Synopsis - [spoiler]When Rainer Wegner, a popular high school teacher, finds himself relegated to teaching autocracy as part of the school's project week, he's less than enthusiastic. So are his students, who greet the prospect of studying fascism yet again with apathetic grumbling: "The Nazis sucked. We get it." Struck by the teenagers complacency and unwitting arrogance, Rainer devises an unorthodox experiment. But his hastily conceived lesson in social orders and the power of unity soon grows a life of its own. - IMDB[/spoiler]
When I was first told about this German film I was a little dubious. It wasn't that the premise of a high school social experiment that soon gets out of control was not appealing, but I had a feeling that if it wasn't done well then it simply wouldn't work.
I had visions of a cold, stripped-down documentary-style format that would leave me disengaged and unable to form any kind of emotional attachment.
Luckily, I was in for a big surprise as this turned out to be a complete gem of a movie that was not only entertaining and full of suspense but also had a powerful message behind it.
The 2008 film (Die Welle in its original German) loosely retells and, albeit heavily, dramatises an actual experiment called "The Third Wave", which was carried out in a California high school in the 1960s and used to teach the pupils about the dangers of an autocratic government.
By moving the action to modern-day Germany, these warnings are put in a far more relevant context and the question of history repeating is put at the forefront.
In what I feel was a brave move, the film openly discusses the impact of the Third Reich on Germany's youth of today, and their jaded attitudes towards a culture and education system that feels the need to constantly remind them of the atrocities committed during Nazi rule.
The teenagers' gradual shift from apathy and cynicism to passion and enthusiasm towards "The Wave" - the autocratic movement instigated by teacher Rainer Wenger (Jürgen Vogel) - is worrying to watch, yet unsettlingly believable. We are presented with a classroom full of outsiders, each lonely in their own way, slowly coming together to form something they feel is great, without seeing the damage it is causing to those outside of it.
Vogel really shines as Herr Wenger, who leaves us constantly questioning his own attitudes to The Wave as someone who is supposed to be in control of the 'experiment'. In one of the final scenes he is absolutely fantastic and bears more than a slight resemblance to history's arguably most famous German (well, Austrian if we're being picky) son when he makes an inspired speech to his student subjects.
The teenage leads deserve a mentioning too, with Max Riemelt and Jennifer Ulrich both putting in strong performances as the high school sweethearts, Marco and Karo, torn apart by the movement. However it is Frederick Lau's portrayal of class misfit Tim Stoltefuss that really carries us towards the climax. I'll admit that at times, he is a little 'pantomime weirdo', but he just pulls it off so well that I'm willing to let him off.
With regard to the finale, it was a little predictable and overdramatic (no such events happened in the real experiment in California), but I felt it was fitting and I saw no other way it could have ended. If we had been left with anything different I'm sure we would have been left feeling rather empty and unsatisfied.
For those of you who tend to avoid foreign language films and generally stick to more mainstream stuff, I couldn't stress more that you should give this film a chance. There's already talks of a Hollywood remake, which is no surprise to me at all. I can see it being either reproduced in a The Faculty-esque pretty-boys-and-girls-in-trouble teen drama, or alternatively it would easily lend itself to a gritty British urban youth drama (see Kidulthood).
Either way, this film holds a powerful and stark warning that is relevant both on the continent, over here and on the other side of the Atlantic. It opens up the unthought of possibility that Germany could allow itself to slip back into a dictatorship, and if it is possible there then the idea of it happening closer to home should maybe not be dismissed so easily.
In a country where some are so disillusioned by the current state of affairs that they elect a racist party to represent us in Europe the lesson within this film couldn't be any more applicable.