Review: Bye Bye Germany Directed by Sam Garbanski
Funny and sad, David Berman played by Moritz Bleibtreu and his friends, all Holocaust survivors, have only one purpose: to go to America as soon as possible. For this they need money. With wit and knowledge of the luxury linen business he and his now-murdered brother took over from his father until the Nazis destroyed everything, David enlists others in the displaced persons camp in 1946 to set up a business selling luxury linens door-to-door in elaborate schemes. They have a fine time for the most part but David is also being interrogated by the US Army about a perceived collaboration with the Nazis.
Between the exploits of his associates and the interrogation, played out like 1001 nights, this funny and also tragic story featuring running gags of a funny car, a beautiful red Plymouth they totally destroy like kids at a birthday party destroying a piñata, a funny three-legged dog and funny men keep the story moving toward a very satisfying end. The actors work very well together with a camaraderie ringing true and the stories of each are fascinating; their light banter together contrasts to each one’s traumatic memories of the horrors they witnessed.
A couple of false notes marred a near perfect recreation of the period. For instance Sara, the interrogator for the U.S. Army, says she “studied law at Harvard” — but women weren’t admitted to Harvard Law School until 1950.
Bye Bye Germany is a film with many layers and back stories. The stories brought many surprises with them. At times I was reminded me of other stories told in other films, for example, when they find an obituary of a young man, they go to his house as if they were friends during the war and act surprised when the mourning parents tell him he was killed. As they invite him into their home, he regales them with stories praising their son which ingratiates him so that he can sell them linens. Told in a light manner but with great consequences, it had echos of Francois Ozon’s ‘Frantz’, in which a German soldier is welcomed into a grieving French home because of his perceived friendship with their son who fell in the war.
At one point there was a story about a song which reminded me of the true story told in Laurent Bouzereau’s doc of Roman Polanski, Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir. He describes his father’s tears when hearing the popular song “Oh My Papa” in the 50s and how it brought back an especially horrible moment in the Warsaw ghetto where all the fathers were separated from their sons to the music over the loudspeaker playing the exact same song. Luckily, his father had urged Roman the boy to escape before the event. At another point, Sophie’s Choice was elicited when David recalls a contest in which the one who told the funniest joke lived and the one who lost was gassed. As David says “Sometimes we don’t believe what we experienced ourselves.
This is a unique take of the war and its aftermath. For those like me with an endless fascination for stories of survival, for records rediscovered of the Holocaust, this satisfies a need to reconnect with the most defining moment of our recent past. Not since Moses led the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan has such a moment shaped the character of my people today.
Premiering at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017 where it represented by The Match Factory, one of the premiere art house international sales agent, it went on to play 31 film festivals ending its tour at the Palm Springs Film Festival in January 2018. The Match Factory licensed the film to Festival Films S.L. for Spain, SBP for Argentina, X Verleih AG and Warner Home Video for Germany, Yedra Films for Spain, Film Movement for U.S., Filmarti for Turkey, JIFF for Australia, O’Brother for Belgium, Time-in-Portrait for China, Angel for Scandinavia, X Verleih for Germany, Cirko for Hungary, Story Telling Media for Norway, Fesatival Films for Spain, Filmcoopi for Switzerland, Joint Entertainment for Taiwan.
A Coproduction of Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and France, it received funds from every possible German regional and federal film fund as well as those in Belgium, Luxembourg and France.