Director: David Wnendt (Germany). Year of Release; 2023
Berlin Gropiusstadt, 2003. Gerhard Schröder is on the telly justifying his Agenda 2010 attack on the welfare system. Lukas has a trendy haircut, shaved on both sides. He is rummaging in his rucksack for something. Lukas approaches the security guards outside his school, who demand his ID card. He replies that they know who he is, he comes in every day. Nonetheless, they won’t let him in. Lukas takes out his old-school mobile phone and SMSes his mates that he’s playing truant today.
Gino wears his name on a thick necklace. He is peaceful, but from a troubled home, where his alcoholic father beats his mother. Gino seems the most peaceful of the gang. When they start to get involved in things that they shouldn’t, Gino is conspicuously absent – ostensibly because his father won’t let him leave the house, but you get the feeling he doesn’t want to get involved. Nonetheless. Gino is the person who everyone seems to love
In contrast, Julius has a Billy Whizz quiff and is a bit of a dick really, He’s always talking about the fights he’s had and the women he’s fucked, but not in a way that makes you think that his stories are actually true. When Lukas, Gino and Julius get on a bus together, it’s Julius who goes up to the girls sitting at the front of the bus and tries to chat them up, It’s also Julius who is rebuffed, as they tell him to fuck off, middle fingers high.
Lukas, Gino and Julius go into the park in search of some grass. But this means walking past “the Arabs”, something for which Lukas has particular fear. Sure enough, the “Arabs” call the three over, which results in Lukas getting a beating. When he arrives at the dealers with a bloody face, they ask him what’s happened, and get him to lead them to the “Arabs”. Another fight ensues. As things start to get too violent, Lukas runs away, leaving Gino on his own to be beaten up.
As Lukas jumps onto the U-Bahn, it stops, waiting for maintenance. One of the “Arabs” jumps on and tells him that the dealers have stolen €200 from them. Lukas must pay them a fine – of €500. He has until 3pm the next day to find the money. This need to pay back the money plays a greater and lesser role in the film, depending on its need for dramatic tension. Sometimes, Lukas is in imminent danger of serious damage. At others, the problem is pushed into the background.
Sanchez has just moved to Gropiusstadt from Marzahn-Hellersdorf. As he is introduced to the class, they are incredulous – don’t only Nazis live in Marzahn? But Sanchez is black. Before long, he becomes part of Lukas’s Gino’s and Julius’s gang. It is Sanchez who has the idea to steal the new computers which have just been delivered to the school and to sell them for €1500 each (O tempora, o mores!)
Lukas’ father Matthias also grew up in Gropiusstadt. He tries to convince his son to find a peaceful solution to conflicts and to just walk away. But this just does not correspond with Lukas’s life experiences. Halfway through the film, Matthias celebrates getting a job as a janitor at a University, at €8,000 a year. Small wonder that Lukas has more admiration for his older brother Marco, who’s a bit of a gangster. In one scene, we see Marco having his fingers broken for not paying his debts.
Sonne und Beyond does have its moments. There’s the scene where a racist teacher complains that “das Land schafft such ab” (the country is abolishing itself), presumably a reference to the book “Deutschland schafft such ab” by racist SPD politicians Thilo Sarrazin, which would be published in 2010. And there is a neat little twist towards the end, whee Lukas is fucked over by his brother. Above all, this is a film which looks at the lives of normal people.
This means that there are bits worth seeing, but I have two major problems with the film. Firstly, it expects us to spend 2 hours in the company of teenage boys, who are never the most interesting people at the best of times. Secondly, the plot, with its guns and nicking bottles of spirits from the corner shop and sidling up to girls who let you put your hand on their tot feels like an aspirational text written by a teenage boy. And it’s just not very well written.
This is Grange Hill written and directed by Guy Ritchie. There’s no shortage of things going on, but some of them stretch your credulity. Some critics have said that it’s hard to tell apart what is real and what’s been made up, but this says more about the insularity of critics than anything else. The flexibility with the truth is already hinted at in the opening credits which read “Everything happened like this. But, then again, perhaps not”. We are watching a young boy’s fantasy.
This does beg the question of exactly how interesting life is when depicted as a boy would like it to be. It is great that a film has been set in Gropiusstadt (it is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by comedian Felix Lobrecht), as too much film focusses on the privileged middle class. But it would be a much greater tribute to the experience of working class people to give them a story which is more believable and dialogue which is more interesting.
Above all, this is a film for the boys. One of the biggest scandals is when a girl decides that she would rather spend time with someone who is much cooler than one of the main characters. And the film does not so much ignore the female point of view as fail to consider whether it is at all important. It’s not a bad film, but its vision of society is almost as limited as that of the middle class period dramas that it is trying to replace.