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August 17 2011

10 of the best films set in Berlin

Berlin has been the backdrop – and even the star – in movies from cold war spy thrillers to dramas about the collapse of East Germany. Andrew Pulver picks the top 10 films set in the city

As featured in our Berlin city guide

People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag), Curt and Robert Siodmak, 1930

Silent cinema flourished in Germany during the Weimar years, and Berlin was immortalised in two particularly brilliant impressionist tributes: Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, and People on Sunday, which aimed to create a patchwork of ordinary Berliners' lives. This film, with its cast of non-professional actors and hidden camera, gets the pick – partly because of its extraordinary writing and directing credit roll. Virtually everyone – including Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann and Robert Siodmak – went on to make a name for themselves in Hollywood, after being forced out of Germany during the Nazi era.
• Bahnhof Zoo; Nikolassee

The Bourne Supremacy, Paul Greengrass, 2004

Hollywood came to Berlin in a big way with the sequel to The Bourne Identity; director Paul Greengrass was no doubt paying homage to Berlin's cold war past. The convoluted plot has Bourne (Matt Damon) showing up in Berlin to try to reconnect the threads of his past: modern Berlin makes a big shiny backdrop for the high-octane shenanigans. Added to which, Berlin doubles for other stops in Bourne's globetrotting – notably, a building at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds becomes a customs office in Naples.
• Exhibition Grounds, Messedamm; Alexanderplatz; Friedrichstrasse bridge; Ostbahnhof

Germany Year Zero, Roberto Rossellini, 1948

As a record of the rubble-strewn state of the city immediately after the second world war, Roberto Rossellini's film is hard to beat. Rossellini had made his name as a neo-realist in Rome, filming while the Germans were pulling out; he turned his lens on Germany itself shortly afterwards. Germany Year Zero is ostensibly about a 13-year-old scrabbling to survive in the chaos of defeated Germany, but it's the ruined city itself, with broken buldings and dubious denizens, that is the real subject.
• Neptune fountain, Alexanderplatz; Reich Chancellery and Hitler's bunker, Vossstrasse (now demolished)

Christiane F – We Children From Bahnhof Zoo (Christiane F – Wir Kinder From Bahnhof Zoo), Uli Edel, 1981

In the late 70s and early 80s, West Berlin's reputation for radicalism and experimentation made it a mecca for youth at the time: but there was a dark side, encapsulated in this notorious film about a drug-addicted prostitute. Based on her memoir, Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, Uli Edel's film is the last word in Berlin misery, with the David Bowie soundtrack providing a patina of cold-as-ice glamour. Bahnhof Zoo was West Berlin's biggest rail station at the time, and the film-makers also shot extensively in Christiane's home district of Gropiusstadt, the southern suburb designed by the Bauhaus founder.
• Gropiusstadt; Bahnhof Zoo

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin), Wim Wenders, 1987

Arguably the finest film about the divided city was made by Wim Wenders in 1987 – a fable about angels floating over a traumatised Berlin, listening to its inhabitants' thoughts, and attempting, in different ways, to heal their pain. The Wall itself was reconstructed in a studio, but Wenders made extensive use of the city's landmarks – including an extended tour of the modernist Berlin State Library, designed by Hans Scharoun.
• Berlin State Library House 2, Potsdamerstrasse; Friedrichstrasse; Gedächtniskirche, Kurfürstendamm

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006

Perhaps the most eye-opening film to have come out of contemporary German cinema's interest in raking over the communist era, this insight into the Stasi-ridden world of 1980s East Germany took advantage of the relatively unreconstructed Soviet chunk of the city. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck managed to gain permission to film in the Stasi archives (now a museum), as well as stage a dance performance at the Volksbühne theatre.
• Stasi Zentrale, Ruschestrasse; Volksbühne, Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz

Run Lola Run, Tom Tykwer, 1998

Sprinting through the reunited city in the late 1990s, Franka Potente's Lola swiftly became an international symbol of Germany's new dynamism. Director Tom Tykwer hurled her pell-mell around Berlin, picking locations from east and west in a thriller that plays out three times, with three different outcomes. The film is very much a what-might-have-been story, with a happy ending, which is perhaps what we want to feel about Berlin itself.
• Oberbaumbrücke; Deutsche Oper U-Bahn; Tauroggenerstrasse

Goodbye, Lenin! Wolfgang Becker, 2003

A much-liked film that cleverly tackles the issues surrounding German unification – by ignoring them. A fervent East German socialist misses the Wende (reunification) as she's in a coma; on her recovery, and to spare her further shock, her son goes to elaborate lengths to maintain the fiction that East Germany is still in existence. Almost all the film was shot in the former East Berlin, including shots of lead Daniel Brühl speeding past celebrating football fans on the monumental Karl-Marx-Allee.
• Karl-Marx-Allee; Alexanderplatz

Aeon Flux, Karyn Kusama, 2005

Though it never found much favour with critics or audiences, this sci-fi thriller made superb use of Berlin's modernist buildings to evoke a post-apocalyptic society in the 25th century. One unlikely architectural spectacular after another was press-ganged into service. The Bauhaus Archiv doubled as an apartment block, the Hall of Condolence at the Krematorium Baumschulenweg was used for political meetings, and the Tierheim animal shelter became the setting for the government HQ.
• Bauhaus Archiv, Klingelhöferstrasse; Krematorium Baumschulenweg, Kiefholzstrasse; Tierheim Berlin, Hausvaterweg

One, Two, Three, Billy Wilder, 1961

Shot before the Berlin wall went up, but released after, Billy Wilder's scabrous political satire pitched itself into the clash of ideologies that the city symbolised. Wilder, of course, had left Germany in 1934 after the Nazis took power, his first film credit being People on Sunday (see above). Returning as a successful Hollywood film director, Wilder cast Jimmy Cagney as a Coca-Cola executive looking after his boss's teenage daughter. The film certainly hit a nerve, as Wilder intended it should.
• Brandenburg Gate; Gedächtniskirche, Kurfürstendamm; Tempelhof airport

• Andrew Pulver is the film editor of The Guardian


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


March 14 2011

Is The Adjustment Bureau film poster the stupidest ever?

That Emily Blunt's going to get a scraped knee

I'm very taken with The Adjustment Bureau, I must say. No, not the film: I'll steer clear of that. I can't get enough of the poster, which I just saw sail past on the side of a bus and which made my day. It immediately put me in mind of Matt Damon, as envisioned by the makers of Team America: World Police – a wooden puppet only capable of saying "Matt Damon".

The poster in question depicts said Matt Damon looking intense and running off towards the left, while holding hands with a pretty girl (Emily Blunt) who's looking gormless and not really running so much as standing on one leg and facing off at 45 degrees from him. "They stole his future," the strapline tells us. "Now he's taking it back."

The immediate future, at least for Damon's foxy friend, seems to hold a twisted ankle and a nasty scrape on the knee. Have you ever tried to run away from a shadowy government agency while holding the hand of a woman in a satin dress and impractical shoes? Experience tells us all that it's next to bloody impossible. The shadowy government agency is usually on you like green on Kermit.

Holding hands is good for skipping, like a great big flower-collecting girl. It's not good for shadowy-government-agency fleeing. Yet here it is – and in posters like this, the composition of the shot demands that the girl be facing in a slightly different direction, which is as much as to say it demands that she be about to topple over.

The poster's deliberate subtext is that Matt Damon's current movie is basically another Bourne movie – ie, another film in which Matt Damon or someone like him spends an hour and a half fleeing a shadowy government agency with a gormless girl attached to his hand.

Is it the most generic movie poster ever? Certainly, it is a solid-gold classic of the determined-man-about-to-yank-a-hot-chick-over genre, itself a subset of the determined-man-looking-in-one-direction-while-hot-chick-looks-in-another genre.

Those poster genres are no more than heterosexual cousins of the two-determined-men-looking-in-opposite-directions posters, or the two-determined-men-with-guns posters. (The two-wacky-men-jumping-in-the-air posters are a different kettle of fish altogether.) Single men on posters are normally looking determined directly at you, unless they're Tom Cruise, who is looking off to one side and standing on a box. Occasionally, if they're bald, you get the back of a head and a strong sense that the face on the other side is looking determined.

If there's one thing more gloriously dim and formulaic than blockbuster movies, it's the posters for them. Private Eye runs a feature pointing out lookalike book jackets, but it wouldn't even be worth doing with film posters. Everything in them comes pre-chewed. "This summer . . . " "They did X. Now he's doing Y." "He was an X. She was a Y. Together they Z." "It was a time of X. It was a time of Y." "One man . . . "

Women on posters get a worse deal even than they do in the films. Have you ever seen a woman on a film poster dragging a man about by his hand? No you have not. Women are there to wear bikinis or fall over. If they have a gun, it's either because they are a super-cool bikini-wearing Femme Nikita-type girl assassin, or because the man in the poster (see Knight and Day) is helping her hold it so the dear thing doesn't get knocked over by the recoil like Britt Ekland in that Bond movie where she falls off an oil rig wearing, y'know, a bikini.

Women don't do too well in posters for horror films, either. There are really two types here: the Terrified Hot Chick with one half of her face obscured by red splodge/knife blade/spooky-looking forest; and the Terrified Hot Chick squished half-naked against a glass window/bit of wire mesh/plastic sheeting.

Then there's the kids' stuff. Thanks to the stigma surrounding people who used to play Dungeons and Dragons, the words "adventure", "magical", "epic" and "journey" are only ever used, humiliatingly, to refer to computer-generated squirrels who get lost and form unlikely friendships with computer-generated polar bears. You're forever being invited to "prepare yourself" for "the ultimate adventure" or "the ride of a lifetime" – though the latter boast, I can tell you, does nothing to impress those of us who remember Space Station Zero at Thorpe Park in Surrey.

But back to the poster in hand: could there be more going on after all? The girl is pointing in one direction; she is being dragged by her hand in another; she may fall over. Could this be, like, a metaphor?

I think it could. On The Adjustment Bureau's website, as well as being offered the opportunity to "like" the film on Facebook, visitors are encouraged to pitch in on the question of whether we exercise true free will or are helpless victims of determinism.

"Fate or free will?" it asks. Join the debate! The greatest minds in the history of western philosophy have grappled with the question unsuccessfully. Now it is the turn of Matt Damon fans. Who knows? Perhaps we'll have a breakthrough.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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