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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"The Wave", fascism is just around the corner

The Wave (Die Welle, German original title)

It's not easy to find films with a sociological perspective, or with the aim of being thoughtful, even getting political, without the usual fault of being too discursive or seriously slow. In that sense, "The Wave" is refreshing, being seriously profound while at the same time is vibrant and really absorbing. And the fact the whole idea is based on a real "experiment" makes the movie even more attractive (also scary).

The whole premise is based on the aim of giving a very special class, miles away from the usual lectures on an historical/political time or concept, that Reiner Wenger (powerfully performed by Jürgen Vogel), an unorthodox but committed German high school teacher has to give his students. The subject? Autocracy.

Director Dennis Gansel starts the fire in a very credible way. The kids are bored and don't want to hear about Nazism again. They argue that "it is impossible to fall into something like that again" to justify their demand to change the development of the class. Then Reiner proposes them a simple yet unusual experiment to prove their students they are so wrong. What he intends is to show the students the virtues, idiosyncrasy and practices associated to an autocracy. And the kids follow him blindly and become quickly obsessed by the experiment, transforming the classroom into a social entity with its own life, structure and codes. "The Wave" is born.

There's something really powerful and challenging on how "The Wave" is constructed. The film takes its time to focus the story in some students, reflecting how different is the reaction in front this sort of proposal depending on the student character and his/her social background, but also how are the social dynamics of a class (leaders, outsiders) and how the roles are modified or aggravated by the experiment. The elements of an autocratic regime are also displayed: a name, an image, a gesture, a uniform... Kids seems to get into it as if they were playing some funny game, but soon they are trapped by its rewards: a sense of community, protection, belonging. Wenger, the teacher, also gets enthusiastic with the level of interest his students are showing, being unaware of the influence he is having on them.

But very quickly, the game spins awfully. It gets out of control as "The Wave", as every authoritarian regime or religion does, defines itself as "us" against the "others". Exclusivity and exclusion appear, and the ones that criticise the group are rejected. The threat of violence is also there.

Despite how appealing the movie is, that fast developing into a "little-scale" fascist unit would be my only complaint about the film. The monster is created too fast to being entirely credible. It is hard to assume such a reaction could happen with this sceptical youth, which, as showed in the film, is also quite smart. The activity Reiner proposes to his pupils is quite innocent to turn into a night of vandalism the same day. One could argue they are just a few students acting like that. True. But then it gets hard to believe they can influence a whole classroom so dramatically when we also see not everyone is buying "The Wave".  

Anyway, despite my doubts in the development of the story, this film should be overtly praised. Because it deals with a very delicate topic with dynamism, tension and an engaging interest. Because it shows how attractive and engaging this system could be, and as you keep watching, it is hard not to understand the reasons why students like it. And because it shows how easily society could fall into fascism. Now if I make  the simple exercise of watching the national (and international) news, or reading/hearing the political slogans of some political parties in my country (yes, I'm referring to PP, CiU and obviously to minor fascist parties like Plataforma per Catalunya), the European extreme right or the American Tea Party, its clear to see how the hatred speech, the "us" against "them" is so popular again. Fascism is just around the corner.

SCORE: 7,25/10

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