Film Movement Movie Review: Bye Bye Germany (2018)

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A film about storytelling and all the ways that fact and fiction have the ability to mingle together for justification, in jest, or just to help us all get by, Bye Bye Germany zeroes in on a group of German Jews at a 1946 US Displaced Persons Camp in Frankfurt.

Helping to establish its tone as halfway between darkly comedic and bittersweet, although it's based upon two novels by Michael Bergmann (which the author adapted alongside the picture’s director Sam Garbarski), Germany begins with a tongue-in-cheek Coen Brothers style disclaimer that the film “is a true story and what isn't entirely true is nevertheless correct.”

Much like the deliberate, rock-a-bye gait of the three-legged dog Motek – who seems to serve both as a motif and the first image we see – Germany's characters can't move fast enough to outrun the past.

Haunted by the horrors of the war with each step forward that they take, the film's main characters are eager to do whatever they can to get the hell out of not only the displaced persons camp but Germany in general.

And hoping to get his papers in order and save for his new life in America like his friends and neighbors, David Bermann (Run Lola Run's Moritz Bleibtreu) is stopped by US Army investigator Sara Simon (Man of Steel's Antje Traue) after she notices a number of irregularities in government documents concerning how frequently his name appears in SS files.

Joking that he was “always on time” to the concentration camp as one reason why, David quickly realizes that he can't joke his way out of this one. Determined to clear up any misconceptions that he was working against his own people as some sort of Nazi collaborator, David sits for a series of private interrogations with the attractive American official – spinning a colorful web that Sara Simon as well as the viewer aren't quite sure we can fully accept, no matter how beautifully entertaining it is.

Wildly charismatic, quick-witted, and a natural leader, while we don't want to believe the worst about Bleibtreu's David during the war, our familiarity with David after the war peddling linens to Germans along with a small group of friends he'd recruited in order to (at least) double their savings for the new world make us question his sincerity right from the start.

Relying on small time Paper Moon style cons to move as much linen as possible by telling each customer what they want to hear, soon enough David finds himself working overtime to keep his secrets hidden in order to prevent his friends from finding out about the investigation and vice versa.

David's plight becomes twice as dangerous when he gets involved in a revenge mission much riskier than just going after German citizens' wallets after he and the guys encounter a suspected SS officer hiding in plain sight.

Utilizing a powerful change of scenery to disrupt the static nature of flashback interrogations as David decides to show Sara an important piece of his past firsthand, Garbarski and Bergmann know precisely how much information to dole out to viewers and when.

One of the strongest Film Movement releases in recent memory along with In Between, this touching, surprisingly funny, and exceptionally humanistic feature is sure to appeal to fans of the Oscar winning foreign film, The Counterfeiters.

Effectively playing upon multiple emotions – sometimes numerous times within the same scene – Bye Bye Germany uses everything from clever motifs to gentle, compassionate humor to break through its moments of tragedy.

Whether Germany moves back or forth to make a verbal point in jest or a symbolic one just to get by, Garbarski’s thesis on the important role that stories play in our lives is more than justified.

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