Harvey Critic - 07/09

BERLIN 36 - Grade: B

If you've ever had a fight with your family in your one-TV home-you want to watch the Jets game and Mom insists on seeing the 6.30 news with Scott Pelley-you'd get the idea that sports and politics exist in two separate worlds. And they do for the most part, but sometimes they intersect. In one motion picture example, Tony Richardson's "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, a marathon runner named Colin rebels against the Governor-who runs the juvenile penitentiary and has much to gain politically by winning a meet-by stopping dead just before the finish line. In a more true-to-life situation, Jesse Owens, a black sprinter, shamed the Hitler regime by winning four gold medals at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936. Hitler wanted to use the Olympics to demonstrate a resurgent Germany, touting so-called Aryans as superior to competitors from other countries. That a black man could outmatch a blond German was difficult for true Nazis to stomach. That a German Jewish woman could jump higher than any "Aryan" was even more unbelievable.

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Corinth Films

Reviewed for Arizona Reporter by Harvey Karten

Grade: B

Directed By: Kaspar Heidelbach
Written By: Lothar Kurzawa, story by Eric Friedler
Cast: Karoline Herfurth, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Axel Prahl, August Zimer, Maria Happel
Screened at: Critics' DVD, NYC, 8/27/11
Opens: September 16, 2011 at New York's Quad Cinema

Yet as we see in Kaspar Heidelbach's "Berlin 36," based on a true event during the Olympics in 1936, the German sports command is wary about allowing Gretel Bergmann (Karoline Herfurth), a young Jewish woman, to compete. Such a victory by a non-Aryan is unthinkable. Yet, since the U.S. threatens to boycott the games because of the absence of German Jewish athletes, the government manipulates Gretel into training for the event, just after she had won trophies in a British competition. The aim is to show the world that Germany would freely allow athletes of all persuasions to try out and, on the basis strictly of the performances, to be selected. Their key strategy is to use Marie Ketteler (Sebastian Urzensowky) to take first place. Marie is a male who dresses and looks like a woman because his insane mother always wanted a girl. Marie and Gretel room together, develop an intense friendship, and though in real life Gretel did not learn of her friend's gender until decades later, they discuss the politics of the situation. Marie even suggests that she could mess up the jump, allowing Gretel to take the gold.

The major part of the film takes place in training camp, as a decent man and coach, Hans Waldmann (Axel Prahl), treats Gretel as his favorite to the dismay of the other young women, who play tricks on Gretel and generally behave like Drizella and Anastasia, Cinderella's two brutish step-sisters. As you might predict, Hans loses the favor of the politicians running the show and is replaced by the sinister Kulmbach (Robert Gallinowski), who takes steps to force Gretel to quit. He has her teammates eat at a table separate from her, refuses to train her as hard as he does the others, even threatens her and her family with bodily harm if she does not withdraw.

We in the audience are probably expecting Gretel to become a hero, standing up to the Nazis by competing and, to the stains of music setting a world jumping record. But director Heidelbach, using Lothar Kurzawa's screenplay adapted from Eric Friedler's story, keeps the show involving. He coaxes sterling performances from the ensemble, especially from Herfurth, the lead. However the movie flirts with the pedestrian by being served in a simple, workmanlike chronological order with only a small segment of archival film to capture the spirit of the well-known '36 Olympics.

Unrated. 100 minutes. © 2011 Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online.

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