The highly political German drama In Times of Fading Light concerns the end of an era and personal tragedies associated with it.
It’s 1989, and the days of the GDR are numbered. The structures of East Germany are giving in to the pressures of the West. But in the living room of the Powileits, time stands still. It’s Wilhelm Powileit’s (Bruno Ganz) 90th birthday. The former resistance fighter is an unapologetic hard-line communist. His wife, Charlotte (Hildegard Schmahl), has invited family, neighbours, friends and party apparatchiks to celebrate the special occasion. But Wilhelm is increasingly difficult to live with. Convinced his wife is trying to poison him, he’s quite a handful.
Wilhelm’s world is changing, but he shows nothing but contempt for what is inevitable. His grandson, Sascha Umnitzer (Alexander Fehling) has defected to the West without his loving wife and son. Sascha’s choice is tearing the family apart.
Understanding the politics of the time would be a decided advantage. But still you get a sense of the mood when you see what is effectively a Last Supper. It marks the imminent collapse of a system – a brutal system – that this collective has long submitted to. It’s all linked to Russia.
What struck me from the opening scenes was the superb cinematography (by Hannes Hubach) and representation of a bygone era. It immediately transports you there.
A number of the performances are also noteworthy, with the unyielding Ganz (Wings of Desire) foremost amongst them. Sylvester Groth (Breathe) is compelling as Kurt Umnitzer, who is doing his best amidst the maelstrom around him.
A melancholy pall hangs over proceedings. This is a family that has been broken apart, and is continuing to fray.
With a surfeit of characters and interactions, In Times of Fading Light requires concentration to follow. The word “authentic” kept popping into my head for its depiction of a past lacking in humanity. Although beautifully rendered, In Times of Fading Light will nevertheless have only limited appeal.
You can now stream In Times of Fading Light via SBS On Demand.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- American Made – home entertainment review
- Marauders – home entertainment review
- The Glass Castle – home entertainment review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television