Bye Bye Germany, hello America
by Bénédicte Prot
- BERLIN 2017: Belgian director Sam Garbarski greets Berlin with a well-made yet respectful comedy about the Jews left behind in Germany after the concentration camps
Tackling delicate subjects such as the Jews left behind in Germany after the concentration camps and investigations into collaboration between deportees and the profiteers of war (or post-war period) in one and the same film was a tall order in itself, but doing it through the medium of comedy, without disrespect, and even a sufficient dose of seriousness where necessary, is a commendable accomplishment by Belgian director Sam Garbarski, which German audiences recognised at the gala screening of Bye bye Germany [+see also:
film profile] at the Berlin Film Festival.
This German-Belgian-Luxembourgish co-production forays into an area that is both well-known and hazardous: that of the colourful and sugar-coated comedy of Jewish humour on the darkest period in history. Dani Levy excelled in it, others have come unstuck with it, like Oskar Roehler and Jew Suss: Rise and Fall [+see also:
film profile], which, rightly so, was very awkwardly received at Berlin. In this context, and even using the same actor, Moritz Bleitreu (who’s clearly more comfortable in the role of David Bermann than that of Goebbels), Garbarski is in the clear.
Bye bye Germany is the story of a group of concentration camp survivors, each with their own story and trauma, who, under the guidance of the mischievous David (mentioned above), who recruits them in the same way one might put together a gang of miscreants in a gangster film, join forces to set up a business selling household linen, with the Germans apparently being in serious need of this, and guilt-ridden enough not to slam the door in the face of a group of Jewish travelling salesmen. The idea, of course, is to make enough money to leave Germany and head for America. And so this likeable group, infected with the energy and audacity of David, starts churning out curtains “made in Paris” hand over fist, making it up as they go along to peddle their wares to their clients, sometimes even recruiting them (as they scrutinise the death notices stuck to the destroyed Berlin wall), all in all using a series of cynically comical methods, and rather visionary ones too in terms of marketing.
Alongside these comical incidents – the general atmosphere of which is effectively conveyed by the opening scene, in which we see a little three-legged dog (here, everyone has some sort of injury) scampering about between the shacks of a destroyed Berlin to a tune which, against this backdrop, can’t help but evoke the imagery of Kusturica –, the film kicks off another plotline, one which is more solemn. Over the course of a series of interrogations, a young German Jew who emigrated to the United States shortly after 1933 (Antje Traue), who has come back to Germany to join the post-war effort, tries to establish, on the orders of the allied forces, whether or not David collaborated or not from his concentration camp, to survive there. These scenes could be more loaded, but once again, Bermann’s humour and gall weave his testimony into a huge pack of lies, peppered with yiddish, in which he explains how he was hired to teach Hitler the art of telling jokes.
Without giving away what comes next, each plotline and sub-plotline woven (against the backdrop of Paris) within the film leads to a big twist of fate, which could be seen as positive or tragic, before David concludes by sparing a thought for the Jews who, like him, made the inexplicable choice to stay behind.
(Translated from French)