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High-jumps and Hi-jinks at the 1936 Olympic games.
In 1936 Gretel Bergmann was Germany’s most successful female high-jumper, frustratingly for the Nazi’s she was also Jewish. Understandably Bergmann did not feel like representing her country. What with it’s penchant of hatred toward her own people. Understandably the Nazi’s didn’t really want her to appear at the Olympics. What with it’s penchant for hatred toward her people. So began an odd tug of war where Bergmann at first refuses to compete, then is blackmailed into, then decides to do her best to win all the while the Nazis don’t really want her too, but threaten her family, but still don’t really want too. It was a quagmire of PR for all involved.
So after a brief introduction where we meet Gretel (Karoline Herfurth) and her family it’s off to the training camp/boarding school. There Gretel meets the other bitches… I mean athletes competing for a chance to go to the Olympics. The majority of them don’t like her either because she’s Jewish or just more famous than they are. She is given tough but secretly fair coaching by her… coach. Plus she makes friends with her roommate Marie (Sebastian Urzendowsky). For the first half of he film plays out like a standard period, TV drama. It moves along at a steady pace with every bit of melodrama sucked from each scene by the cast who range from disinterested to overblown. Karoline Herfurth is watchable through out though.
Joking aside, the story of a top Jewish athlete in a Nazi-operated Olympics is a story worth telling and has potential to be a compelling drama. Let’s face it though high-jumping in the 1930’s doesn’t sound like a sure fire subject to interest the masses and sadly Berlin 36 proves this to be the case. I’m not suggesting that Director Kaspar Heidelbach presents the story in some sort of Michael-Bay fetishistic visual style but dear God man have someone fall over or something, We see many shots of woman jump over a bar with ease, with supposed tension coming from close ups of the bar being raised, before the woman bound it with ease again. It just all feels pretty flat.
The film also features the least surprising moment of gender confusion since Diana Rigg ripped her beard off in Theatre of Blood. A moment of huge revelation comes in the shower when Kretel discovers Marie in fact has a penis of some undetermined size. Gretel seems surprised by this despite Marie clearly having the toned torso of a twenty-something man. The film asks the audience to be surprised by this despite Marie clearly having the toned torso of a twenty-something man and being played by a man called Sebastian. It’s a moment that could have led the film down a psychological darker path and perhaps made the film interesting. But no, a few quick heart to hearts, the matter is dealt with.
The film eventually gets so bored with itself it decides to turn into a documentary. As Marie runs for her climatic jump over the bar at the Olympics the picture freezes to reveal the real Gretel Bergmann, alive and well in New York. Providing us with the films coda she tells us what happened to her and that she never spoke to Marie (in actuality called Heinrich Ratjen) again. A quick google of his name will show you that his was probably the more interesting story of the two.
Berlin 36. A film made with good intentions but also with the belief that everyone watching it will have a heart attack if it dares to turn up the tension just a little bit.