Continuing our summer vacation in the movies, we’re going to a different European country each Thursday in August. This week it’s Germany. This list is not of my picks for the best movies that happen to be set in Germany but the best portrayals of the country or part of it that I’ve seen in the movies. So here are the 10 best portrayals of Germany in the movies.
10. Morris from America (2016)
In one of the great coming-of-age films, Morris is an African American 13-year-old living in Germany. His attempts to fit in and to bring his old life in America with him to Germany give us a unique picture of German culture through the eyes of teenagers.
9. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
American politics and American criminal justice are placed in Germany for the famous Nuremberg trials of Nazi war crimes. The intense rarely leaves the court room, but when it does it shows the ruins of a city destroyed mostly by the actions of its own people. What we see of this historical picture of Nuremberg in a few scenes outside the courtroom is the same reality we see among the Germans inside the courtroom in an intimate, personal way.
8. The Blue Angel (1930)
This journey into the cultural and moral world of 1920s Germany, we follow a teacher who has the responsibility not only of teaching a curriculum to his high school students but to be an example of morality to them. He’s done a good job most of his life until a seductress at a local cabaret turns his reputation and everything he believes about himself and about right and wrong upside down.
7. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
The plot to kill Hitler begins and France. As the story progresses, people from every Allied country get involved, but the closer they get to carrying out their plan, the more of them show up in Germany. The time in Germany is spent mostly in bars and other places where the conspirators can trick Nazis enough Nazis to keep their plans alive. The picture of Nazi Germany that Tarantino gives us is a picture of the perpetrators enjoying all the evil they were accomplishing unaware of what is coming against them.
6. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
The movie is set during a punk rocker’s American tour, but we see many flashbacks to his life in Germany overlapping with many of the country’s most important events between the 1960s and 80s. And his act itself, both the songs and the stories he tells about his life back in Germany, take us on a tour of Germany even when the main character is in the U.S.
5. Bridge of Spies (2015)
This may look like a very strange choice for this list since it’s set almost entirely in New York City developing the relationship between a lawyer and the alleged Communist spy he’s defending. But the whole point of the movie is to get the spy to the bridge. That bridge of course is Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. Because the scenes that takes place at the bridge are so spectacular and this is the only movie I know of to recreate the common Cold War use of the bridge, it offers a picture of Germany that no other movie does even if it is a very short one.
4. Cabaret (1972)
Like The Blue Angel, Bob Fosse’s musical takes us on a journey of the moral and psychological world of thought in Germany but this time shortly before WWII. Obviously the cabarets and their prostitutes are the centerpiece of this moral journey but everything that happens in the cabaret is juxtaposed with the rise of the Nazi party showing Sally Bowles’ love of “divine decadence” as having a role in the decline of morality of the nation. Even though the characters in the cabaret are politically opposed to Naziism, the movie shows them as a part of what allowed the movement to happen.
3. A Foreign Affair (1948)
Marlene Dietrich sings a song called “The Ruins of Berlin.” While she sings it, we so those ruins very vividly. The movie is about the attempts at reconstruction after WWII, so we see both a very ugly (physically and morally) Berlin and the attempt to make a new, better city.
2. Wings of Desire (1987)
The original German title of Wim Wenders’ masterpiece translates to “The Heavens over Berlin.” We see the city of Berlin from the point of view of two angels assigned to watch over it. That’s all they do, watch it. It sounds like it must get boring for the angels, but for us to get to watch over Berlin and its people for a couple hours is fascinating and intreguing.
1. Metropolis (1927)
Fritz Lang’s sci-fi masterpiece is set in a Germany of the future, so the sets and costumes might not look much like 1927 Germany, but the story is about the very real crisis the nation found itself in. So even though we get a futuristic facade with the production design, we get the greatest picture of the real Germany the movies have ever given us. Financial crises cause a perceived need for a strict class system, and any breaches of that system are met with strong resistance and violence. The story is looking for a pair of hands (a mediator) to join the heart (the workers) to the head (the elite). Doesn’t sound too far fetched does it?