Two teenagers from East Germany sneak in a movie theater in West Berlin to see an R-rated American film promising some frontal nudity, but all their attention, and the rest of the story, is engaged by the newsreel shown before the feature film.
That’s the premise of “The Silent Revolution,” the centerpiece offering of the Goethe-Institut San Francisco’s 23rd Berlin & Beyond Festival, billed as the largest festival of contemporary German cinema in The Americas. This year’s programming opens this weekend at the Castro Theatre and continues next week at the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley and Goethe-Institut in The City.
“The Silent Revolution,” screening Saturday, takes place in 1956, portraying life in the city’s Russian and American sectors and East Germany under Moscow’s oppressive rule. Limited movement between the city’s various factors was still possible then; it was five years before the Berlin Wall went up.
It’s also almost three decades before the wall was torn down and the Soviet Union disintegrated. People of the nations occupied by the Red Army since the end of World War II were restless living under Moscow’s rule, and there were uprisings in East Germany and Hungary.
What that pivotal newsreel showed in West Berlin was actual footage of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, not Moscow’s “fake news” available in East Germany about a “fascist counterrevolution.”
And so writer-director Lars Kraume follows the juxtaposition of the two versions of reality between the two boys and their families and schoolmates, as the boys begin a lethally dangerous campaign to express support for the Hungarians with two minutes of silence in the school.
The original title, “Das schweigende Klassenzimmer,” is “The Silent Classroom,” but in the U.S. distribution it’s “The Silent Revolution.” Both versions make sense.
With only glimpses of the insight into everyday life under repression that “The Lives of Others” presented so brilliantly, “The Silent Revolution” nevertheless succeeds in portraying universal conflicts — between friends, lovers, parents and children — in an environment still alien to American audiences. But the acting by high school students, some of whom appear 20-somethings or older, is fair-to-middling.
(One KGB officer keeping an eye on East Germany 30 years after the story depicted in the film was Vladimir Putin, who then never got over the loss of the Soviet Empire.)
The festival opens March 8 with “25 km/h,” a film directed by Markus Goller and written by Oliver Ziegenbalg, whose 2010 adventure comedy “Friendship!,” about an East German man who travels to San Francisco in search of his long-lost father, was a German box office hit. In “25 km/h,” two brothers in their 40s who meet at their father’s funeral after a 20-year separation, realize a boyhood dream of riding across Germany on mopeds. Bjarne Madel, who plays one of the siblings, is slated to attend the screening, which is followed by a party.
The closing night feature is “The Bra,” a truly quirky film without dialogue directed by Veit Helmer, who will attend the screening. Set in a village in Azerbaijan where there are lots of drying clothes hanging on lines outdoors, the picturesque film follows the adventures of a lonely conductor whose train snags a bra off of one of the lines, and he goes on an unlikely Cinderella-like journey in search of its owner.
Some 18 additional films round out the programming, including “The Waldheim Waltz, a documentary by Ruth Beckermann about former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. Detailing the controversy that arose over his participation in the Nazi regime during World War II during his campaign for the presidency of Austria in the 1980s, which he won, the film screens at 8 p.m. March 13 at Goethe-Institut.
IF YOU GO
Berlin & Beyond Film Festival
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., and Goethe-Institut, 530 Bush St., S.F.; Shattuck Cinemas, 2230 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
When: March 8-14
Tickets: $11 to $20 per screening
25 km/h: 6:30 p.m. March 8, Castro; 7 p.m. March 11, Shattuck
The Silent Revolution: 6 p.m. March 9, Castro; 4:30 p.m. March 11, Shattuck
The Bra: 8:30 p.m. March 10, Castro; 9:45 p.m. March 11, Shattuck Movies and TV