WHAT it is…

A film movement based in Berlin, Germany, that took shape during the mid-Nineties and the 2000s. The name derives from the fact that most of the filmmakers of this group hailed from the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin. Extremely realistic in its inclination, the Berlin School draws inspiration directly from the Italian Neorealist movement.

WHO its pioneers were...

One of the major reasons for the flourishing of the Berlin School is the fund from private television studios of the country, which also provided dedicated slots late night for these feature films. A positive response in the film festival scene has also helped these films gain international critical attention. Christian Petzold, Angela Schanelec, Thomas Arslan and Christoph Hochhäusler are some of the figures associated with this film movement.

HOW it is characterised…

Objectives

The films of the Berlin School, with their reliance on the truthfulness of the lived moment, stand in firm opposition to the psychologically realistic storytelling of much of popular narrative cinema. A number of these films deal with life in contemporary Germany — especially following the formation of the Eurozone — and the spiritual and emotional bankruptcy that the political and financial crises of the last decade have engendered.

Style

Stylistically speaking, the Berlin School took a sharp break from the heightened aestheticism of the New German Cinema. Unlike their predecessors, the films of the Berlin School are formally more restrained, with subdued colour palettes, restricted camera movements and subdued or no musical scores. These films utilise direct sound and ultra-naturalistic acting styles and are shot on location with little artificial lighting.

Also striking is the use of urban spaces in many of these works.

WHY it is important...

Although formally challenging, the films of the Berlin School could be easily accused of academism and safe play, especially in the way some of these films reuse tried and tested shorthand and thematic riffs without much enrichment. Nonetheless, the Berlin School is of certain interest, given that it is one of the very few sustained movements still on the international film radar.

WHERE to find it...

Christian Petzold’s Yella (2007) chronicles the life of a woman who moves from a town in Eastern Germany to the Western part in search of a job. Low-key and measured, Petzold’s film is an allegory of the complete Americanisation of Germany following the fall of the wall, that neither treats its subject in a heavy-handed fashion nor sacrifices it for subtext.