FATHERLAND (1986) — From Brilliance in Berlin To Boredom in Britain

Fatherland (1986), also known as Singing The Blues In Red, is now available on Twilight Time Blu-ray in a Limited Edition of 3,000 units.

Fatherland is a strange film, ostensibly German in its themes and presentation, but directed by British director and political activist Ken Loach. Unfortunately I haven’t seen any of his films before and therefore lack much insight into his body of work. Some of his films, like Kes and The Wind That Shakes The Barley, sound absolutely fascinating and have long been on my watchlist, but Fatherland is probably a poor introduction to his oeuvre.

Things start pretty well as the story kicks off and we learn about our protagonist, East Berliner Klaus Drittemann, a bluesy singer-songwriter who has irked his government with his radical and critical lyrics. Refusing to bow to pressure to change his tune, Dritteman chooses exile over capitulation, leaving his wife and young son on a one-way Visa to the West.

This is all quite fascinating and viewers, particularly younger ones, might need to be reminded of the particulars of this very unique time and place — a divided Germany near the end of its separation, a mere three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and ensuing reunification. The most distinct pleasure of the film is the chance to see Berlin, East and West, exactly as it was in this tumultuous time.

Klaus’s path seems to follow in his father’s footsteps. The elder Dritteman was likewise a talented musician who came under fire for his political stances, and made his way to the West decades ago. His reputation has a tendency of preceding Klaus, who finds himself constantly being compared to a man he barely knows.

Upon his entry to the West, Klaus is immediately met by record label execs (read: Capitalists) who want to commoditize, art-direct, package, and generally exploit his recently upheaved life to turn him into the next big musical sensation. Just as the East had its problems, the West assaults him with new ones.

There’s some interesting stuff here in the setup — he attends and is annoyed by a party thrown by music industry cokeheads, and at a press conference he gives honestly snarky answers and even verbally eviscerates the West German Minister Of Culture whom he senses is politicizing their meeting. Frustrated by all the hoopla, he sets out to find his father, and gets paired with a French journalist named Emma who wants to help in exchange for that story.

So far, this is all pretty interesting and a solid setup with a clear theme. But from there, things just get really, really, really dull. Pacing grinds to a halt and the balance of the film is a slow blur of the pair traveling to England and smoking cigarettes while having quiet, muffled conversations. Emma can’t speak German and Klaus can’t speak French, so the soft-spoken pair converses in heavily accented, difficult-to-understand English. So much is lost in this particular transition of the film. The dialogue, previously snappy by way of subtitles, becomes an arduous chore to simply understand (the disc offers no subtitles or captions for the English portions of dialogue).

On a personal note I’ve been really sick for the last week or so, battling cold symptoms, fever, intense sinus pressure, all that fun kind of stuff. That’s all its own whole thing, but the reason I bring it up is that sometime after the good half of Fatherland, I drifted into Slumberland and the film continued playing in my mind’s eye as a wild fever dream. Unfortunately when I rewatched it proper, it wasn’t nearly as interesting.

Klaus’s father is eventually found, and under damning circumstances which seem in one way or another to implicate nearly everyone that Klaus has allowed himself to try to allow access to his life, but the impact of this meeting and its surrounding drama is undercut by the sheer boredom of the film’s lifeless second half.

The Package

Fatherland, aka Singing The Blues In Red, aka Bringing The Snooze Instead, is available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in a limited edition of 3000 units.

The package features Twilight Time standard presentation, meaning a transparent case and 8-page liner notes by Julie Kirgo. Kirgo’s notes are as usual a great distinction of quality even for a lesser film, particularly in explaining the “Ken Loach” part of the equation, though in this case I also feel she’s overly generous to the film’s mostly unremarkable cinematography.

Aside from an alternate soundtrack, the disc contains no extra features. While a trailer and perhaps some historical context for 1980s Germany would have been nice additions, I was honestly a bit relieved that I didn’t have to spend any more time with this movie.

As previously mentioned, I feel that the lack of full captions or subtitles is a very important omission, given that some of the quiet English dialogue is difficult to make out.

Special Features and Extras

Isolated Music & Effects Track

A/V Out.

Available from Twilight Time

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