Jan 1, 2009

The Wave [15]

Dir: Dennis Gansel
The Wave is based on both an incident that, allegedly, took place at an American high school in the 70’s and on a book by Todd Strasser. It relates the story of a teacher (Vogel) who finds an ingenious way to engage his bored students in the subject of dictatorships; he creates one, the titular Wave. Within a week The Wave has begun to take over both the school and the surrounding community, and events begin to spin out of control.

Dennis Gansel’s film is an expansion of an American TV movie from 1981.  Gansel fills in the lives of the kids involved and updates events a bit, but it's not a substantially different film both the virtues and the problems of the short. What is unique to this version, and gives it much of its power, is re-staging of the events in Germany. The setting brings baggage (noted by the bored students: “The Nazi’s were bad, we get it”) and gives The Wave, as its fascist nature becomes more and more clear, an added resonance.

This is also a timely film. The far right may not look to be in danger of gaining power in the near future, but its membership is growing in Britain and Europe. Unfortunately the film’s social comment is subtle as a sledgehammer to the face, with many lines deserving a flashing subtitle saying ‘Message’.

This lack of subtlety is also evident in the characterisation, the young actors do well with what they’ve got (Jennifer Ulrich and Max Riemelt impressing most) but they each have a designated stereotype to play. This is most evident with Amelie Keifer’s Mona, who exists solely to spout stereotypical leftie reactions to The Wave’s rise. The only really layered character is Mr Wenger, and Jurgen Vogel gives a strong performance, with much left unsaid.

There are chilling moments in The Wave, especially in its early stages as the students are seduced by the fascist system.  Sadly the final sequence goes over the top into a histrionic, and completely unbelievable, sequence that seems tacked on just to provide the film a little action. It’s stylishly shot, and never boring, but this movie feels like a missed opportunity.  It needed a rewrite to deepen the characters and make the social comment less heavy handed.  With that done The Wave could have been great, but as it stands this is an interesting film, and a stylish calling card for its director.

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