Now Playing! Take Refuge from the Rain in the Melancholy Movies of Berlin & Beyond

Still from 'Gundermann.' (Pandora Film © Peter Hartwig)

Through the late ’90s and most of the ’00s, Berlin & Beyond unspooled in January at the peak (or depth) of winter. The rain-gray melancholy of the sky was a perfect match for the unsmiling neurotics who populated German movies. (There weren’t, and aren’t, a lot of comedies made in Germany.) Between Berlin & Beyond and Noir City, the crowded Castro Theatre was Doom and Gloom Central in January. Regardless of the movie, you were in the mood for a drink when it ended.

I miss those days, if you couldn’t tell, and I’m pleased that this year’s long-running storm parade will continue through at least a portion of the 23rd annual Berlin & Beyond (March 8–10 at the Castro, March 11 at the Shattuck in Berkeley and March 12–14 at the Goethe-Institut in downtown S.F.). Think of donning a warm coat and shaking out an umbrella as small acts of solidarity with the angsty protagonists onscreen.

Still from '3 Days in Quiberon.'
Still from '3 Days in Quiberon.' (Rohfilm Factory/Peter Hartwig)

The past is always present in any program of German-language films, for the estranged adult brothers reuniting for a motorcycle trip in the opening night pick 25 km/h; for the movie star Romy Schneider (a riveting Marie Bäumer) shedding the mask for a pair of Stern reporters circa 1981 in the German Film Award-winning 3 Days in Quiberon; and in The Silent Revolution, which revisits an East German class’s ill-fated protest of the brutal crushing of the Hungarian Revolution by the Soviets in 1956.

Singer-songwriter Gerhard Gundermann’s name is probably only familiar to former East Germans of a certain age—and just how many of them live in the Bay Area?—but Gundermann is of interest to any musician (or fan) who ever sold out in pursuit of an ideal. Gundie (as his friends called him) was an artist, but he was also a dedicated socialist who worked the morning shift operating a coal mine excavator.

Earnest and goofy, Gundie (the supremely talented Alexander Scheer) is so committed to the cause and his fellow workers that he insists on asking uncomfortable questions of politicians and party members. He suffers for it, of course, though it brings him to the attention of a Stasi recruiter. A kind of seriocomic bookend to The Lives of Others, Gundermann resurrects the voice of a generation with a gift for crafting first-rate songs around potent metaphors. And for charming and irking just about everyone he meets.

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