Movie Review: The Silent Revolution (Das schweigende Klassenzimmer)

It’s October and that means it’s time again for Kino, the German language film festival organised by the Goethe-Institut Hongkong. This year’s event, their 18th, showcases ten new and award-winning films from Germany and – this year – Switzerland. As is the case every year, these films depict thought-provoking and highly relevant stories about rebellion and courage, love and doubt, and yearning and awakening. Because tickets for the opening night film always sell out early, I’ll review that film this week and then cover some of the festival’s other films next week.

Based on true events that took place in East Germany in 1956, THE SILENT REVOLUTION tells the story of a group of high school students who decide to hold two minutes of silence during class in solidarity with the people of Hungary, who had just wrested control of their country away from their Russian masters.

It’s still early days in this Socialist Paradise, and in many ways the small city of Stalinstadt (today: Eisenhüttenstadt), located on the Polish border about 120 km southeast of Berlin, looks the part. Built just after the war, the city is clean and orderly, and provides job opportunities in the nearby steel mill for its residents and good schools for their children. But underneath that veneer lies a government apparatus where information is tightly controlled and dissent is quickly stifled. Theo and Kurt are just months away from graduation but their minds are on other matters. One day they take a train to the West (it was five years before the Berlin Wall was built when travel to the West was cut off) to catch the latest West German film at the cinema. But it isn’t the opportunity to see the actress’ breasts that gets them excited. It’s the newsreel before the film that does that. It details reports of the Hungarian Uprising that is taking place a few hundred miles away. The boys return home and tell their classmates the news that their own government has shielded from them. The group decides to take a vote to stage a silent protest in class but when the news of their stunt reaches National Education Minister Lange (Burghart Klaußner, THE PEOPLE vs. FRITZ BAUER), School Superintendent Kessler is dispatched to the school to find out who was behind this act of defiance and come down so hard on the group’s ringleader that it will never happen in the GDR ever again.

This story resonates so clearly with current events in Hong Kong, both with the government’s attempts to implement a national education curriculum in the schools and the recent banning of the Hong Kong National Party. Some may argue that that was 1956 and this is 2018 or that that was East Germany and this is China but the parallels are disturbingly similar. Even the story’s epilogue – which is true – is identical to what we’re seeing in Hong Kong today. Director Lars Kraume (THE PEOPLE vs. FRITZ BAUER) does a good job bringing out fine performances from this fairly unknown cast of young actors but, unfortunately, he does get a bit heavy handed with the Christian imagery especially during a pivotal scene involving one student who learns of his betrayal by both the State and his family. Even so, THE SILENT REVOLUTION offers an important history lesson on what can happen when people dare to aspire to be free-thinkers.

Once again, the people at the Goethe-Institut have picked a winning film to open their festival. THE SILENT REVOLUTION is a thought-provoking film that will be sure to spark some good conversation afterward. Check it out!

Kino/18 runs in Hong Kong and Macau from October 11 – 21, 2018. For more information, please visit the festival’s website at http://www.goethe.de/hongkong/kino18. I’ll be at the festival’s opening night on October 11th at the HK Arts Centre in Wanchai. If you’ll be there, come and say hello at the event’s after-party!

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, October 4th at 8:30 am HK time!

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