Magazine article Screen International

We Are Young. We Are Strong

Magazine article Screen International

We Are Young. We Are Strong

Article excerpt

Dir: Burhan Qurbani. Germany. 2014. 123mins

Four years after his underwhelming Berlinale debut Shahada, Burhan Qurbani is back, this time in competition at Rome, with a dramatised, multi-strand account of the anti-immigrant riots that shook the former East German port town of Rostock in August 1992. Though it suffers from some of the same problems as that earlier Muslims-in-Germany drama - chief among them the script's tendency to state the obvious, and a ponderously artsy mise en scene - this is still a more mature, thoughtful social drama outing for Qurbani, whose own status as the German-born son of an Afghan refugee couple adds a meta-cinematic twist.

The most interesting thing about the film is not the fact that it begins in black and white and then shifts, somewhat randomly, to colour just before the worst of the violence kicks off.

Set over 24 hours from the morning of 24 August - the day the riots culminated - We Are Young. We Are Strong (Wir sind jung. Wir sind stark) makes a show of realism, dividing the day up into clock-timed chapter chunks and - apparently - sticking more or less to the various accounts and TV archive footage of how things unfolded. But the result is a long way from the immediacy of a handheld, pressure-cooker historical drama like Bloody Sunday. What we get instead is as much introspective as tense, a portrait of three main characters or groups of characters living in uneasy limbo: a disaffected young hothead and his neo-Nazi or just plain nihilist friends; his father, a social democrat politician; and a young Vietnamese refugee woman torn between family and ethnic roots and her dream of a better future.

In Germany, where the events of Rostock still fester, the film should do a middling theatrical tour, with some interest also possible in adjoining territories where the presence of large immigrant 'dormitories' in depressed areas has caused tension and stirred debate. Here too the strong cast - chiefly the ever watchable Devid Striesow (Yella, The Counterfeiters) and Jonas Ney, something of a new Daniel Bruhl - will provide leverage.

Ney plays Stefan, an unemployed late teen who is first seen hanging out with his equally jobless friends in a van driven by this motley crew's ringleader, a rabid neo-Nazi whose name - Sandro - is part of the film's ironic (though not entirely articulate) discourse about problems of German identity and cruelty across ethnic divides. Lore discovery Saskia Rosendahl also impresses as a tough but mixed-up teen vamp who plays Stefan off against his impulsive scrapper of a best friend, Robbie (Basman). …

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