Berlin 36 DVD Review

“This is about sport. Not politics”

This film offers up a slice of history that acts as a microcosm of what was happening at the time in Nazi Germany and sets a precedent for things to come.

The story is set just before the 1936 German Olympics and the government doesn’t want the jewish athelete Gretel Bergmann  (Karoline Herfurth) is to participate despite her being the best chance Germany have at winning a gold medal in high jump. In order for that not to happen they hire a gender confused male, Marie Ketteler (Sebastian Urzendowsky) , to replace her in the team.

The film is at it’s best when it focuses on this secret issue of Marie’s which is unfortunately underdeveloped. It could’ve explored the how and why rather than glossing over the details as it is a key component to the overall story telling. This might be because that side of the story differs from the real life events that took place. The fact is that no one knew that Marie or her actual name Dora Ratjen wasn’t male until 1939 and so that whole aspect of the story is added in purely for increased dramatic effect to show the hypocrisy of the German government and the lengths they’d go to to oppress the Jews but since it was an addition it could’ve fleshed out this part with a bit more meat.

The only reason the government had adopted these unusual circumstances rather than outright banned Gretel from competing is because of the USA’s and International Olympic Committee’s involvement who would boycott the games if they excluded German Jews from having the chance to be a viable athlete in the Olympics  So the situation arose into making sure they could certainly have the opportunity to compete for their country but then ultimately not include them. So Gretel finds herself in this horrible position even though she’s been recently celebrated as a champion back in a competition in Britain.

The majority of the film takes place in a training camp where Gretel Bermann is cast aside and persecuted on a smaller scale but no doubt reflects the German’s feelings towards Jews at the time as well as what others like her would’ve been facing, this is captured very well in the film. It is from Karoline’s delicate acting that you get this sense of grief of what she must have been going through.You also see her bravery in continuing to want to compete even though the circumstances were dangerous and everyone around her wanted to pack it in and if they stood up for her then they were soon silenced, only Marie remains to help her. Marie and Gretel offer each other comfort in this film as they form an seemingly unlikely bond. It is in these intimate moments that Berlin 36 shines because at the heart of this film it is still the tale of heroics in the face of adversity, the importance of freedom as well as the continual strength of friendship. When Gretel and Marie are on screen together their chemistry engages you and allows you to care for the fate of their characters which is down the the admirable acting of the two leads. They are both in similar situations but are coming at it from opposite ends. Marie is part of her problem but they are both being manipulated as a mean to an end and much like her he doesn’t have much choice. You sympathise with both of them. In this sense it doesn’t embellish the true events that its based on to change its characters fortune but instead uses it to enrich their plight. It remains interesting because of these facts it does present to us but it suffers from is its own safeness. It presents us this world that feels cartoonish at times and the direction feels somewhat stayed. If more gravitas was added to the script as well then I think these issues would’ve made for a more interesting film because at times it does lose momentum. The ends offers up an even greater historical context with a small documentary style segment that wraps up the film succinctly. Its key themes do get put across and it certainly offers up a different view of Nazi Germany where its political ideals intertwined with sport.

Berlin 36 isn’t as compelling as the intriguing, baffling story it portrays but there are glimpses here and there that keep it appealing enough during the course of its run time.

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