BWW Review: Sedona International Film Festival Features THE SILENT REVOLUTION
"No system likes freethinkers; you are now enemies of the state because you thought for yourselves and acted on your thoughts." The ominous warning of Old Edgar, a reclusive anarchist on the outskirts of Soviet-occupied East Berlin, is directed to a group of high school students whose quiet act of protest unleashed the fury of the Communist apparatchiks.
The scene from German filmmaker Lars Kraume's THE SILENT REVOLUTION is a grim and riveting moment of epiphany for the class of naïve teenagers. Indoctrinated by Communist propaganda about the benevolence of socialism and a workers' paradise, subjected to compulsory flag ceremonies and superficial salutations (Freundschaft!), their carefree days and expectations of graduation are upended by two minutes of prayerful silence.
The time is 1956, five years before the Berlin Wall was erected. The two minutes of silence are dedicated to the freedom fighters of the Hungarian uprising. The action arouses the ire of the Soviet gatekeepers with consequences that ripple through every family and unwrap painful secrets of the past.
The film, based on actual events recounted in Dietrich Garstka's eponymous novel, is a sobering and poignant testament to the power of conscience and the ethical imperative of speaking truth to power, no matter the repercussions.
In sharp gray tones that bespeak the repressive nature of the police state and its unceasing fabrications of reality, THE SILENT REVOLUTION is packed with emotion. A brilliant cast provides gripping portrayals of characters thrust inside the churning cauldron of Cold War history. It is a film of immense honesty and authenticity in its riveting portrayal of courage in the face of repression.
The act of solidarity in question begins with a lark. Good friends, 18-year-olds, Kurt (Tom Gramenz) and Theo (Leonard Scheicher) cross the city limits by train to frolic in the West and steal their way into a theatre to see Liane, Jungle Goddess, a skin flick featuring the topless Marion Michael. However, it is their spirits instead that are aroused when a newsreel reports on the freedom fighters of the Hungarian Uprising and their resistance against Soviet tanks.
Inspired by what they've seen, the boys return to school and urge the class to observe what one of the students later labels "a quiet act of protest."
For the officials of the state, a protest, no matter how quiet, is a severely punishable act of revolution. Thus, an inquiry begins into the action and the agents of incitement.
Despite the efforts of the school principal Schwarz (Florian Lukas) to calm the students down (pushing the pretense that socialism, though not perfect, is good for the working class) and downplay the incident, the State is bent on uncovering the ringleaders.
First, the stern and unrelenting Chairwoman of the District School Board (Jördis Triebel) appears, striking fear in the still unswerving hearts of the students. Unable to break their solidarity, she is followed by the Stalinist People's Education Minister Fritz Lange (Burghart Klaussner). The interrogations are unsettling exercises in intimidation, designed to pit one student against another and to elicit betrayal.
The students hide away at the home of Old Edgar (Michael Gwisdek) to hear RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) broadcasts of the news that would otherwise be censored and distorted in the Soviet Sector. In one sitting, they are stunned to hear that Hungarian soccer star Ferenc Puskás was killed in the Uprising. A clever idea emerges that might protect them from further recrimination ~ that is, to explain that their silence was an act of tribute to the fallen athlete.
Their cover-up fails to ring true, of course. In response, the Minister's thuggish investigation consummates with a final threat that, lest the ringleader be revealed, the class will not graduate and their aspirations for the future will be crushed.
As the students' ordeal unfolds, their shared challenge is to discern what is fact and what is fiction. No easy task, as the State and family conspire to withhold truth all together.
For example, the Socialist Unity Party condemns the Hungarian uprising as a counterrevolution.
Likewise, when Kurt asks his father (Max Hopp), the chair of the City Council, about the Uprising, he is severely rebuked. Theo's father (Ronald Zehrfeld) similarly urges his son to be restrained, withholding a secret about his own involvement in the East German uprising of 1953.
While reports on RIAS laud the Hungarian Revolution as a strike for freedom, the power of propaganda is embodied in classmate Erik's (Jonas Dassler) conviction that the Fascists and capitalists are trying to overthrow the Soviets' workers' paradise.
What ensues is a series of actions that are of tragic proportion ~ not to be revealed here as spoilers of intensely dramatic moments.
Finally, in the wake of the assaults on their freedom, the majority of the students chose to flee to West Berlin, leaving behind their loved ones in a not so quiet act of courageous protest.
No one in this story is untouched by the paralysis of fear ~ the fear of what to say, how loud to say it, to whom to say it. And, for the elders in this tale, there is the abiding fear of revealing disturbing facts about parental pasts that are related to the horrors of Nazism.
In the end, this masterpiece of a film articulates a question that is central to its theme: What good is a revolution if it is only in our minds?
THE SILENT REVOLUTION is a must-see ~ one of the featured films at this year's Sedona International Film Festival.
Photo credit to Akzente Film/ Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival ~ L to R: Jonas Dassler, Leonard Scheicher, Lena Klenke, Isaiah Michalski, Tom Gramenz
Sedona International Film Festival ~ https://sedonafilmfestival.com/ ~ 928-282-1177 ~ Saturday, February 22nd through Sunday, March 1st. Purchase passes at https://sedonafilmfestival.com/purchase-passes/.
Multiple venues: Mary D. Fisher Theatre, 2030 W. Highway 89A; Harkins Theatres, 2081 W. Highway 89A; Sedona Performing Arts Center, 995 Upper Red Rock Loop Road