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Getting out of a rut

Sophia Merwald
Sophia Merwald

In idyllic backwaters, many a struggle for survival lies just under the surface

Getting out of a rut

Let’s talk about villages. The kind that are defended to the death. Or those that people want to leave but can’t. Ordinary villages that are as confining as they are protective. This year’s films at the Munich International Film Festival portray them in different ways: as retreats for the lonely, as ecosystems threatened by climate change, or as places of refuge for people escaping the daily grind.

Wiesenwalde is a place where nothing ever changes. But all of a sudden, people in this German backwater are dreaming of Hollywood. The scent of the big wide world is in the air. A television series is being filmed on location, and it’s shaking things up. The plot is straightforward: a war is raging, both in front of the camera and within the village itself. A power outage triggers anxiety, a journalist feels he’s on to a big story, and old disputes resurface. A tank has been abandoned in front of the town hall: “Whose is it?” asks the mayor, and total chaos ensues. ANOTHER GERMAN TANK STORY paints a panorama of a simple village in which even the lowliest resident unexpectedly has a major role to play.

Villages can also be hiding places, where people can retreat or conceal something. BEYOND THE FOG shows us that there’s tremendous power in things that happen without attracting notice. Where mountains are tall and fog obscures the view. Here, where Shige and his daughter-in-law, Saki, live, the view hasn’t changed in decades and time is the only thing that passes. In this no-man’s-land, once a popular destination for hikers, the two run an inn. One day, Shige disappears and Saki, who is raising her 12-year-old daughter, Ihika, on her own, must decide: Does she want to go on like this? And how can she gain a different outlook from such a familiar view?

AGTS Online1

Another German Tank Story

Beyond The Fog Online2

Beyond the fog

SMELL OF BURNT MILK takes a similarly close look at life in the countryside. Katinka divides her time between cowsheds, fields, and lakes. In touch with nature and the cycles it follows, she’s worried about the scorching hot summer. The fragile underpinnings of this idyllic rural area are making themselves very apparent: there’s no rain, the cows are producing less milk, the farm is not profitable. But Katinka won’t let this get in the way of her dream. She defies the negative outlook for her future, holds on to the family farm, and completes her training as a farmer. Katinka farms the areas that have been handed down to her, in the countryside, where fires are put out with milk — straddling the line between confidence and an attempt to hold on to the past as it slips through one’s fingers like water.

Grass, trees, and goats as far as the eye can see. An unspoiled part of Sardinia. ANNA operates a small farm there by day and dances at the village pub at night. She guards this piece of land like a treasure. Her freedom, her strength, and her family history are inseparably rooted in it. But Anna is running out of time. Her little paradise is about to be destroyed. When excavators pull up next to her farm, she finds herself having to take on a huge machine: real-estate sharks who are planning to build a huge resort. This compels her to fight the fiercest battle of her life. With all her strength, Anna defends her right to keep her home — no matter how small the chance of success. A portrait of undaunted defiance!

Milch Ins Feuer Online3

sMell of burnt milk

Anna Online2

Anna

Continente Online3

Continent

CONTINENT then takes us to a remote village on the Brazilian prairie. After spending 15 years abroad, Amanda returns to her family farm. Her father, who owns the farm, is on his deathbed. Helô, the only doctor in the area, comforts the farmhands. Soon Amanda, her boyfriend Martin, and Helô become entangled in a mysterious ritual involving the village and the farm owners. The Brazilian expanse turns into a bloody postcolonial horrorscape as Amanda’s inheritance appears to get out of hand.

Whether it’s from Wiesenwalde, Sardinia, or Brazil, the view that these films dare to take is not confined to the small village setting. Instead, it raises larger questions: What holds our communities together? And how should we live together as we face current and future crises? One thing is clear: every community needs its conventions and its rituals, but also a guarantee of survival.

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