Best German-language Films of the Past 25 Years

Discuss films and filmmakers of the 20th century (and even a little of the 19th century). Threads may contain spoilers.
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denti alligator
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Best German-language Films of the Past 25 Years

#1 Post by denti alligator » Fri Sep 05, 2008 4:26 pm

In preparing for an undergraduate seminar on German cinema, I realize that I know far less about German-language films of the past 25 years than I do about anything before that period. That means, roughly, the last six years or so of the GDR and West Germany, and then post-unification film production. The films I do know are more often than not box office hits (with the exception of Haneke, for example, or even--though he has been very successful--Fatih Akin).

I'd like to get forum members' feedback on their favorite German-language films (from any of the Germanys, Austria, Switzerland, and beyond) from the early 1980s to the present.

Thanks in advance.

EDIT:

So far I'm considering using the following films (all post-unification):

Haneke: Funny Games (or maybe Benny's Video)
Arnold: Alone, Life Wastes Andy Hardy
Akin: Gegen die Wand [Head-On] (or something else by him)
von Donnersmarck: Das Leben der Anderen [The Lives of Others]

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#2 Post by accatone » Fri Sep 05, 2008 8:50 pm

you are focusing on germanrecent history - so i would sggest something from Petzold who is imo taking care of most recent german sentiments 'specially after The Wende. Ramould Karmarkar comes to my mind as well.

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Gregory
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#3 Post by Gregory » Fri Sep 05, 2008 10:30 pm

My main candidates for "best" would be Haneke films: The Seventh Continent, Benny's Video, or 71 Fragments. Personally, I would not choose Funny Games, not because it's disturbing but because I think the other three are far richer and more thought provoking (though I'm certainly not writing off Funny Games).

Although I would not place it in the same league, The Edukators was also very well done. It's more audience-friendly, although judging from what you've listed that may not be a concern. Good Bye Lenin is another more crowd-pleasing one might generate some interesting discussion of East German history.

You might also consider showing an episode or two of Heimat, although I think it's best to show something in its entirety.

Does it have to be available on DVD? If you're willing to show VHS, I think von Trotta's Rosa Luxemburg would be a good choice.
I feel like I'm forgetting a few really good ones.

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#4 Post by karmajuice » Sat Sep 06, 2008 1:58 am

Are you looking for a particular theme, like something representing the political climate of the time? Or do you want a representative series of films? Or do you just want something in German?

As far as pre-unification films go, I would definitely recommend Herzog if you're not showing one of his earlier ones. I'm not sure which ones are in English (Fitzcarraldo, the only one I've seen from that period, is definitely in English), but it may be worth investigating.

Wings of Desire I would consider a must. Beyond whatever artistic worth it yields, it's worth watching for the depiction of Berlin.

Run Lola Run is good fun, very watchable.

Between Der Untergang and The Lives of Others, I prefer The Lives of Others. But both of them are exceptional.

Maybe Schlöndorff, too? Post- or pre-unification. Not sure if he has any worthwhile work in German from that time (I've seen The Ninth Day; I'd recommend it, but not for a limited or representative selection). The Tin Drum is a bit early, based on the time period you requested.

That's all I have, off of the top of my head.

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#5 Post by sir karl » Sat Sep 06, 2008 3:35 am

You also might want to try some Ulrich Seidl films, e.g. Hundstage or his recent one: Import/Export. Austrian cinema at its bleakest!
Last edited by sir karl on Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:24 am, edited 1 time in total.

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#6 Post by MichaelB » Sat Sep 06, 2008 5:01 am

karmajuice wrote: (Fitzcarraldo, the only one I've seen from that period, is definitely in English)
Not in any version I've seen - and I've seen it several times. There may be an English dub, but the versione originale is definitely German.

I second the recommendation for Import/Export, though with a warning that it's sexually graphic in the extreme (the same is true of Hundstage, though to a lesser extent).

Since you're including Switzerland, I was enormously impressed with Andrea Staka's Das Fräulein (2006), though it's more about the former Yugoslavia than German history (it's about a Serbian, a Croatian and a Bosnian who end up working in the same Zürich restaurant)

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Finch
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#7 Post by Finch » Sat Sep 06, 2008 5:45 am

Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo were shot in English and then dubbed into German for the local market. The English track is the default track. Still, as Herzog is German and the films were financed with German money, I'd count them as German films and among my favourites from that country. I'd also include the following in the list:

DER BLAUE ENGEL (Von Sternberg) (shame it's not on MoC's cards)
LOLA RENNT (Tywker)
ANGST ESSEN SEELE AUF (Fear eats the Soul) (Fassbinder)
HIMMEL UEBER BERLIN (Wings of Desire) (Wenders)
DIE FAELSCHER (Counterfeiters) (Ruschitzky)
DAS BOOT (Petersen)
GEGEN DIE WAND (Head On) (Akin)
GOODBYE LENIN! (Becker)

DER UNTERGANG/DOWNFALL is inexplicably overrated over here and in the US in contrast to Germany where it got decidedly mixed reviews which, to me, were more spot on than the raves abroad. Have to watch some Schloendorff films including BLECHTROMMEL (Tin Drum). Petzold and Dresen are highly rated contemporary German filmmakers but haven't seen anything by them as yet.

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#8 Post by MichaelB » Sat Sep 06, 2008 5:47 am

Mr Finch wrote:Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo were shot in English and then dubbed into German for the local market.
Well, the local market obviously included Britain, as I've never seen it in English - and neither do I think I've ever had the opportunity.

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#9 Post by Cold Bishop » Sat Sep 06, 2008 5:48 am

MichaelB wrote:There may be an English dub, but the versione originale is definitely German.
If I recall, all the actors performed there roles in English, as all the principals spoke the language. Whether Herzog has stated he prefers the German dub, I don't know, but considering the way the roles were performed, and certainly Herzog knows English well enough that he could have supervised the dub/translation (or was it a dub? I always recall some scenes playing smoothly, others seeming dub-like) or at least given it his blessing, it had always seemed the correct choice to me.

I always heard it was distributed in German for whatever reason upon its initial release in certain English markets, which would have made German-language prints more common.

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#10 Post by shirobamba » Sat Sep 06, 2008 5:52 am

Denti,

Do you need subtitled versions, or do you intend to show them in German only?

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James43
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#11 Post by James43 » Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:04 am

I'd also recommend Seidl ("Import/Export") and Petzold, especially "Die innere Sicherheit", "Wolfsburg" and "Yella"; furthermore Oskar Roehler's "Die Unberührbare" (1999), Andreas Dresen's "Nachtgestalten" (1999) und "Die Polizistin" (2000), Helmut Dietl's "Schtonk" (1991), Tykwer's "Winterschläfer" (1997) and "Lola rennt" (1998), Caroline Link's "Jenseits der Stille" (1996), Romuald Karmakar's "Der Totmacher" (1995), Carl Schenkel's "Abwärts" (1984), Konrad Wolf's "Solo Sunny" (1981), Andreas Veiel's "Black Box BRD" (2001), Akin's "Gegen die Wand", Hans-Christian Schmid's "Lichter" (2003) and "Requiem" (2005), Marcus Mittermeier's "Muxmäuschenstill" (2004), Philip Gröning's "Die große Stille" (2005), Chris Kraus' "Vier Minuten" (2006) and Detlev Buck's "Knallhart" (2006). You may also take a look at the work of Herbert Achternbusch, an Austrian filmmaker and German Alexander Kluge.

I've cut out everything from Fassbinder, Wenders, Herzog and Haneke who speak for themselves.

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#12 Post by MichaelB » Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:31 am

James43 wrote:Helmut Dietl's "Schtonk" (1991)
A staggeringly unfunny comedy about the Hitler Diaries scandal, though it probably didn't help that it was released in Britain in the near-immediate wake of a far superior TV adaptation of the same story (for a British viewer, you can't really match Alan Bennett as Hugh Trevor-Roper or Barry Humphries as Rupert Murdoch). And, to be fair, Schtonk! was a huge blockbuster in Germany, so someone obviously liked it!
Konrad Wolf's "Solo Sunny" (1981)
I saw this only the other month, thanks to its recent First Run Features DVD release. Not bad - as I said in my review, the story of a woman trying to make it on her own as a singer but finding herself constantly (and reluctantly) reliant on various flaky men is hardly original, but the East German setting adds plenty to get your teeth into - not least the implicit demolition of the myth that all citizens were equal regardless of sex.
Detlev Buck's "Knallhart" (2006)
Briefly released in Britain as Tough Enough - I was unexpectedly impressed by this: as with Solo Sunny, it's hardly original (teenager suddenly changes environment and has to learn new survival tricks - resulting in him becoming a drugs courier), but it's very well done, and the central characters are drawn with unusual subtlety for this kind of film (especially the moment when protagonist Michael briefly bumps into his nemesis Erol and discovers a crucial aspect of his private life that he hadn't previously known about).

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#13 Post by Tommaso » Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:48 am

Out of my head, apart from the obvious choices from Herzog and Wenders:
Achim von Borries: "Was nützt die Liebe in Gedanken" (2003), a quite impressive coming-of-age story set in the late Weimar republic

Max Färberböck: "Aimee & Jaguar" (1999), a story about a lesbian couple during the Nazi regime; a pretty successful film over here.

Michael Hofmann: "Sophiiee!" (2002), a bleak and disturbing story about a young girl getting lost in nightlife and despair, with a knock-out performance by the main actress-

Rolf Schübel: "Das Lied von Liebe und Tod" (1999), aka 'Gloomy Sunday'.

Also anything by Ulrike Ottinger, provided you can find it.
And if the 70s still count, run don't walk to see Niklaus Schilling's "Nachtschatten" (1972) and "Rheingold" (1978). The man must be an unsung genius... sort of a German version of Rivette.

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#14 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Sep 06, 2008 8:12 am

I'd second Gregory's comments on Haneke.

I guess I'd also add Michael Verhoeven's films, especially The Nasty Girl, a story about an idealistic girl grappling over her early life with her town's role in the war.

Also this is pretty obscure (and it has been a while since I last saw it, so I'm not sure how well it has held up) but I did catch a very interesting TV movie from 1993 called Violence: The Last Resort, which was a relatively early attempt to tackle interracial relationships and the ever present allure of far right groups ready to jump on any opportunity to convert someone to their cause - the film was about two white friends' infatuation with a Turkish girl, who when she chooses one as her boyfriend causes the other to fall into a self destructive spiral, first through taking up boxing after college and then being introduced by his teacher to a neo-Nazi gang. Of course this is all going to end tragically for everyone involved! Not exactly groundbreaking stuff but it is one of the earliest films I've had the chance to see dealing with this clash of cultures in modern Germany.

Tom Tykwer's Winter Sleepers might also be worth checking out along with The Princess And The Warrior.

Also Stefan Ruzowitzky's The Inheritors.

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#15 Post by Finch » Sat Sep 06, 2008 8:15 am

MichaelB wrote:
Mr Finch wrote:Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo were shot in English and then dubbed into German for the local market.
Well, the local market obviously included Britain, as I've never seen it in English - and neither do I think I've ever had the opportunity.
Sorry Michael I wasn't being clear: with local market, I meant Germany but it's interesting to hear you say it was released with the German dub in Britain when it was actually shot in English. I've never seen either Fitzcarraldo or Aguirre theatrically, only on DVD and initially selected the German track as I assumed the film had been shot in German and at least one online reviewer (think it was Walter Chaw from FFC) stated the German track ought to be your choice by default. But then I noticed it wasn't in sync with the actors' lip movements and switched over to the English track and it was perfectly synchronised on that track. Some people may prefer hearing Kinski speaking in his native tongue on the German dub though. Interestingly, imdb, which I just checked, also lists German as the default language. I speak German fluently and find it quite obvious that the film wasn't shot in German in the first place. It'd be interesting to know in how many countries if any the film was shown in English or if the German dub was the only version released to distributors worldwide in 1972.

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#16 Post by sir karl » Sat Sep 06, 2008 8:44 am

Mr Finch wrote:Some people may prefer hearing Kinski speaking in his native tongue on the German dub though.
Don't want to get too offtopic here but at least in Aguirre Kinski's voice was dubbed in German too - you hear the voice of Gerd Martienzen because Kinski wanted an exorbitant amount of money...

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#17 Post by James43 » Sat Sep 06, 2008 9:17 am

James43 wrote:Helmut Dietl's "Schtonk" (1991)
Thanks MichaelB for commenting a little on some of the films I've mentioned but I slightly disagree with you on "Schtonk". While it admittedly shows flaws in terms of dramatic structure and is quite weak as a satire on the whole, the actors are wonderful in their stereotypical characters, e.g. Goetz George as the smudgy journalist in Hermann Goering's bath robe was somewhat audacious then and still works for me in a funny way. When it comes to German Cinema during the nineties you can't evade the films of Helmut Dietl even if they are not exactly eclectic.

In general I have to state that German Cinema in recent years (and decades) is somehow overrated from my point of view. Even auteurs like Dresen, Schmid or Roehler rely heavily on actor's performances and seem to prefer the atypical rough-textured, semi-documentary style. Many projects are realized through television (which is a sad habit in Germany since ancient times) and there are few directors to which I'd award the boldness and the esprit of someone like Fassbinder, Herzog or Schilling. In terms of cinematic language or aesthetics I don't see anything groundbreaking (ok, that goes for cinema in general).

A wonderful exception here is the above mentioned "Muxmäuschenstill", a black comedy and social critique about an egomaniac do-gooder with unusual methods who strives to teach his fellow men moral lessons.
Last edited by James43 on Sat Sep 06, 2008 9:17 am, edited 1 time in total.

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#18 Post by MichaelB » Sat Sep 06, 2008 9:17 am

sir karl wrote:
Mr Finch wrote:Some people may prefer hearing Kinski speaking in his native tongue on the German dub though.
Don't want to get too offtopic here but at least in Aguirre Kinski's voice was dubbed in German too - you hear the voice of Gerd Martienzen because Kinski wanted an exorbitant amount of money...
I actually prefer the English dub of Aguirre - granted, it's equally "wrong" for Spanish conquistadors to be speaking English, but it sounds less jarring to my native English-speaking ears than German. And, as you say, it's clearly post-synched anyway.

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#19 Post by sidehacker » Sat Sep 06, 2008 9:26 am

Nachmittag (Angela Schanelec, 2007)
Windows on Monday (Ulrich Köhler, 2006)
The Free Will (Matthias Glasner, 2006)
Gespenster (Christian Petzold, 2002)
Bungalow (Ulrich Köhler, 2002)
Passing Summer (Angela Schanelec, 2001)
The Days Between (Maria Speth, 2001)

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#20 Post by denti alligator » Sat Sep 06, 2008 11:02 am

Thanks, everyone.

To answer some questions:

Subtitles are NOT necessary, in fact I'd prefer removeable subs.

I'm not (yet) looking for any particular themes, more a series of representative films. My short list looks like this, so far:

Stellan Rye: Der Student von Prag (1913)
Ernst Lubitsch: Madame Dubarry (1919)
Robert Wiene: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1919)
F.W. Murnau: Nosferatu (1921)
Oskar Fischinger: Berlin-München Wanderung (1927)
Oskar Fischinger: Wachsexperimente (1927)
Walter Ruttmann: Berlin, die Symphonie einer Großstadt (1927)
Richard Siodmak, et al: Menschen am Sonntag (1929)
Fritz Lang: M (1931)
Leontine Sagan: Mädchen in Uniform (1931)
Leni Riefenstahl: Triumph des Willens (1935)
Veit Harlan: Jud Süß (1940)
Detlev Sierck: La Habañera
Wolfgang Staudte: Die Mörder sind unter uns
Konfrad Wolf: Ich war neunzehn
Frank Beyer: [haven't chosen one yet]
Werner Herzog: Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes
Wim Wenders: Alice in den Städten
R.W. Fassbinder: Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss

This is far too many, so I'll need to trim it down a bit, but I also need to decide on 2-4 films for the past 25 years. I will definitely be screening one Haneke (because I think he's one of the very best), and I'd like to screen one Akin, but that may change. I want to familiarize myself with more films from this period and decide. As you can see from this list, I want films that represent genres and historical periods: Wilhelmine Germany, Weimarer Republic (feature-length silent, early sound, experimental shorts), Third Reich (propaganda and feature film), immediate post-war, East and West Germany...

I know Tykwer, Becker, Petersen, etc. and was hoping for lesser known (outside Germany) filmmakers. Your suggestions are great. Thanks you.

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#21 Post by sidehacker » Sat Sep 06, 2008 11:15 am

It is more than twenty years old, but I'd imagine that Straub-Huillet's Class Relations would be an essential viewing, if only for how stylistically defiant it is. I don't intend to complicate your selection process even more, but should also look into the work of Ulrike Ottinger.

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#22 Post by denti alligator » Sat Sep 06, 2008 11:17 am

I would love to teach Straub-Huillet, but I just can't imagine the students getting excited about their work. Some day I'll do a version of the seminar with the specific focus on literary adaptations and teach either Nicht versoehnt or Klassenverhaeltnisse.

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#23 Post by karmajuice » Sat Sep 06, 2008 11:44 am

Odd. I know I'd seen Fitzcarraldo in English, but my memory of Aguirre is in German (I've seen both only on DVD). I wonder whether my memory is wrong or whether I watched it on the dubbed track.

Depending on what you're looking for, you might want to try Jörg Buttgereit. I'm not really sure what people think about him and I've only seen one of his films, but I'd say he at least merits consideration. The film I've seen is Schramm and I actually didn't care for it much, but it's a fascinating oddity of a movie, an interesting approach to the serial killer thing, and it's got some very vivid imagery. His stuff in general, I hear, is low-budget art/schlock, so it might at least serve as an interesting contrast.

And has anyone seen East Side Story? I have not yet, so I'm not sure if it's more focused on the German or Russian elements, but the subject seems full of potential. Plus the title makes me laugh whenever I think about it.

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#24 Post by Lemmy Caution » Sat Sep 06, 2008 11:53 am

Was wondering about the level of your students and their interest/commitment to German culture/cinema. Meaning, if this is a top tier university or the students are German majors and such, certain films might work well. If these are average or lower level students mostly taking the course because a film course sounds easy or interesting, other choices might be warranted.

For example, instead of Naked Among Wolves or another Beyer, Jakob the Liar might appeal to a more average audience who might be familiar with the American remake. Similarly, since Nosferatu is comparatively well-known and familiar, I'd prefer The Last Laugh, though they illustrate different aspects of silent film-making.
Also, Goodbye Lenin could be a nice end-of-the-term treat for an average or less-engaged class of students. Or Run Lola Run.

Good to see Veronika Voss on your list.
I'd also second or third The Lives of Others. A gripping film examining East German life. And they might be relieved to watch a recent Oscar winner. Otherwise looks like there probably isn't room for Schlondorff, but Der Junge Törless is brilliant and seems as if it could generate good discussion among students and has those nice echoes of M.

István Szabó's Mephisto was based on a Klaus Mann novel, stars Austrian Klaus Maria Brandauer in one of the all-time great performances, was filmed in Berlin, and functions as a variation on the Faust theme. So steeped in German culture, though directed by a Hungarian. IIRC, the film is in German, though I assume the Hungarian actors are dubbed into German. The film contains one of my all-time favorite endings.

Also, The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner should be slipped in if at all possible. Only 45 minutes and would give more exposure to Herzog, while adding in a documentary. And would be interesting what the students made of it. Unlikely, but could be combined with one of those short underground 70's films of Alexander Kluge, to signal some new directions in German film.

I haven't seen much Kluge, but did swipe my current avatar from the cover of the filmmusuem editions I own.
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#25 Post by Camera Obscura » Sat Sep 06, 2008 11:54 am

Two weeks ago, I watched Der Freie Wille/ The Free Will (2006) by Matthias Glasner, and was deeply impressed by that film. One of the best German films of the last few years, although it might not be very fitting for a seminar considering it's a fairly explicit film about a serial rapist (nothing exploitative though).

Many titles have already been mentioned, but some that I consider worth a look (from the last 25 years or so):

Die Weisse Rose (Michael Verhoeven, 1982)
Zuckerbaby (Percy Adlon, 1985)
Der Himmel über Berlin/ Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987) (guess you know that one, a must)
Rosalie Goes Shopping (Percy Adlon, 1989) (only partly in German)
Das Schreckliche Mädchen/ The Nasty Girl (Michael Verhoeven, 1989)
Manta, Manta (Wolfgang Büld, 1991) (some comic diversion, complete nonsense, but German youth driving around in Opel Manta's cannot not be funny?)
In weiter Ferne, so nah/ Faraway, so Close! (Wim Wenders, 1993) (Wenders follow-up to Wings of Desire. Doesn't reach the dizzying heights of that one, but still great).
Absolute Giganten (Sebastian Schipper, 1999) (minor, but lots of energy)
Die Unberührbare (Oskar Roehler, 2000) (no great cinematic coups, but an amazing performance by Hannelore Elsner's and it's beautifully shot)
Das Experiment (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2000)
Nirgendwo in Afrika (Caroline Link, 2001)
Planet Alex (Uli M. Schüppel, 2001)
Halbe Treppe (Andreas Dresen, 2002)
Good Bye, Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003)
Herr Lehmann (Leander Haussmann, 2003)
Schussangst (Dito Tsintsadze, 2003)
Das Wunder von Bern (Sönke Wortmann, 2003) (documentary)
Flammend' Herz (Oliver Ruts, Andrea Schuler, 2004) (documentary)
Gegen die Wand/ Head-On (Fatih Akin, 2004)
Muxmäuschenstill (Marcus Mittermeier, 2004)
Der Untergang/ Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004) (how is this overrated? Riveting filmaking and Bruno Ganz simple achieves the impossible, might be his greatest role ever)
Sommer vorm Balkon (Andreas Dresen, 2005)
Der freie Wille/ The Free Will (Matthias Glasner, 2006)
Heimatklänge (Stefan Schwietert, 2007) (sort of a free-form documentary about folk music traditions and yodeling, quite amusing)

Das Leben der Anderen/ The Life of Others (2006) was a horrible amalgam of clichés in my opinion, not worth anyone's time. I thought Fatih Akin's Auf der anderen Seite/ The Edge of Heaven (2007) was very dissappointing. He tried to take on so many themes, the whole thing just chokes on its own ambitions, a real shame.

You should definitely check out Alexander Kluge. I only know his earlier work, but from the ones I've seen, I haven't been disappointed so far. And his work is available on excellent DVD-editions (Edition Filmmuseum) with English subtitles as well.

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