It’s the late 1950, and in an affluent and quietly respectable part of Buenos Aires, young Sulamit Löwenstein strikes up a friendship with her next-door neighbour Friedrich over the whereabouts of her family dog. She is the daughter of German-Jewish immigrants to Argentina, he is the son of a senior SS officer, a tragic political legacy from whose shadow both characters struggle to escape over the next three decades. Following the teenaged Friedrich to Germany, Sulamit finds him caught up in the radical politics of late-1960s student life; and she’s forced to make important decisions about her attitude to her homeland when Friedrich returns to Argentina to join the fight agains the military junta. My German Friend distills the momentous sweep of post-war Argentinian history into a story that is intimate, tender and always humane: in lead roles that see them age from teenagers into middle age, Celeste Cid and Max Riemelt are superb. Edward Lawrenson, BFI LFF Programme
Screening details for My German Friend are:
Saturday 13 October, 18.30, Screen On the Green (83 Upper Street, London N1 0NP)
Monday 15 October, 21.00, Cine Lumiere (17 Queensberry Place, SW7 2DT)
Thursday 18 October, 12.30, NFT1 (Belvedere Road, South Bank SE1 8XT)
This film is my declaration of love to Argentina, the country that welcomed my family into safety, but also to the Germans of my generation who dragged themselves out of the morass of guilt and self-hate, and in so doing have helped to give today’s society a humane face. The love between Sulamit and Friedrich could equally be the love between a Palestinian and an Israeli, or a Catholic and a Muslim: a love which is fortunately stronger than the differences of our origins and heritage.
What parts of this story are autobiographical? It is well known that many German Nazis fled to South America after the war. It is also known that many German Jews emigrated there before or during the war to safeguard their lives. What has rarely been dealt with up till now is how these two groups of people, who emigrated to Argentina within a few years of each other, and who came from the same German cultural circles, were able to get on with each other and how they reacted to each other. It is an irony of history that the German Jews and the German Nazis in Argentina favoured similar places to live, had similar tastes in architecture, and chose similar places to holiday. Much of the narrative in the film is based on real events. The autobiographical element is that I grew up the daughter of German-Jewish emigrants in the 1950s in a suburb of Buenos Aires similar to the one in the screenplay, and a German family lived in the house opposite. I got to know lots of young Germans at that time. Some of them, as I later found out, were the children of prominent Nazis. Also autobiographical are the anti-Semitic attacks of my student days in Argentina, and the incredulity of young German interlocutors that I myself encountered in Germany when I informed them that I was of Jewish descent. In the ‘68-era I was a student in Ulm and Berlin. During this period I met German men of my age who were almost fanatical in their attempts to destroy the image of their fathers. Young men who were so ashamed of the atrocities of the Nazi period that they hid their German passports when they went abroad and blindly and recklessly committed themselves to extremist left-wing groups. Young men who had a long road ahead (if they survived their acts
of fury) before they were capable of loving themselves – and then of loving others. I followed the period of military dictatorship in Argentina while I was in Germany. Cases of young Germans being abducted in Argentina at that time are well known (Klaus Zieschank, being one). I know the details of the horrors at that time from friends who were abducted, then taken to prison but who survived.
The love story between Sulamit and Friedrich is invented but, as we know, the invented and the unconscious are also autobiographical.