Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time), when I finish watching dramatic films made by Germans, I wonder when will it ever be time to stop making clichéd films about Communism and Nazism. There is a certain type of film on these subjects at which German filmmakers excel, and it invariably involves underdogs appealing against a totalitarian regime with cliched speeches and tears and inevitably ends in some form of tragedy or suffering. Probably if I wanted to make some money, I could write a screenwriting guide sort of like a German version of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!, except it would be How to Win Awards and Profit From Your Totalitarian History (Okay so maybe my title still needs some work).
Das schweigende Klassenzimmer (The Silent Revolution) is just another example of this boring trope and yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does very well. It’s about a bunch of high school students in East Germany in 1956, who have a moment of silence at school in solidarity with the Hungarian uprising against the Soviets. Of course, this silence doesn’t go unnoticed, and the situation quickly devolves into a full-on communist investigation, including evil education ministers, smirking toadies, terrified parents, and teenagers feeling like they have to stand up for what is right. It hits all the right buttons to be successful: it is based on a true story, the students were fans of RIAS (the American Sector broadcaster), and they were unfairly treated by the GDR state. What a perfect situation to make a formulaic German historical film about! Throw in a dash of communists being bad towards the religious, and a surprisingly pro-gay Lutheran pastor, and there is enough to make any lover of whitewashed history happy.
Maybe 2018 is the time for filmmakers to stop making films on these subjects. It is abundantly clear that there will never be a subtle and intricately examined film about the GDR state or the lives of those who lived under it, so maybe it is time to move on. Unfortunately, there is still money to be made on this history as audiences clamor to be spoon-fed an alternative history by filmmakers who have no wish to dwell on such silly (and uncomfortable) things like facts. Don’t feed into this system, give Das schweigende Klassenzimmer a miss.