Kids are not any safer living under oppressive regimes and ideologies than their parents are. That is a lesson all students should learn sooner rather than later, for all our sakes. In 1956 East Germany, the Stalinstadt senior class always basically knew the communist government was vicious and unjust, but dramatic events will prove it beyond all doubt in Lars Kraume’s historically based film “The Silent Revolution,” which is a perfect supplement for your schooling-at-home lesson plans.
It all started when two high school seniors wanted to see German bombshell Marion Michael in the risqué (for the time) “Liane, Jungle Goddess,” naturally screening only in the morally decadent West. This is pre-Wall, when travel between East and West was not strictly forbidden.
However, before the feature, Theo Lemke and Kurt Wächter are amazed by a newsreel accurately reporting the Soviet crackdown on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Lemke is the class clown, and Wächter is the son of a local Party official. Neither fits the revolutionary profile (or rather “counterrevolutionary,” according to Party propagandists), but they are both electrified. On returning, they listen to West German radio with their classmates to confirm their reports.
At school, they decide to observe two minutes of silence to honor the fallen Hungarian freedom fighters. Essentially, it was Wächter’s idea, but a majority agreed to it. The only vehement no vote comes from Erik Babinsky, who believes he is the son of a martyred communist partisan. However, the entire class is in huge trouble when the ministry gets wind of their silent protest. Following Ben Franklin’s advice, the two “ringleaders” try to keep the class hanging together, so they do not hang separately, but the communists will ruthlessly exploit any and all of the young students’ weaknesses.
“Silent Revolution” is an absolutely terrific film everyone ought to see, just because it’s great cinema. It is especially recommended for students, who can surely identify with the teen characters. It can help explain the nature of communism, particularly with respect to the Hungarian Revolution and the divided Germany. The tragically ill-fated 1953 Uprising also casts a shadow over the events it dramatizes. Yet, Kraume’s adaptation of Dietrich Garstka’s book also addresses worthy themes like personal loyalty, family love and sacrifice, the demands of integrity, and the corrosive impact of lies and propaganda on society.
Kraume’s film is a great history lesson and also a completely engrossing drama. Leonard Scheicher and Tom Gramenz are excellent as Lemke and Wächter. They bring to life very different personas, but their friendship still seems completely natural and believable. Yet, the unforgettable standout is Jonas Dassler, whose wrenching performance as Babinsky will haunt viewers. Fans of Netflix’s “Dark” will also be impressed by Jördis Triebel (the wife of the cop who travels back in time) taking a cold-bloodedly sinister turn as Kessler, the Ministry’s enforcer.
There are so many reasons why young people should watch “Silent Revolution” and nothing for parents to object to. Of course, there is teen angst going on during the senior class’s prolonged moral crisis, but at one point, Lemke literally tells Wächter that they just can’t afford to worry about their petty rivalries now.
It is great filmmaking on all levels. Very highly recommended for regular viewing, “The Silent Revolution,” in German with English subtitles, is on the Tubi app and it streams on Kanopy (which many patrons can use with their public library cards).