In Times of Fading Light, like the Last Supper, heralds the ending of communist Germany as the East starts to cave into the pressures of the West and a peaceful revolution. Time, however, stands still for the Powileits. Celebrating his 90th birthday, Wilhelm (Bruno Ganz, also in Wings of Desire at this year's German Film Festival) and his wife Charlotte have neighbours, friends and party officials over for quite a sombre birthday party for this unapologetic hardline communist veteran. A celebration that attracts the press and acknowledgement of Wilhelm's lifelong service to the Party.
This Australian Premiere was 2017's special gala event at the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) and nominated Best Performance by an Actor in a leading role at the German Film Awards. A multi-generational family drama set in East Berlin weeks before the fall of the Wall and directed by Matti Geschonneck, it's an adaptation of Eugen Ruge's bestselling 2011 autobiographical novel. While the older generation hangs on to their beliefs, the younger generation invite change and greater freedom. This is a birthday party that crackles with the ending of 'utopia' at any cost; the desertion of the GDR for a better life in the capitalist West.
Ganz is a formidable actor with a good match at his side in Hildegard Schmahl who is quietly solid and shines as Charlotte his wife. Another standout performance comes from Evgenia Dodina who plays Irina Umnitzer their drunken Russian daughter-in-law who is the colourful gem at this stiff and starchy birthday event. A wife who's long lived in the shadow of her husband, a son who has decided to escape to the West, a mother who drowns everything in vodka, this family is about to implode.
Surprisingly, this compelling film still manages to keep your interest as the family dynamics unfold. Sombre though it may be it's lightly seasoned and peppered with flashes of humour in this claustrophobic, stifling atmosphere. Gabriela Maria Schmeide, as the Powileits' cheerful domestic helper Lisbeth, much to the annoyance of Wilhelm's wife Charlotte (and for good reason) provides some of the restrained humour as does Ganz himself. This dialogue heavy and character-rich little number should definitely be seen in remembrance of things past.
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