Es war einmal in Deutschland… (2017)

Bye-Bye Germany

With returning Jews looking to get rich and make it to the US, Sam Garbarski’s Es war einmal in Deutschland… unpicks the postwar search for truth with bitter glee.

Germany, Year Zero

by Mark Wilshin

Es war einmal in Deutschland

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Telling the story of the 4000 Jews that returned and remained in Germany after the Second World War, Es war einmal in Deutschland is one of those curiously European films that lends a celluloid gloss to the war and its aftermath. It’s a simple comedy divided into two narratives – of David (Moritz Bleibtreu) and his attempts to set up a laundry, fleecing unsuspecting German housewives out of their marks with his business partner Holzmann (Mark Ivanir) and his motley crew of salesmen. At the same time, he ducks out during the day to pay a visit to the US Counter Intelligence Corps, where his interrogation is led by the beautiful sergeant Sara Simon (Antje Traue), in charge of weeding out Nazi collaborators.

In a playful reversal of Sheherazade’s 1001 tales, David recounts his experiences of Sachsenhausen. But embellished with lies and desperate fantasies, it’s Simon that calls a halt each day to the latest round of tall tales. Scripted by Michel Bergmann and based on his own novels, Bye-Bye Germany has a crackling script which focuses more on the nature of storytelling than the postwar spectre of collaboration. Rather than a retrospective wish-fulfilment fantasy that imagines a “Jewish revenge”, Sam Garbarski’s film is much rather a justification of the war comedy, where humour and embellishments are the only defence against the memories of a traumatic past. Moritz Bleibtreu is suitably measured as the irascible yet battered David, and although the inevitable romance between David and Sara is entirely unnecessary, Es war einmal in Deutschland… is an enjoyable rampage through the lighter side of Germany’s Year Zero.

Es war einmal in Deutschland is now showing at the 67th Berlin Film Festival

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