Wolfskinder, orphans in a war to flee
by Camillo de Marco
- A delicate and brutal film on one of the most dramatic chapters of the Second World War: the flight of German civilians from the Red Army’s occupation
Summer 1946, Oriental Prussia. Two grimy-looking children are roaming around the countryside looking for food. One is 14-year-old Hans and the other is his 11-year-old brother Fritzchen. Forest berries are not enough. They steal a horse from a group of soldiers and kill it in order to feed their sick mother.
These are the opening scenes from Wolfskinder [+see also:
interview: Rick Ostermann
film profile] by Rick Ostermann, selected in the Orizzonti section of the Venice Film Festival. The film tells one of the most dramatic chapters from the last world war: the flight of millions of German civilians from the Red Army Soviet occupation. In Oriental Prussia, at least 25,000 youth lost their parents and drifted around the region which today is a part of Poland and Lithuania, trying to survive cold and hunger. Wolf children. Only a few hundred survived, welcomed and adopted by Lithuanian families, but at the cost of the loss of their own identity: to speak German or to not have a non Lithuanian name was something punishable with deportation to Siberia.
In this delicate and brutal film, the strictly historical (and political) aspect is kept at a distance. For 96 minutes, Ostermann’s camera remains on the main character’s vicissitudes (played by Levin Liam) as well as the other boys: “you need to go east, beyond the river, and not ever abandon your brother,” Hans’ mother tells him before dying. But as he crosses the Nemunas, pursued by Soviet soldiers, the two brothers get lost and are separated. Hans continues with a girl his age, Christel (Helena Phil, also a newcomer) and soon the group of wolf children is completed with little Asta and her brother Karl, and Paul, who is only 9.
Led by Hans, they cautiously approach the factory, looking for refuge and relief. Instead, they find traces of death and violence. Every adult the children meet can transform into an enemy and that ambiguity is well rendered. Even Lithuanian residents encountered during the voyage will show their darker side, with an attempt at violence on young Christel.
Hans, who will not let go of his Charles Darwin book, has an ongoing silent dialogue with surrounding nature: clouds, falcons, dragonflies and lizards are all observed with the curiosity of a boy, who finds nature’s world to be an escape from the atrocious realities of war.
Death catches up with him and reclaims his innocence. When he tries to silence a Russian boy coughing into a can who is helping them in their escape, Hans ends up suffocating him to death. A slightly forced episode that does however show the profound cruelty of fighting to survive, staged by the German director.
Rick Ostermann, 34 from Paderborn, made this film after a few shorts and numerous ones as directing help for people like Lars Kraume (Sisters) and Matthias Glasner (Mercy). The script and characters are based on a long series of encounters with real-life characters who each have their own experiences. The Wolfskinder locations, between Vilnius and Memel, are the same as the narrated historical events.
(Translated from Italian)