Schlöndorff returns to WWII in Calm at Sea
by Boyd van Hoeij
Berlin-based German director Volker Schlöndorff didn't have to go far to present his latest film, Calm At Sea when it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, which is currently under way. But like many of his films since the early 1980s, it was shot abroad and in a different language, in this case France and French.
The director of Palme d'Or and Oscar winner The Tin Drum and the 2004 feature The Ninth Day isn't a stranger to stories about Nazism and here recounts the true story of the last few hours of life and the death by German firing squad of a 17-year-old French boy, Guy Moquet (Léo Paul Salmain), in 1941.
The film looks at three different levels of decision-making and parallel-running emotional upheaval that led to this tragic event.
The first level is the experience of Moquet himself, who was arrested and placed in a camp because he threw down pamphlets protesting the Nazi occupation of France from a cinema balcony. Moquet, a member of the Youth Movement of the French Communist party, through some bizarre twists of fate, had to pay with his own life for a minor offense committed as a minor.
The second level involves the Nazi bureaucracy in France, where some commanders are asked to come up with a list of 150 names of 'hostages' who will be killed in retaliation for the killing of a German officer by French partisans (or possibly, the English, the Germans are not sure).
Though few of the party members seem particularly willing to put people on a death list for a crime they have clearly not committed (since they can't leave the camps), all of them finally comply, showing with chilling precision how the German death machine operated.
A writer (Ulrich Matthes, The Ninth Day) is among those looking after the case, as is the commander (André Jung) who thinks that shooting 150 French innocents will do nothing for the standing of the Nazis in Occupied France.
The third level looks at the experiences of a young German soldier (Jacob Matschenz) who arrives at the Atlantic Sea Wall camp where the executions will finally take place.
The film was produced by Les Canards Sauvages, Provobis Film and the TV channels ARTE France, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Norddeutscher Rundfunk and Sudwestrundfunk. The film will premiere on Arte in March.