We’ve seen so many tales told from the perspective of those caught up in the devastation of the Second World War, but rarely do we then catch up with them later on in life, when you would presume that their fight has now been fought. These are the characters that make up Matti Geschonneck’s In Times of Fading Light, though the central, hardline communist is evidently never without another battle to engage in, for this tale is set in the very final days of East Germany, despite how ardently he believes the wall will never fall.
Set merely days before David Hasselhoff was dancing on the concrete to celebrate the tearing down of the wall that separated the residents of Berlin – it’s the 90th
Surrounding the patriarch on this most special of days are his beleaguered wife (Hildegard Schmahl), his stepson Kurt (Sylvester Groth) and the latter’s Russian wife, and latecomer to the celebration, Irina (Evgenia Dodina). With tensions high as the socio-political climate seems to be changing, these traditionalists are struggling to come to terms with the shifting of the tide – as also at the party are several of Wilhelm’s greatest friends and supporters, and the palpable adjustment in spirits makes for a rather comedically inclined endeavour.
Set across this one day, culminating in the party sequence in the final act, this approach paints a real portrait of this entire family, and so many significant cultural and historical themes, told through this one evening. Through conversation we learn everything we need to know, and it’s a simplistic approach which works well in this instance, with a modest setting and relatively small collective to invest in. Geschonneck does a fine job in balancing pathos with comedy, seamlessly drifting between the two, even veering into the realm of the farce at times, like a pointed, satirical version of Abigail’s Party.
But that’s not to say that the comedy translates so well, as there are several instances where, while you can certainly acknowledge a joke has been told, it’s not always one that lands – though the laughter that can be heard from the German critics at the Berlinale suggests that perhaps they’re lost in translation somewhat. Still, we can appreciate the light touches that break up the poignancy to the narrative and challenging family affairs otherwise rooted in politics.
Ganz impresses, as ever, in the leading role, with an unwavering sense of pride to his demeanour – though what with this, and his performance in Sally Potter’s The Party, which is also showing at this year’s Berlin film festival, perhaps he should stop going to dinner parties, because he seems to be a somewhat ominous presence, with everything, yet again, all turning rather sour by the close of play.