Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Film #16: Friendship!

Released: 2009
Directed by: Markus Goller

This week, I’ve decided to review a film that (to my knowledge) isn’t available with English subtitles. And to be honest, I’m not sure whether it would work if it were.

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Germans Veit (Friedrich Mücke) and his best friend Tom (Matthias Schweighöfer) decide to go to San Francisco. Though they only have enough money to fly to New York, they go anyway and decide to make their way across the USA however they can. Eventually, it transpires that the real reason Veit is so intent on getting to San Francisco is that he believes his father (who escaped over the Wall) to be living there, and wants to find him before his impending birthday.

Their attempts to cross the country result in them travelling with the tamest substitutes for Hell’s Angels I’ve ever seen on film, stripping to earn money, and making friends with a German family in a town in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, realism is not one of the goals of this film, and there are plenty of stereotypes to be seen – both German and American. Nevertheless, the ending did manage to surprise me, and there are some affecting and bleak depictions of life in East Germany.

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t think this film would work with English subtitles, and perhaps with an English-speaking audience in general. Firstly, comedy can be quite a culture-specific thing, so some of the jokes might fall flat. The subtitles would also have to tone down the language a bit: The film is rated in Germany as suitable for ages 6 and above, and although an increasing number of mild swear words can be found in films rated 12A and below over here, Germans still tend to be a bit freer with their on-screen curses. 

Finally, the entire film is spoken in a mixture of German and English, from native speakers to foreigners making ‘hilarious’ attempts to speak another language. One character even speaks a (sometimes distracting) mixture of the two. Whatever you consider the effect of that to be, subtitles could well ruin it. 

Ultimately, some films will only appeal to their home audience and other fluent speakers familiar with the culture. I think this might be one of them.

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