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Berlin 36: Olympic history gone crazy

By Movie LoverMovies - 28 July 2010 6:00 PM | Updated 17 August 2010

Berlin 36: Olympic history gone crazy

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Rating: 3 out of 5

The only Olympic Games filled with as much political controversy as the tragic 1972 Munich Olympics was the infamous Nazi-hosted 1936 Berlin Olympics. World War II was some ways away and the Third Reich and their anti-Semitic regime was still in ascendancy.

The 1936 Olympics, a grand international stage to show off Aryan superiority, became a bit of a headache for Adolf’s House of Sports. Unless Jewish athletes were allowed to participate, the Games faced the threat of boycott.

Well documented, the Nazis went out of their way to feign racial equality to the IOC and American delegation in particular. Part of their ploy was the inclusion of Gretel Bergman (Karoline Herfurth), a phenomenal Jewish high-jump prodigy, who had just handily won the British championship.

Despite already immigrating to England, the Jewish-German athlete was coerced into returning to the fatherland to represent Germany in the Olympics. Although initially reluctant to perform to her considerable ability, Gretel is eventually convinced to put her best foot forward, simply because a Jew winning a gold medal would severely undermine the Nazi’s claims of racial dominance.

Now this is the part of the story that gets really bizarre. Besides backroom machinations to destroy Gretel’s chances and damage her psychologically - the government sent a man pretending to be woman, Marie Ketteler (Sebastian Urzendowsky), to beat her during training and steal her spot on the Olympic team shortlist.

The film admirably resists the urge to sensationalize, but there really isn’t a need to, the facts are outrageous enough as it is. Berlin 36 deals with a great bit of crazy history and its provocative subject matter is intriguing - however this movie is marred by many poor filmmaking choices.

Director Kaspar Heidelbach and Lothar Kurzawa are primarily television trained and it shows because the film feels less cinematic more like a Hallmark TV movie. There isn’t a sense of dynamicism during the high-jump sequences nor is there a sense of momentum during crucial plot developments, largely due to uninspired cinematography and a drab tendency to use static shots.

The film awkwardly cuts to an interview conducted in 2009 with the real Bergman towards the end, which is a strange choice. The interview is fairly insightful but it completely takes you out the film. I suppose its intent was to underline that these events were very real, but one expects a proper narrative climax, not an expository talking-head segment.

It is also worth noting that there are several factual inaccuracies in Berlin 36. For instance, Marie Ketteler’s actual name is Dora Ratjen and she wasn’t a male cross-dresser, but rather was born with ambiguous genitalia.

Nevertheless Berlin 36 is a decent movie greatly elevated by Karoline Herfurth’s poignant performance as the sweet and talented Gretel. Herfuth’s portrayal is the film’s strongest point as she ably displays an uncommon sensitivity as an outcast amidst her character’s cruel circumstances.


About Hidzir Junaini

Hidzir Junaini, is 23-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for MetroWize Asia.

Hidzir was the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.