Fatherland (a.k.a. Singing the Blues in Red)

  • Reviewed by: Jim Hemphill
  • Review Date: Jan 04, 2016
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Fatherland (a.k.a. Singing the Blues in Red)

Director

Ken Loach

Release Date(s)

1986 (November 10, 2015)

Studio(s)

Channel Four Films (Twilight Time)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: N/A

Review

British master Ken Loach is largely – and appropriately – known for his films documenting the social and political struggles particular to England (Kes, Riff-Raff, etc.), but one of his finest films actually focuses on East and West Germany, with mostly German-language dialogue. That film, the 1986 release Fatherland, has recently been issued as a limited edition Blu-ray by Twilight Time, and it’s a fantastic example of Loach’s style: realistic with just a touch of poetry; political in a sophisticated, not didactic, sense; and rigorous in its sense of anthropological detail. The movie tells the story of Klaus Drittemann, an East German folk singer who is forced to flee his own country due to his political material, which poses a threat to the Stalinist regime. He makes his way to West Germany, and ultimately England, where he flirts with Western record companies hoping to exploit his celebrity as a dissident and deals with the bureaucracy of various governments – not only West German and British, but American (in the form of the CIA).

As the story progresses, Loach’s perspective becomes clear: capitalism is only the mirror image of socialism and communism, all of which, in the context of Fatherland, are inhuman systems that fail to recognize the complexity of the human condition – or, if they do recognize it, they seek to snuff it out. Drittemann’s disillusionment and alienation are palpable, beautifully acted by singer-songwriter Gerulf Pannach and underlined by the hazy, gorgeous lighting of cinematographer Chris Menges (The Killing Fields, The Mission). It’s no wonder that Loach was able to convey the folk singer’s state of mind so effectively, given the parallels with his own situation in the 1980s. Under the conservatism of Margaret Thatcher, most of the institutions that had supported Loach (such as the BBC) became far less friendly to his form of leftist filmmaking, and he was forced to go outside of his home country for financing. It’s impossible not to see Drittemann as a sort of surrogate for Loach, a liberal artist whose voice has been silenced or marginalized to the point of near nonexistence.

These ideas are not presented as agitprop, however, but as organic outgrowths of the narrative and imagery. That imagery is stunningly presented on the Blu-ray transfer, which perfectly captures the nuances of Menges’s soft, contrasty lighting as well as the tonal range of the film’s black-and-white dream sequences. The stereo DTS mix is excellent as well, with a clear balance of dialogue and effects and a sonically powerful delivery of Drittemann’s songs. There are no extras on the disc aside from an isolated music and effects track, but the film itself is so strong that one would be well advised to pick this Blu-ray up before the limited pressing of 3000 runs out.

- Jim Hemphill

 

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