A Kinowelt release (in Germany) of a Thomas Wilkening Filmgesellschaft, Kinowelt Filmproduktion (Germany)/Dor Film (Austria)/Catpics (Switzerland) production, in association with ZDF, Studio Babelsberg Independents, ORF, SF/DRS and Teleclub. (International sales: Bavaria Film Intl., Munich.) Produced by Thomas Wilkening. Co-producers, Ulrich Limmer, Rainer Koelmel, Alfi Sinniger, Danny Krausz, Kurt Stocker.
Directed by Xavier Koller. Screenplay, Stefan Kolditz, based on the 1931 novel "Schloss Gripsholm" by Kurt Tucholsky. Camera (color, CinemaScope), Pio Corradi; editor, Patricia Rommel; music, Kol Simcha, David Klein, Olivier Truan; production designer, Peter Manhardt; art director, Aida Kalnius; costume designer, Birgit Hutter; sound (Dolby Digital), Heinz Ebner, Klaus Horneman; choreographer, Rhys Martin; casting, Sabine Schroth. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (World Cinema), South Korea, Oct. 10, 2000. Running time: 100 MIN.
Kurt Ulrich Noethen Lydia Heike Makatsch Billie Sunshine Jasmin Tabatabai Karl Marcus Thomas Ada Sara Foettinger Mrs. Andersson Inger Nilsson
A sweeping, widescreen portrayal of friendships savored on the cusp of history, "Gripsholm" is an involving, beautifully shot period drama that reinvigorates familiar elements. Merging German writer Kurt Tucholsky's semi-autobiographical novel "Schloss Gripsholm" with elements from the scribe's own life, Swiss director Xavier Koller and German scripter Stefan Kolditz have come up with an emotionally dense "Summer of '32" that melds the last-gasp frippery of pre-Nazi Europe with a moving portrayal of how relationships can be reshaped by exterior circumstances without denying the sincerity of their origins. The long-nurtured project by Babelsberg producer Thomas Wilkening is helped by a quartet of sterling performances with a natural chemistry. Given its name cast, pic has all the ingredients for warm business in German-speaking territories; with a change to a sexier rifle, some offshore sales also look possible, given a level playing field.
Story begins in Berlin in the early '30s, with Hitler already on the rise and a journalist, Kurt (Ulrich Noethen, from "Comedian Harmonists"), in increasingly hot water for his campaigning articles written under the pen name Ignaz Wrobel. Berliners to their fingertips, Kurt and his girlfriend Lydia (Heike Makatsch), whom he dubs "Princess," decide it may be an apt time to accept an invitation from a baron friend to holiday at his sprawling Swedish manse, Castle Gripsholm, while he's abroad. A trip planned for five weeks turns into a summer of a lifetime.
In much the same way as "The Talented Mr. Ripley" caught the exhilaration of privileged Yanks partying in the Europe of the late '50s, early scenes of Kurt and Lydia bicycling, swimming, making love and enjoying the mental freedom of a new environment have a sincerity that rises above the visual cliches. Noethen, a past master at wry melancholia, meshes easily with Makatsch, an actress too often relegated to ditzy roles who here imbues Lydia with a winning freshness.
One night, Kurt drops a bombshell with the news that he's thinking of staying in Sweden, as he's lost the spark to continue as a crusading journalist. Something has died in him, he tells Lydia: "You can't scream at the ocean."
Enter Karl (Marcus Thomas), an aviator friend who wings in with the news that the Reichswehr has brought charges against Kurt back in Germany. Amid scenes that continue the mix of naive hope and confidence that events back home are just a passing phase, quieter moments between the two men discreetly edge around to talking about the realities of Kurt's situation -- that he's top of a list of "traitors."
Next to join the group is Billie (singer-actress Jasmin Tabatabai, from "Bandits"), a Berlin cabaret performer who's Lydia's closest friend. As the rural partying continues, splits start to appear in Kurt and Karl's friendship, with Karl gainsaying Kurt's pessimism and the latter finally accusing his friend of being a Nazi sympathizer.
In one of the best scenes in the movie, as the two men take their leave of each other forever, pic comes closest to its theme of outside events changing friendships without destroying their core. As Kurt and Lydia become involved in sheltering a maltreated schoolgirl (Sara Foettinger) and Billie finally departs for Berlin, the movie takes on a more melancholic tone as the final summer draws to a close.
There's nothing especially new in either the story's arc or its content, but Koller (best known for his Oscar-winning "Journey of Hope") gives the material an impressive flow and suppleness, aided by nimble CinemaScope camerawork by Swiss d.p. Pio Corradi and a bigscreen score that matches the visuals. Despite its themes, the movie isn't afraid to be mainstream in its appeal: Several flashbacks to the couple's high times in Billie's Berlin niterie (with Tabatabai performing songs by Swiss Klezmer musicians Kol Simcha) maintain entertainment value while reminding the viewer of the protagonists' background.
Austrian production designer Peter Manhardt does a seamless job of stitching together locations in four countries, with Vienna's streets doubling for '30s Bedim two Swedish mansions repping the real Castle Gripsholm (now an off-limits national shrine), a lake in Austria standing in for the baron's, and a ship in Denmark used for the train-ferry that transports the couple from Germany. Austrian costume designer Birgit Hutter's wide-ranging designs look just fight.
For the record, the real Tucholsky moved to Sweden in 1929 and committed suicide there in 1935, at age 45. Two years earlier, he'd been stripped of German citizenship and had his books banned by the Nazis.