Nominated in several categories at the German Film Awards to be held in several days time, including Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Anna Maria Mühe, November Child (Novemberkind) is a rather remarkable film and a gem to seek out during the Audi Festival of German Films 2009.
Mühe is Inge, a young woman living in Malchow in the former East Germany, making a living as a librarian and spending a lot of her time caring for her elderly grandparents, by whom she was raised. After ageing literature professor Robert (Ulrich Matthes) arrives in town, and although seemingly content, Inge will commence a tumultuous quest to find the mother she believed long-dead. Meanwhile, Robert is writing a book and the motivation for his sudden appearance in Inge’s life is unclear.
Mühe is the daughter of late actor Ulrich Mühe, whose performance at the heart of the brilliant The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) goes some way to explaining the obvious talent on display here. Mühe is wonderful in both roles she plays – Inge and her young mother Anne in flashback. Inge is determined and yet fragile, placid and yet spinning a million miles an hour beneath the surface, and her journey – both around Germany and her past – could only be carried off by a performance of immense skill. A worthy nominee for an acting award indeed.
Matthes is a little harder to get to grips with as the enigmatic Robert, although he turns in a similarly impressive performance. The supporting cast are all excellent in fairly limited roles, as it is really Inge and Robert’s story that is the focus. The sequences depicting events in Anne’s life in 1980s East Germany are shot with lens filters in place, both to enhance the separation from the present and to evoke the sense of memory and fantasy intertwined. The film moves briskly without being hasty, and its running time of just 95 minutes belies the depth of the material on offer. For a director just thirty years old, November Child is a wonderful achievement.
Occasionally the planets align and cinema-goers are afforded the opportunity to compare and contrast two very similarly intended films, and such is the case with November Child and the local film Closed for Winter. Both tell the story of a young adult woman struggling to come to terms with a tragedy from her childhood, both films are quiet dramas with minimal histrionics, and both rely heavily on frequent flashbacks cut into the main narrative to gradually unravel the backstory. They even have similar theatrical posters! The reasons November Child is more successful are probably many and subtle, and yet it involves its audience so much more generously than the rather cold Australian film. Where Natalie Imbruglia’s Elise is unattainable, Mühe’s Inge is warm and endearing. Her struggle is no less significant and yet her story is much more accessible, a shame given the local film has such a head-start due to the familiarity of its setting.
The rich vein of artistic inspiration that is drawn from the physical and psychic insults German society endured in the 20th century continues to flow, and certainly shows no signs of abating. That more films of this calibre may yet be released should give all film-lovers hope.Rating: