Apollo’s Girl

Berlin 36: Old Story, New Take (Quad Cinema)

With its focus on the Berlin Olympics of 1936, and on a few of its most interesting participants,  Berlin 36 brings a fresh new take on the 1930s. By combining a real story with an appealing young cast, and some clever (but appropriate) effects that use archival footage (you can see Jessie Owens sprinting for his long-jump gold), the film succeeds by skill, rather than overkill.

Although America refused to allow many Jewish immigrants to enter the country at a time when such permission could have saved many lives, they nevertheless insisted that Germany allow Jews on its own Olympic team, and demanded that the Jewish high jumper, Gretel Bergmann, be included on the German team.

With conflicting motives on both sides of the Atlantic, the Germans agreed, but reluctantly– while making sure that Gretel would not qualify. To add further complications, the Germans also added Marie Ketteler to their women’s team; he had (against his will) dressed as a girl and joined the team only because the Nazis promised he could finally live as a man if he competed.

As outsiders, he and Gretel forge a close friendship that sustains them through the growing hostility of their teammates and government officials. The casting of this film is extraordinary; both Karoline Herfurth as Gretel and Sebastian Urzendowsky as Marie deliver strong and completely compelling performances that reveal the pain of their emotional struggles and of the rigorous training they endured. (In fact, both of them did their own high jumping much of the time.) Supporting playersespecially Axel Prahl as the coach who encourages them, before he’s removed by the Nazis—add to the film’s consistent strength and insight. The real Gretel Bergmann appears at the end of the film, with fascinating postcripts on her own life and Marie Ketteler’s. quad cinema


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