German Film Week at IFI: Calm at Sea

Calm at Sea provided an intense yet profoundly moving start to the German Film Week at the IFI. The French-German co-production is directed by Volker Schlöndorff, probably best known to audiences for his 1979 adaptation of Günther Grass’ novel The Tin Drum, which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and the Palme d’or at Cannes and was at the centre of New German Cinema, which reached its peak of recognition in the late ‘70s.

Schlöndorff’s films are marked by their literary inspiration; many of them being adaptations of famous literary works by Arthur Miller, Gunter Grass, Marcel Proust, Heinrich von Kleist, and others. Alongside this, his works bear a strong personal stamp and are often interested in exploring a personal sense of justice.

Calm at Sea continues in this vein. Highlighting an incident that should never be forgotten, the film is built upon interweaving stories that centre on an atrocity that took place in German-occupied France in World War II sparked by the assassination of a German officer in Nantes by 3 young communist members of the Résistance. In retaliation, Hitler ordered the execution of 150 communist hostages.

The film centres on 27 of these prisoners of war kept hostage at the Choiseul internment camp in Brittany. The youngest victim of these hostages is the 17-year-old Guy Môquet (played here by Léo-Paul Salmain), whose fate as one of the hostages chosen to be executed drives the senseless tragedy to its harrowing conclusion.

As a result Môquet became an icon of the Résistance, and since 2007, on the anniversary of his death, one of his last letters written in captivity is read by French school-child. There is also a Paris Métro station named after him.

Calm at Sea was inspired by Heinrich Böll’s autobiographical stories, and Schlöndorff constructed the film around the writings of Ernst Jünger, a captain at the Wehrmacht headquarters of Paris, who features in the film, and the French journalist Pierre-Louis Basse, who has written on the event.

Despite being conceived as a made for ‘TV film’, Calm at Sea holds its own on the big screen and its traumatic retelling of historical truth is solidly presented by Schlöndorf, who is experienced enough here to let the story do the work and the film’s conventional manner and narrative strength plays its part in that aim, effectively backed up with Bruno Coulais’ moving score.

The German Film Week continues this evening at the IFI with a screening of Christian Schwochow’s Cracks in the Shell at 18,50, a psychosexual drama that has been likened to (but a precursor of) Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

Tickets are available from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at

Steven Galvin



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