Monday, September 22, 2008

DIE WELLE / THE WAVE - doesn't ever quite convince

Confronted with a class of German schoolchildren sick of hearing about the Holocaust and convinced it could never happen again, ("we've moved passed it"), schoolteacher Rainer Wenger decides to make an experiment. In "project week", he reintroduces traditional seating plans, uniforms, and respect for the teacher. The bored, pampered schoolchildren are energised and excited by the feeling of solidarity and belonging. Coming from broken homes, or parents so liberal they create no boundaries, the kids respond to a repectable authority figure. Soon, they take the project and run with it, introducing a hand signal, a graffiti tag and a rather menacing attitude toward those that don't fit in. Before they know it, they have enthusiastically become a gang with fascist over-tones.

The movie is well-acted and manages to capture the infectious energy of teenagers and the way in which teenage relationships work. Juergen Vogel also does a good job as the charismatic teacher who runs the project to teach the kids a lesson, but is as susceptible to the feeling of power as they are. However, I think that writer-director Dennis Gansel makes a mis-step in forcing the transformation of the kids into a "Project Week" rather than, say, into a term. The pace of the transformation seems forced, especially with the few kids who are fired up but then become disillusioned, all within a week.

Still, I can't deny that this is a powerful movie, provocative and engaging, and desperately relevant.

DIE WELLE played Sundance 2008. It opened earlier this year in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Turkey. It is currently on release in the UK and Russia and goes on release in Poland next week. DIE WELLE opens in October in Hungary abd Belgium and opens in November in Greece, the Netherlands, and Taiwan. It opens in France on January 28th.

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