John Rabe & North Face- German Movie Double Bill


“Nobody asks to be a hero, it just sometimes turns out that way.”

John Rabe is one such person, who became a hero not because he had powers but he had determination to oppose the unjust powers.

John Rabe-The Hero among Villains

It is strange, but school history textbooks always mention dates of war, but it does not give adequate information on soldiers who fought war, it always generalizes, with victors being always praised. John Rabe is a story about many such men, who have been lost in the maze of generalization.

The movie directed by Florian Gallenberger, is a bio-pic on John Rabe, the source of inspiration being his diaries which were discovered only in 1997. The movie is based on the time period during World War 2, when Japanese forces were responsible for killings of as many as 3, 00,000 Chinese citizens in few weeks. John Rabe at the beginning of the movie is shown to be an admirer of Japan and is a Nazi Party Member.

The movie begins with establishing the fact that Japanese having established their control over Shangai are now advancing towards Nanking .Personally John Rabe(Tukur)  is disheartened as a visiting Nazi official delivers the message that Siemens China Co has to be closed , and Rabe’s expertise is needed in Germany.

On the night of his farewell party, while delivering his speech the Japanese start bombarding the city of Nanking. Using his presence of mind, he orders the gate of the factory to be opened and allows the Chinese to come inside the premises of factory. He unfurls Nazi flag and shelters all people under them, as Japan was ally of German, they would not bombard assets of Germany. This scene was one of the best highlights in the movie, alas such moments were few and far in between the whole movie. I guess this was the first time when I saw Nazi Flag being associated with saving people’s life. I guess it also helps that in 1937 Nazis and Hitler had yet not showed the world how evil they were.

A German Jew and diplomat Dr. Georg Rosen (Daniel Bruhl) suggests establishing a Nanking Safety Zone for civilians to protect them from war. Valerie Dupres (Anne Consigny), the French director of the Girl’s College supports his idea, and nominates Rabe as its chairman .John Rabe’ appointment is opposed by American  Robert Wilson (Steve Buscemi) , but as soon as John Rabe is elected , he nominates the American as his deputy. The rest of the film follows how Rabe set up the zone, and protected life’s of more than 2,50,000 Chinese.

The Chinese characters in the movie are there just as extras. Instead of focusing on John Rabe’s Relation with the Chinese it shows how he negotiates with Japanese forces. The movie has its moments. But the problem is that Florian could have done so much with the material he had. In the end I left the cinema hall with a feeling of reading a boring textbook accompanied by some great visuals.

Acting wise, this film has ensemble cast, Ulrich Tukur has John Rabe is outstanding and he carries the film on his shoulders even when the screenplay falters. It also helps that he has uncanny resemblance to John Rabe. Steve as an American doctor is a delight to watch, the chemistry between him and John Rabe and their banter is lively and mesmerizing to watch. Daniel Burhl tries to bring life into his half baked character of German Jew, who I guess is accommodated in screenplay to have the views of German Jews.

Given the limited budget ( compared to Hollywood ) Florian has done a commendable job, it is one of the most expensive German movies with a budget of around 15 to 20 mn USD. The sets are opulent and grand, cinematography by Juergen Juerges is avant grade. The editing by, Hansjoerg Weissbrich is also good, though I felt the movie could have been shorter by ten minutes. The music by Laurent Petitgirard, Annette Focks was one of the highpoints of the movie. There is also an Indian Connection to movie; the second unit director of the movie is an Indian by name Amit Kumar. The movie has not done well at the German Box office.

To sum up, I would say anyone who is not familiar with this incident of history, should watch this movie. It is not a bad movie and it certainly is a very good movie technically and acting wise, but it flatters in screenplay department. This movie could have been great, but remains good due to direction and screenplay.

Northface-The German CLIFFHANGER

The boast of Healdry, the pomp of power,

And all that beauty, all that wealth ever gave.

Awaits alike the’ inevitable hour,

The paths of glory lead but to the grave

Thomas Gray

Let me begin with a honest confession, I have not seen Cliffhanger nor Vertical Limit, or for that matter any mountain adventure movies. The only cinematic exposure to mountain Climbing for me is from MI-2 and closer home Lakshya.

Northface was on my must watch movies list, as soon as I had read about its synopsis. Northface is based on a true story and recollects the attempt of two German climbers, Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) and Andi Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas), to scale the Eiger’s 5,900-foot near-vertical north wall, then unconquered, in mid-July 1936.But if you are looking for historical facts, then this movie has twisted it more for sake of convenience of director than cinematic liberties.

The movie begins in1936, when Germany is going to host the Olympics. Apart from the mad frenzy to win medals and show their supremacy over the nations, Nazis encourage German climbers to conquer the Northface of Eiger, which was unconquered till then. The movie has five principal characters, Andreas (Florian Lukas), Toni (Benno Furman), Luise (Johanna Wokalek) who are childhood friends a la Bollywood style.Andreas and Toni were lovers at first. The fourth is Luise’s Boss played by Henry (Ulrich Tukur), who represents the ugly and bad side of media and above all North-Wall of Eiger.

I would not like to divulge the story, as it would rob the fun while watching the movie.The cinematography by Kolja Brant is visual feast to your eyes, infact you feel too close to the characters and setting for you comfort.There was a time while watching the movie I myself asked why would anybody in the right sense want to put themselves in danger. I remember British climber George Mallory when asked why he wanted to ascend Mount Everest: “Because it’s there.” .The cinematography is brilliantly aided by wonderful musical score by Christian Kolonovits which reaches its crescendo in the climax, both of them just take this movie a few notches higher, their contribution in climax scenes are undeniable.

The screenplay is taut and thrilling and the second half of the movie keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. The screenplays sets the mood for drama, in the beginning I was curious to know if they will they ascend the mountain, by mid way I was praying for their survival. Direction by Philipp Stolzl is superb, although he messed up the historical facts.The characterization of actors seems to be influenced by Hollywoodor Bollywood, he throws childhood friends, childhood sweetheart, and misunderstaning between lovers, but he places them in milieu which is unlike Bollywood orHollywood, with a climax, which could not have been better. Again  kudos to the director, who manages to create an experience with a budget which is a fraction of Hollywood movies. The way he captures the dangers of mountaineering in the 30’s, the cynical media, the political turmoil and above all, without losing the focus of story, which is about courage, sacrifice and discovering heroes among ourselves is commendable. At no point, the characters are treated as legends, which was one of the sore point of John Rabe, where everybody treated him as a legend, where as here we saw there follies, there desperation for survival and Vulnerability.

Special mention should be also given to Philipp for driving across points subtly, e.g.  the media tamasha around the hotel, unaware of the dangers faced by the climbers. There is a beautiful dialogue in the movie spoken by Henry “ A retreat without conquering the peak would only be good for a few lines of coverage in the third page” which sums up the attitude of media towards people they demonize and idolize people at their will. The other scene  which establishes the  fact that the reason Andi and Toni are climbing is not for Nazi Pride, but for their passion is evident when the duo are going for the ascent in cycle and when they are greeted by salutations of  ‘Heil Hitler’ by follow soldiers they just reply with just a goodbye.

The direction is not with flaws, one major flaw is showing the  Austrians as caricatures , I could not bring myself to believe that they were rivals , because they just follow foot steps pf Andi and Toni while climbing, historically the four people climbed together in a group.

Acting wise, everyone does justice to their role, my favourite again being Ulrich Tukur who brings life to Henry Auro, whom you just love to hate.Barring historical inaccuracies, the movie works on all fronts. This movie has everything, love, friendship, scarfice, patriotism and quest for human glory.

This is a must watch, not for history, but for the adrenaline rush it provides, and the engrossing climax.

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3 thoughts on “John Rabe & North Face- German Movie Double Bill

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