Personal stories of migration in movies

Maryam Zaree and Richard Fouofie Djimeli star in Club Europe, about three German flatmates who invite a Cameroonian refugee home.
Maryam Zaree and Richard Fouofie Djimeli star in Club Europe, about three German flatmates who invite a Cameroonian refugee home.PHOTO: GOETHE-INSTITUT SINGAPORE

Several works at this year's German Film Festival look at how foreigners affect society

Migration has been a hot topic in Germany in recent years, so it is unsurprising it would seep into contemporary German cinema as well.

Several films at the German Film Festival this year, which kicks off today, look at migration and how it affects society.

Mr Han-Song Hiltmann, director of the Goethe-Institut Singapore, which is organising the festival, tells The Straits Times: "Migration is a theme at this year's festival, but not because we have chosen it. It is because film-makers want to talk about migration now and provide their perspective on this current matter.

"And that perspective can be more intimate - film can tell more personal stories than what we would expect from the news."

The festival's opening film Western (2017), for example, is about how a group of German construction workers deal with prejudice and identity while working in Bulgaria. Directed by German film-maker Valeska Grisebach (Longing, 2006), the film received critical acclaim when it premiered at Cannes International Film Festival earlier this year.

Mr Hiltmann says: "The film provides a very interesting perspective on what it means to be foreign, to be excluded or included, and what efforts must be taken when different cultures and customs come together for a common goal."

Then, there is Simon Verhoeven's comedy-drama Welcome To Germany (2016), about a German family that takes in a Nigerian refugee.

  • BOOK IT / 21ST GERMAN FILM FESTIVAL

    WHERE: Various locations, including Golden Village cinemas and The Projector

    WHEN: Today till Nov 12, various times

    ADMISSION: From $8.50 a ticket

    INFO: www.goethe.de/ins/sg/en/kul/sup/fes.html

The film, which won the Audience Award at the German Film Awards, was the country's highest-grossing local film last year, earning US$26 million (S$35 million) at the box office.

Another film with a similar theme is Franziska Hoenisch's Club Europe (2017), about three German flatmates who attempt to do good by inviting a Cameroonian refugee to live in the spare room of their apartment. But when the refugee's situation becomes complicated, the flatmates have to decide how far they are willing to go to be truly charitable.

In total, the festival, which is in its 21st edition, will be screening more than 30 works that cover a wide range of topics and genres.

Most films are new releases that have never been shown in Singapore, including the drama At Eye Level (2016), about a young boy who finds out that his birth father is a dwarf; and the documentary Happy (2016), about how film-maker Carolin Genreith deals with news of her father marrying a woman he met in Thailand.

Even though these are all German stories, Singaporeans will be able to relate to the films, says Mr Hiltmann.

"We look at which films can connect to Singaporean lives and topics such as cultural diversity, education, life and work are some of those covered in our films. We also have love stories and comedies, which are universal."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2017, with the headline 'Personal stories of migration in movies'. Print Edition | Subscribe