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‘Je Suis Karl’ review: Dir. Christian Schwochow (2021) [Berlinale]

Playing in the Berlinale Special strand of the festival.

Receiving its world premiere and playing as part of the Berlinale Special at this year’s festival is Christian Schwochow’s striking and powerful drama Je Suid Karl, a film that focuses on the sudden uprising of a new far-right youth movement in Europe. An impressive Luna Wedler leads the cast as Maxi, a grieving young woman who has lost everything, and a key individual used as a pawn in the movement’s plans to mobilise and gain traction in the political field.

Sammy Hart / Pandora Film

The film opens with a couple, Alex (Milan Peschel) and Inès (Mélanie Fouché) seemingly self-documenting a trip abroad. They are comng across the border, back into Germany, and it is soon revealed that they are indeed trasnpoering a refugee, Libyan Yousef (Aziz Dyab). They make it without Yousef being detected and soon celebrate on the roadside, just as soon as they are clear of any immediate danger. Fast-forward a couple of years and Alex is pictured collecting his oldest child, daughter Maxi (Wedler) from a spell living abroad in Paris. She’s not keen to have returned home early but is welcomed back into the homestead, a Berlin apartment where mother Inès and young brothers Hanz and Franz await her arrival. Keen not to hang around, she immediately leaves, hardly talking to her mother, as does Alex, who returns to assist in bringing in the luggage from outside.

It is here where the plot thickens, Alex signing for a supposed package for their elderly neighbour, and takes it inside for it to for delivery next door at a later time. Little does he know that the package actually contains a concealed bomb, one that he takes into his own flat – something we’ve all done in the past. After leaving to retrieve wine from the car, the bomb detonates, devasting the apartment and all inside. Alex survives, but the rest of the family are dead.

The film follows the aftermath of this event – which takes place in the film’s opening few moments. We largely follow Maxi as she is taken under the wing of a stranger she meets in the street – the handsome Karl (Jannis Niewöhner) of the title, a leader of Re/Generation, a pro-Europe, anti-immigration movement who use social media and live streaming to spread their message. Karl invites Maxi to an upcoming event in Prague, a coming together of similarly minded individuals, but his interest in Maxi may not be what it first seems as he keeps from her a huge secret, and their chance meeting in a Berlin store as she runs from hounding media, may not have been a coincidence at all.

Je Suis Karl is, in places, a difficult watch. It loses steam somewhat after the extremely powerful opening scenes, making up for it towards the strong climax set in Strasbourg, but there’s a lot to take away from the scary themes that are explored at the heart of the narrative. It clearly draws from similar real-life events that have affected the continent, and with a timely debut following incidents across the pond, Christian Schwochow’s film is certainly one that hits home.

Its biggest asset is the tremendous acting, notable from Wedler in the lead as Maxi, a character that goes through the absolute ringer and an actor who is asked to convey almost every emotion in her performance, and also Niewöhner; excellent as the narcissistic Karl of the title.

Je Suis Karl will not suit all, but it does send enough curveballs our way to keep us interested throughout its heavy two-hour run time. A timely story with a hard message and meaning, but also a film with some pretty solid staging and acting to make it a memorable cinematic experience, too.

Je Suis Karl plays in the Berlinale Special strand of the 71st Berlin Film Festival.

Je Suis Karl

Paul Heath



Jes Suis Karl is a hard and heavy – and sometimes uncomfortable watch, but solid direction, an interesting personal narrative and some top-notch acting make this a decent cinematic experience.



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