Dir. Stefan Krohmer, 2003, Germany/Austria, 107 mins, German with English subtitles
Cast: Hans-Jochen Wagner, Valerie Koch, Pit Bukowski, Marcus Sieber
Review By Gavin Bush
From Lang and Murnau’s masterful expressionist films of the 1920′s to Herzog and Wenders‘s uncompromising and individual visions in the 1970′s, German film has a rich heritage. But only the occasional gem has been produced since. They’ve Got Knut is one of them, but it only hints modestly at a new renaissance that is overdue. Putting the usual joke about the Germans having no sense of humour aside, it is a little perplexing thatThey’ve Got Knut is showing in a comedy festival. Although this film is healthily light hearted and quirky, it is a deeply intelligent and sensitive ensemble drama with a nostalgic feel for the early 1980′s not unlike Moodysson‘s Together had for the 1970′s.
Nadia (Koch) and Ingo (Wagner) have escaped to the snowy Tyrol for a quiet holiday in Nadia’s brother Knut’s ski lodge. Ingo wants to discuss their open relationship, but Nadia is less enthusiastic. Their solitude is ended prematurely by the noisy arrival of a gang of Knut’s friends with ski boots, drum kit and children in tow. Ingo isn’t happy as the new arrivals make themselves at home, but the ambience is soon broken by the somber news that ‘They’ve got Knut’ – in this case it is the authorities and for political reasons. While the guests deliberate on a course of action, the holiday goes on with Ingo reluctantly giving skiing a try and Nadia developing an attraction to easygoing musician Jan. Underlying the sex and politics of the adults, two young boys develop a dark relationship.
Quietly confident, Ingo is the archetypal man in control of his emotions and Wagner portrays his frustration brilliantly as he tries to find time alone with Nadia. Knut eventually returns oblivious to the tension his absence has created, and Ingo gets his chance to confront Nadia. But she reveals that she has never taken advantage of their open relationship. Even now Ingo can’t reveal his true feelings for her and Nadia chooses to follow her heart. The casting is faultless; a palette of believable characters, not only in their acting but also in their physical appearance, accentuated by the atmospheric production design.
Although ten years out of date for the time the film is set in, Nick Drake‘s music is used effectively on the soundtrack, and in the closing shot as Ingo finally drives away, the similarity between the fuller faced Wagner and Drake is striking. The photography takes the natural lighting aesthetic to the extreme. There are bright white snow shots, and dark moody scenes that look underexposed by Hollywood’s standards, but the result has a special earthy quality entirely in keeping with the tone of the film and compliments the performance of the actors. It is nice to see the impressionistic nature of film used consistently without drawing attention to itself and it echoes the earlier cinematography of Herzog and Wenders.
Screenwriter Daniel Nocke‘s characters seem real enough on screen, but they are also endearing and the nostalgic feeling is effective. From the beginning of They’ve Got Knut the interlocking subplots draw the viewer in and when we leave the film with the inevitable departure of Ingo, the camera could just as easily return to the lodge and follow Nadia, Knut and their friends. Stefan Krohmer’s direction, though looking backwards in style, is balanced, honest and promises a bright future in German cinema.