as we are in those of the other two protagonists.

In the third role, that of a young Jew fleeing the Nazis who stumbles upon the couple and their farm, Christian Friedel (of The White Ribbon and Amour Fou), shown above, right, and below, would of course appear to have our sympathy from the get-go. It is to the movie's credit that his character proves as nuanced as the other two -- though what he must finally endure bears little comparison to the travails of the host couple.

Although in its peculiar way a movie about The Holocaust, Closed Season allows us to view not a bit of that awful experience. It all remains off-screen. We are privy only to what occurs between this threesome. But that is enough to keep us relatively hooked. The book-end opening and closing of the film allow us a look into the next generation, as well as revealing more about what happened to our threesome -- and why.

All in all, if the film breaks no new ground, Ms Schlotterer's movie is well-executed enough to be worth a viewing and maybe some interesting discussion afterward. From Menemsha Films and running a concise 100 minutes, it has its American theatrical debut here in South Florida tomorrow, Friday, January 15, at the Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale, the Living Room Theater, Boca Raton, and at the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth. Further release dates, cities and theaters can be found (eventually) by clicking here.

Personal appearance: 
the film's co-writer Gwendolyn Bellmann 
will appear at the various theaters above 
for a Q&A during the opening weekend.

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