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CIFF 2013 – WOLFSKINDER review

October 20, 2013

WolfskinderPoster

 

written by: Rick Ostermann

produced by: Rüdiger Heinze and  Stefan Sporbert

directed by: Rick Ostermann

rating: unknown

runtime: 90 min.

U.S. release date: unknown (screened at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival on October 15th, 16th & 18th) 

 

For the first dialogue-free six minutes of “Wolfskinder” (or “Wolfschildren”, as it is known as it makes its way on the U.S. festival circuit), we follow two ratty-looking brothers, one is about twelve and the other probably nine years-old. The bruised and dirty pair are on their own, with no adult in sight. All they have are the drab clothes on their back and a determined will to make their way through dense forests, unpredictable rivers, thick meadows and railroad tracks. Not a word is said, but we get the idea that the younger of the two is the strongest. This assessment is boldly realized as he steals a horse, leads it into an abandoned building and without missing a best, shoots it down and slices out the animal’s meat. That sparse opening, from writer/director Rick Ostermann, starkly sets the remarkable tone of this survival thriller based on true-life events.

It’s easy to surmise that both of these brothers have seen death in their short lives and both have had to do unfathomable deeds in order to survive. What’s not easy to comprehend as we take in the gorgeous cinematography by Leah Striker, is the fact that harrowing events such as these actually occurred.

The older brother, Hans (Levin Liam) is the more sensitive of the two, while young Fritz (Patrick Lorencratz) is the bold one, foraging the pair ahead in search of safety from the Soviet Red Army that would have them (and any other German children) dead. Hans has made a promise to his dying mother (Jordis Triebel) to look after Fritz and make sure the two boys remember who they are and that they stay together, no matter what. Once she dies, their goal is to make their way to what they are told is a friendly farmhouse in Lithuania.

 

wolfskinderwolfpack

 

Since their mother’s dying wish is made known, the two brother’s inevitable separation comes as they escape soldiers. Hans hooks up with another tween, Christel (Helena Phil), whose maternal instincts kick in when they come across lost two siblings, doe-eyed Luise (Vivien Ciskowska) and red-headed Karl (Willow Volges-Fernandez). Without much of a choice, Hans goes from panicked to resolved, as he and his new band of children carry on by foot, searching for his brother along the way.

Challenging decisions have to be made during their dangerous trek. What food to eat, where water will come from, and who to trust, are all life or death situations that these children, primarily Hans, have to deal with. At one point, he trades an injured Karl to a passing farmer for a few apples and later takes in an even younger boy named Paul (Til-Niklas Theinert). While any child is better off with a group, this isn’t a situation where safety comes with numbers.

There aren’t too many post-WWII films depicting Germans in an empathetic light. But then again, you won’t find too many films that focus on orphaned German children, ranging in age from about four to fifteen, making their way on their own in the wilderness.  Again, this really happened. They were called “wolf-children”, on account of how they survived, staying together in packs, providing for the weaker with the older children being surrogate parents to the younglings.

 

Wolfskindersiblings

 

This is an incredibly impressive feature film debut from Ostermann, whose style is reminiscent of Terrence Malick and Olivier Assayas in how he takes an artfully reflective approach to nature that surrounds the children. By keeping viewers involved with the children by only providing subtitles for them, instead of the Russians or Lithuanians they encounter, Ostermann provides a closer connection to these young characters. With such natural and uninhibited performances, it’s no surprise that the director is working with first-time actors here. Hopefully they kept the set as light and enjoyable as possible when the cameras weren’t on, since these actors had to some emotionally difficult places.

“Wolfskinder” is yet another film that’s exhausting to watch. Seeing hungry and hopeless children in peril may be for every moviegoer, but it’s undeniable an important subject. It’s a film that deserves to be picked up by a distributor for it’s powerful acting and superb directing, but most of all to shed light on a dark period that many are completely unaware of.

 

RATING: ****

 

 

wolfskinderwalking

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