In Times Of Fading Light review: Director Matti Geschonneck and screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase tackle Eugen Ruge’s source novel.
In Times Of Fading Light review by Paul Heath at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.
Bruno Ganz leads the cast of this period comedy/ drama set in the autumn of 1989 in East Berlin, just weeks before the wall was pulled down. Wilhelm Powileit (Ganz), a staunch communist for the past 75 years, is celebrating his 90th birthday, and is having a get together for family, friends and peers at his residence. The party will see him betrothed with medals, flowers and gifts and will host many of the Young Pioneers, who all turn up to pay their respects on this milestone birthday. However, cracks are starting appear, both in Germany generally, and within Wilhem’s own troubled family. We learn that stepson was arrested in Moscow as an alleged counter-revolutionary, and his grandson has suddenly defected to the west… and that’s just the start of things.
Matti Geschonneck’s film, from a screenplay by Wolfgang Kohlhaase, is an adaptation of Eugen Ruge’s novel of the same name. The book, published in 2013, came with a subtitle that reads ‘The Story Of A Family’, and it is exactly that. This intimate portrait is told miles away from the corridors of power and the huge change that Germany was about to go through, the story very much about this multi-generational family with a patriarch who really has seen it all.
Geschonneck and his collaborators have created a very dated look to the film with very desaturated imagery and muted colour pallets. Hannes Hubach, the cinematographer does a superb job in maximising his limited options, as most of the film takes place in a single location. As a counter-balance, he employs the use of drone photography at either end of the film, fantastically book-ending the picture.
Ganz, in his second film at the 2017 Berlinale, following a very comedic performance in Sally Potter’s The Party, is the obvious stand-out as the cantankerous, stubborn comrade, his character having much of the more comedic dialogue – ‘take the vegetables to the cemetery’, referring to the constant influx of flowers being offered to him, being one of many. There’s also great support from the likes of Sylvester Groth (below) as Kurt, who delivers a fine performance both in German and Russian.
In Times Of Fading Light is a perfectly fine drama, one laced with comedic elements which do translate to a wider audience. The issue is its lack of anything massively affecting. It is one of those films which you enjoy whilst you’re in front of it, but there isn’t anything to take away from it. Of course, that is all perfectly acceptable, but with a film tackling such interesting subject matter and set at a massively impactful time in a country going through huge change, I guess I expected more.
In Times Of Fading Light review by Paul Heath, February 2017.
In Times Of Fading Light review screens as a special presentation at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.