By Ray Bennett
BERLIN – Based on a popular German novel set in East Berlin in 1968, “Boxhaganer Platz” is filled with gentle humor as the folks in a busy neighborhood deal with the every day realities of Soviet rule.
The film’s nostalgic atmosphere and universal family nuances should make it a success on home territory and elsewhere intrigue audiences with an historical bent, but its low-key drama is not likely to attract large-scale international attention.
Torsten Schulz adapted his own novel for the film, which is directed with loving attention by Matti Geschonneck. It’s essentially a rite of passage film with teenager Holger (Samuel Schneider) learning about life from his much-married grandmother Otti (Gudrun Ritter).
Home life is okay, although his policeman father (Jurgen Vogel) and mother (Meter Becker) often squabble over the state of their drab lives in East Germany. The boy spends a lot of time with his grandma who regales him with tales of previous husbands and takes him to the cemetery where she likes to water the greenery around the graves and keep them tidy.
Otti’s current husband, Rudi (Hermann Beyer), is at death’s door and she is convinced that the loutish local fishmonger (Horst Krause) is keen to take his place.
There’s also interest among the drinkers at a neighborhood bar where an aging political philosopher named Karl (Michael Gwisdek) tells Holger about the Spartacus-inspired rebel movement that he was a part of in 1918. He puts a spark of rebellion in the boy and directs his attention to what is heard about the student protests currently going on in the West.
When the fishmonger is found murdered, rumors of a Nazi past start flying and the state police are typically indiscriminate in their attempts to find the guilty party.
The drama is underplayed in favor of congenial humor, which is played expertly by the veteran cast. Schneider brings maturity to his portrayal of the boy with his mix of gullibility, curiosity and hard-won wisdom.
Venue: Berlin International Film Festival – Berlinale Special; Production: Claussen+Wobke+Putz Filmproduktion, Studio Babelsberg ; Cast: Gudrun Ritter, Michael Gwisdek, Samuel Schneider, Jurgen Vogel, Meret Becker, Milan Peschel; Director: Matti Geschonneck; Screenwriter: Torsten Schulz; Producers: Jakob Claussen, Nicole Swidler, Uli Putz; Director of photography: Martin Langer; Production designer: Lothar Holler; Music: Florian Tessloff; Costume designer: Lisy Christi; Editor: Dirk Grau.; Sales agent: Aktis Film International; No rating, 103 minutes.
This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.