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Movie Review: The Wave (Die Welle) at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008

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It’s refreshing to see a film that has such weighted ideas being employed within it which are put across so honestly and with such conviction. It takes its time getting into its eventual pace but once it gets there it’s an interesting watch indeed.

A high school teacher’s attempt to teach his students what it’s like to be under a dictatorship spins horribly out of control after he creates a social unit which gets out of hand.

The Wave gives us a unique view of high school life, perhaps only to people who aren’t from Germany (where the movie is set), where it’s not only all about bullying, gangs, and boring, run-of-the-mill storylines involving cheerleaders or school newspaper headlines. It doesn’t show the students as immature but rather as having potential and interesting ideas of their own, which I think reflects the truth of the real world.

The group's creation ("The Wave" of the title) starts off like an innocent and fairly simple exercise to get the students to work together and show their true potential. But as the movie goes on there are some fantastic layers of complexity which build up as the group gets more and more out of hand. We go from trying to come up with names and logos to running about the town spraying graffiti and fighting with the rival “Anarchist” gang. The well executed way in which this complexity comes about can only be put across if you see the movie for yourself.

There’s a great deal of conviction and believability on full display here. Everything in the film was meticulously thought out by the filmmakers; I didn’t once feel that this was the work of anyone short of experience in the field. There are admittedly some scenes that don’t fit or don’t work, particular a completely out of place title sequence, but for the most part this is strong filmmaking.

Perhaps the most admirable aspect of The Wave is the message at the heart of it – that if you give a troubled person a secure state to latch onto and then take it away from them soon thereafter, it can have unimaginable effects. It’s in this sense that the film is tragic, not just in its conclusion but throughout most of it. There’s a general sense that something could go wrong at any moment and you’re just left to figure out what it is and when it will happen.

I wouldn’t say the film was “enjoyable” per se, although there are some chuckle-worthy and fast-paced scenes that could be described as “fun”, but rather a film that’s more about admiring the technical accomplishments or appreciating the messages behind it all.

The conclusion of the film is what makes it good. It happened with last year’s Atonement where I liked the film a fair bit but the almost note-perfect ending raised the quality for me. The ending seems inevitable and is the culmination if you’re wondering about what could ultimately go wrong. The film sends you away thinking about everything you’ve just witnessed.

The performances are great, the story interesting, and the messages behind it admirable. The Wall is strong filmmaking which seems to get better the more you think about it, and a fine example of modern European cinema.

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About Ross Miller

  • Jacob Davis

    Why did you call it the “The Wall” at the end?