German comedies: From Good Bye, Lenin to Toni Erdmann

German comedies: From Good Bye, Lenin to Toni Erdmann
2017 Comédies à la Carte French comedies News

As German cinema usually deals with serious topics, the genre of comedy never became part of its tradition. However, German filmmakers have been developing new approaches to film. From coming to terms with the nation’s past to reflecting on the way of life in contemporary societies, German filmmakers prove that even serious topics can be transformed into a way to make people laugh. Not my Day, currently available in our collection, is a great example of this. The new generation of German comedies often oscillates between the funny and dramatic sides of life.


Soon after its release, Wolfgang Becker´s feature debut became an international sensation. Becker tells the story of a thirty-year-old Alex and his mother, a devout communist, who falls into a coma after Alex is detained in an anti-regime manifestation in Berlin, Eastern Germany, in 1989. When the communist regime collapses, the Berlin Wall falls, East and West Germany reunite, after which his mother suddenly wakes up. Knowing that another shocking experience could easily cause even more serious troubles to her, Alex tries to orchestrate a show to make his mother believe that the regime she lived in still exists.

The story portrays numerous humorous moments referring to socialist consumerism and the paradoxes of early capitalism. Good bye, Lenin was the most successful film of 2003 in Germany and also opened the international career of Daniel Brühl, who has become one of the most popular German actors.


Dani Levy’s comedy Go for Zucker tells the story of dysfunctional Jewish family divided by the Berlin Wall. Levy portrays the conflict between two brothers: while Jackie Zucker is a secular Jew who lives in Berlin, Samuel Zuckerman lives an orthodox Jewish life with his family in Frankfurt. After a 40-year separation, the death of their mother brings them together as they stand to inherit a fortune from her estate. In her testament she asks for a traditional burial followed by the seven-day shivah mourning period. While Samuel is ready to follow his mother’s will, Jackie must find a way to avoid sitting shivah and play in the European pool tournament instead, which promises to fix his financial problems.

Through the use of humour, Levy, himself Jewish, contronts serious issues such as religious orthodoxy in the modern world, family loyalty, and East-West confrontation in present-day Germany. This comedy received four nominations for the 2005 European Film Awards and won six prizes at the German Film Awards, including Best Screenplay and Best Director.


In Soul Kitchen, Turkish-German director and screenwriter Fatih Akin draws on his recurring theme of the clash of cultures, but this time in a different spirit. He tells the story of Zinos, the young owner of the Soul Kitchen restaurant, who has bad luck. His girlfriend Nadine flies off to Shanghai, his customers boycott the new gourmet chef, and he’s also having back troubles. He decides to buy a ticket to Shanghai and fly after Nadine, while brother his Illias is given full authority over the restaurant. This decision spells disaster: Nadine has found a new lover and Illias gambles away the restaurant.

Fatih Akin is a German celebrity. He grew up in a Turkish family in Hamburg and many of his films focus on the Turkish diaspora in Germany. The duo of brothers is played by Adam Bousdoukos (co-writer) and Moritz Bleibtreu. Akin’s comedy earned an enormous international success after its release at the Venice Film Festival in 2009.


Another multicultural comedy set in contemporary Germany was written and directed by Yasemin Şamdereli, her feature debut. As she tells the story of two generations of Turkish immigrants, her film is made up of two intertwined time lines. The first one focuses on Huseyin Yilmaz, a «Gasterbeiter», who came to Germany from Turkey in 1964, and portrays his family adapting to the Western way of life. The second one is set in contemporary Germany when elder Huseyin purchases some land in his home village of Anatalya and insists his family all come home with him on a road trip.

With her younger sister Nesrin as a co-writer, Şamdereli, inspired by her own family history, has made this crowd-pleaser which became one of the most popular German comedies, winning Best Film and Best Screenplay at the German Film Awards in 2010.

OH BOY (2012)

Jan Ole Gerster’s feature debut Oh Boy describes one day in the life of Niko Fischer, an adolescent and loser. After he drops out of law school, his girlfriend breaks up with him, his father cuts off his allowance and his driver’s licence is revoked, all while he wanders through Berlin longing for a cup of decent coffee. As he tries to figure out where he belongs, a series of chance encounters subtly changes the course of his life. A young man´s story reflects the fate of the lost generation who, like Niko, experience an everyday misery with some humorous moments.

In his film, Jan Ole Gerster profits from the collaboration with Tom Shilling, his friend, who played the leading actor. Shot in black and white and with a jazz soundtrack, Oh Boy is reminiscent of Woody Allen´s style, which is both funny and sad. This tragicomedy was a surprise success at the 2013 German Film Awards, winning six awards, including Best Film and Best Director.


Since its appearance at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann has been a unique sensation for both critics and audiences. In her third feature film, Ade is concerned with a series of difficulties in a broken father-daughter relationship. Most funny moments show retired piano teacher Winfried in his attempts to get closer to his career-oriented child Ines. He unexpectedly visits her as she is busy at work in Bucharest, where she is a management consultant. When his first attempt fails, he reappears in disguise, introducing himself as Toni Erdmann, a lifestyle coach, and starts interfering with his daughter’s private and professional life.

Toni Erdmann is a mixture of embarrassing moments, true emotions, and big laughs. The two main characters are played by Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek, who are brilliant in their roles. Toni Erdmann won Best Film at the European Film Awards 2016 and was nominated for the best foreign language film at the 2017 Oscars.