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An entire classroom of twelfth graders in the Communist-controlled German Democratic Republic is traumatized when they discover what is really happening during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. This forbidden information brings them into conflict with the school and government authorities, and only by sticking together can they save one or all members of the class from persecution. Family ties are also called into question.Written by
Charles Paxton Martin
Those of us who lived part of our lives behind the Iron Curtain know that that wall never was fully hermetical. There were cracks - radio stations broadcasting from the West, relatives who lived abroad, sent letters and visited, books and music circulated underground, all telling to the people who lived under Communist rule and especially to the youth that there is another world out there, that there is hope, that there are reasons to dream and fight for. There also were moments when internal tensions accumulated, when material and moral misery pushed people to revolt. 1953 in Germany, 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Czechoslovakia, 1980 in Poland, until 1989 when all the Communist system in Eastern Europe fell down, one country after the other.
1956 was one of the most spectacular but also one of the bloodiest moments in the history of the Communist block. The revolt of the Hungarian people against the dictatorial system and the Soviet occupation was crushed in a bloody manner, but the few weeks of freedom proved that the wheels of history can be stopped and reversed, and raised hopes within all countries in the Soviet-occupied block. Germany was however a special case. The Eastern part of the country formed the so-called German Democratic Republic (DDR) which transitioned directly from Nazism to Communism. No real de-nazification happened and one dictature replaced the other. The old generations were survivors of the war, some of them ex-Nazis, some converted to the Stalinist version of Socialism. The younger generation never knew freedom, and many of the questions any teenager or young person asks could not be answered frankly by their parents.
The Germany of the year 1956 is the place were the action of film director Lars Kraume's 'The Silent Revolution' (the original title is 'Das schweigende Klassenzimmer' which would translate as 'The Silent Classroom'). Based on a real episode described by one of the heroes in a memories book, it tells the story of a final year high-school class whose pupils, influenced by the news about the revolt in Hungary, decide to keep silent for two minutes during their history lesson. What starts as a combination of a game and a teen rebellion is interpreted and amplified by the bureaucrats in the school system as a grave act of revolt, leading to tragic consequences - arests, life and workplaces of parents in jeopardy, and the exclusion of the whole class from school. In the process the characters and the relations between the young heroes, and also those of their parents and educators are put to test.
Note: If the punishment seems exagerated to anybody, it means that they did not live in the Communist system. Consequences could have been actually much tougher, and that probably would have been the case if the young people in the group were a few years older. In Germany and other parts of the Communist block people were sent to jail or re-education camps for many years because of similar shows of solidarity with the 1956 revolts in Hungary.
What I liked. The film succeeds very well in describing the atmosphere of 1956 Eastern Germany, both in the details of setting and clothes, as well in the psychology of the characters and the sensation of permanent pressure and surveillance they had to live in. I especially liked the description and evolution of the relations between the youths in the group, I could feel their hopes and fears, their revolt in face of injustice and their incomprehension when faced with the lies their educators and even their parents told them. The whole team of actors does a splendid job in my opinion.
What I liked less. The last part lacks authenticity and looks like a rather cinematographic outcome of the story. Did really the priest tell the Juda story at the very moment when the informer of the group enters the church? Did all the young heroes meet on the same train in the final scene? Also, in my opinion, there are many questions un-answered about the attitude of the generation of the parents. Eastern Germany transitioned overnight, in 1945, from Nazism to Socialism. What happened to all the ex-Nazis and soldiers who returned home after fighting many years in the German army? Did they all become anti-Nazis? There are two silences in this film. One is assumed by the young heroes as a form of protest. The other is undertaken by the older generation as a cover-up. The later is not dealt with in this film. Maybe there are or will be other books or films that will approach with similar courage that other silence.
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