Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The Silent Revolution (2018 EIFF 3)

My favourite film of the 2018 EIFF (so far - I still have four films to watch) is The Silent Revolution (German: Das Schweigende Klassenzimmer), a German film written and directed by Lars Kraume, based on the book by Dietrich Garstka, which is based on true events.

Set near East Berlin in 1956, The Silent Revolution shows what happens when a twelfth-grade classroom learns, through unofficial channels, about the Hungarian Uprising (against the Soviet occupation). Kurt (Tom Gramenz) and Theo (Leonard Scheicher) are best friends who use the visit of a grandfather’s grave in West Berlin to sneak into a theatre. There they see a news report of events in Hungary, which they share with their classmates. Kurt suggests a two-minute silence in memory of those who were killed in the Uprising and the majority of the class agrees. But their teacher is not impressed. Neither is the principal (Forian Lukas), but he wisely decides to keep the matter quiet. Unfortunately, word spreads and soon the school board (represented by Frau Kessler, played by Jördis Triebel) and the Minister of Education (Burghart Klaußner) are involved, threatening to expel the students if they don’t say who started this ‘counter-revolution’.

In the meantime, we catch a glimpse into the home life of three of the students: Kurt, Theo and Erik (Jonas Dassler). Erik didn’t want to participate in the silence and is the one who initially tells the teacher what it’s about, precipitating the madness that follows. In all three stories, we will discover that family secrets have been kept from the boys. 

The Silent Revolution is a brilliantly-structured and incredibly intense examination of life in an authoritarian state that demands 100% loyalty and obedience from its citizens (i.e. where no one is allowed to voice an opinion that counters the official position). Unfortunately, such stories remain all-too-relevant in our time of fake news, kneeling football players and the labelling of those who question the “official” version of events as conspiracy theorists. The film also provides a nuanced look into how socialism, communism, capitalism and fascism were viewed by people in the early days of the Cold War. 

I have mentioned only a few key actors in a large ensemble cast that is universally excellent. The writing and direction are intelligent and tight, creating just the right notes of dramatic tension (some critics will no doubt see too much melodrama, but I found it entirely acceptable). The cinematography and score are outstanding, with a beautiful period feel. 

The Silent Revolution is a riveting tale of a minor but critical event. Having experienced something at least marginally similar when I was in grade seven, I was holding my breath from the opening minutes. An easy **** and a guaranteed place in my top fifteen films of the year. My mug is up.

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