A Film a Week - The Silent Revolution / Das schweigende Klassenzimmer

Stalinstadt, GDR, 1956. A group of high school boys travels to West Berlin to see a film, a B-movie in which the actress shows her naked body, something that was not considered appropriate in socialist cinema. The point is not the movie, but the journal shown before: the report of Soviet tanks entering Hungary to crush the very first anti-communist revolution attempt in Europe. Sick of the Soviet occupation and domestic socialist propaganda, they decide to convince all of their class in joining them for two minutes of silence as the sign of the protest against socialists killing other socialists.

That causes a lot of stir in the rigid school system and the whole class falls under suspicion by the school and political authorities. It might seem a bit exaggerated, but lot of thinks are at stake in a country that relies on propaganda and paranoia. Were the school kids listening to the foreign radio? How did they get their information? What motivated them to act? Were they trying to conduct a revolution of their own? The pressure amounts on their parents and on them and the group dynamics shift from unity achieved through the debate to the state of cracking.

The Silent Revolution is a fiction film written and directed by Lars Kraume and based on Dietrich Grastka’s novel inspired by true events. At the beginning, it seems that what we expect, we shall get from it: a slightly above TV-worthy period piece written from nowadays mindset treating the events in the past with some kind of an agenda woven into the film’s text. The acting is decent, the period details are precise and the toned down pace and rhythm is just tolerable as we are expecting that the atmosphere of threat will be developed over the course of action.

The trouble is we do not get it. Kraume fails to convince us that his young characters are in danger of any sort. They will get an official warning from school? So what! Their unity will be tested under pressure? It always is. Even the characters themselves are thin, usually reduced to one or two personality traits, so we have a rebel coming from the ranks of “red bourgeois”, a pragmatic from a working class family, a generic radical girlfriend whose loyalty will be switched from one boy to another because of the “political” and not emotional reasons, the system firm believer, the tag-along people etc. etc. The dialogue is, appropriately, stiff and banal and Kraume even tries and fails to win us over with the oldest trick in the book: the love triangle, while he barely touches the social aspect of the whole thing.

And that is too bad, from a personal point of view, because I am usually a sucker for the things like coming of age, school-set films, youth rebellion and Cold War history. I am ready to “buy” it even when it is a bit sloppily done and unremarkable. Presumed good intentions aside, The Silent Revolution is just too flat.

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