10 great contemporary German films to watch

All are well worth a watch and will really help your pronunciation, your vocabulary and your listening skills. They’ll also give you an all-important insight into the history and culture of German-speaking countries.

1. The White Ribbon

Das weiße Band, as it is known in German, won the coveted Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. Directed by Michael Haneke, the film is set a rural village in northern Germany and spans several months, ending on the eve of World War One. The plot centres around a speight of unusual and violent occurrences in the village, although it explores much deeper themes than that. Das weiße Band is certainly not light-hearted entertainment, but it’s an interesting film to watch and has received plenty of critical acclaim since its release.

2. Goodbye Lenin

Released in 2003, Goodbye Lenin is a comedy drama that follows the touching, and at times very funny, efforts of main character Alex to keep the fall of the Berlin Wall from his ill, DDR-supporting mother. Shortly before the wall comes down, Alex’s mother, Christine, has a heart attack and falls into a coma. Eight months later, she miraculously awakes but is told that any shocks or stresses could prove fatal – as a result, Alex transforms the family apartment into pre-November 1989, where his mother remains blissfully unaware of the political changes that have occurred. He soon faces obstacles though, for example the huge Coca Cola banner that is hung on the building opposite the apartment!

3. Run Lola Run

A film which launched the international film careers of two of Germany’s most successful actors, Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtreu, Run Lola Run is a fast-paced thriller that achieved international acclaim. The film follows a girl’s frantic efforts to try and save her small-time crook of a boyfriend after a job he does for a ruthless gangster goes awry. The plot may not be unique in the world of cinema, but the film’s originality comes from the fact that within it are several different versions of the story – each with a different ending.

4. The Lives of Others

Das Leben der Anderen as its known in German is a film made in 2006 that won a range of cinematic awards in Europe and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 Set in 1984, the film explores the monitoring of the East Berlin cultural scene by agents of the Stasi, the GDR’s notorious secret police. The main character in the film is Gerd Wiesler (played by Ulrich Muhe), a captain within the organisation who is tasked by his friend, the head of the Stasi’s Cultural Department, to watch a playwright who they suspect of dissidence. The captain soon discovers that there are other reasons for this particular surveillance operation though, and it’s this which leads him to question what he is doing…

5. Das Experiment

Released in 2001, this film by Oliver Hirschbiegel is about a social experiment, very similar to that held at Stanford University in 1971. In the film, a makeshift prison is constructed in a research laboratory, and twenty male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards for two weeks. The ‘prisoners’ are locked up and have to follow fairly undemanding rules, and the ‘guards’ are told simply to retain order without using physical violence. At the start, the mood between both groups is fairly amicable but it’s not long before arguments begin and the ‘wardens’ start to use increasingly severe measures to assert their authority…

6. Downfall

Another film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, Downfall (Der Untergang) is a depiction of Hitler’s last days in his Berlin Bunker as told by Traudl Junge, his final secretary. During these days, self-preservation compels former allies such as Himmler and Goring to begin defecting from their beloved Fuhrer, while others like Joseph Goebbels vow to die alongside him. Hitler, himself, enters a great period of paranoia, optimistic one moment and deeply depressed the next. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004.

7. The Baader Meinhof Complex

This film was also nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, this time in 2008.  It’s based on the story of infamous West German far left extremist group the Rote Armee Fraktion, who were responsible for scores of bombings, robberies, kidnappings and assassinations in the late 60s and early 70s. Lead by Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin they become embroiled in a violent war against what they perceive as the new face of fascism: American imperialism supported by the German establishment.

8. Nirgendwo in Afrika

Released in 2001, Nirgendwo in Afrika follows the highs and lows of a German Jewish refugee family that moves to 1930’s Kenya. It’s based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by well-known German author Stefanie Zweig and won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2002. Shortly after the family arrive in Kenya things take a turn for the worse in Germany, which makes turning back impossible. The whole family must try to adapt to their new surroundings and get used to a very different way of life…

9. The Counterfeiters

‘Die Fälscher’ to give it its German title was also awarded an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film – this time in 2007. It was written and directed by Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky and tells a fictionalized version of Operation Bernhard, a secret plan by the Nazis during WWII to destablise Britain by flooding its economy with forged Bank of England notes. The film is based on the memoirs of Adolf Burger, a Jewish Slovak typographer who was imprisoned in 1942 for forging baptismal certificates to save Jews from deportation, and later interned at Sachsenhausen to work on Operation Bernhard.

10. Sophie Scholl – the Final Days

Yet another Oscar-nominated film, Sophie Scholl – the Final Days was made in 2005 by German director Marc Rothemund.  It is about the last days in the life of Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old member of the anti-Nazi non-violent student resistance group the White Rose, an organisation that was secretly calling for the end of the war and strongly denouncing the inhuman acts of the Nazis.

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