REVIEW: DVD Release: The Wave

Film: The Wave
Release date: 12th January 2009
Certificate: 15
Running time: 102 mins
Director: Dennis Gansel
Starring: J├╝rgen Vogel, Frederick Lau, Max Riemelt, Jennifer Ulrich, Christiane Paul
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Studio: Momentum
Format: DVD
Country: Germany

Faced with educating a class of students on the subject of autocracy for a whole week, a teacher decides to challenge his pupil’s sceptical attitudes towards the power of a dictatorial political system, and the ease with which it can take hold, by beginning an experiment - one that soon gets out of his control.

Set in a German high school, The Wave follows unconventional teacher Rainer Wenger, who has the love of his students but lacks respect from his peers, who care little for his rock‘n’roll outlook.

Failing to get his favoured subject of Anarchy for the school’s ‘project week’, he is instead given Autocracy. The class begins well with lively discussion, but there appears to him an unready acceptance of the ease with which dictatorships can organise and indoctrinate the masses, especially from the pupils who are sure another Nazi regime could never take hold in contemporary Germany.

Almost spontaneously, Wenger begins to order and alter the way his class is run, from seating, to uniform, and even to naming the class – ‘The Wave’. However, the pupils become affected in radically different ways by the changes, and while a minority questions the morality of Wenger’s experiment, others become caught up in their newfound sense of strength and community, building to a shocking climax…

The Wave is based on an actual experiment that took place in California in 1967, where history teacher Ron Jones tried to show his class how the Nazi party was able to indoctrinate the German masses. He called his experiment ‘The Third Wave’, and since the event there have been two other adaptations based around the event; a novel, and a TV movie, both released in the 1980s. However, both of these adaptations maintained the event’s American setting, whereas The Wave transfers the action to modern-day Germany.

The transfer is hugely successful, despite some arguments that the move makes the experiment’s parallels to Nazi Germany too obvious. However, there is a frightening sense of grim possibility that derives from the European setting, and it ultimately serves to heighten the drama.

Dennis Gansel’s lively direction lends the film an exciting pace, and the use of music and editing creates an interesting division between the scenes involving the student’s private lives and those of order within the classroom. Furthermore, the use of light and bright colours prevents the film’s disturbing subject matter from ever becoming oppressive. Events are presented in a day-by-day chronology to emphasise the speed that the changes within the class take place during ‘project week’, and also subtly build tension. Although a huge amount of thought-provoking subject matter is covered along with rich characterisations and interactions, the film does not become self-indulgent, and the running time is kept concise to deliver a direct, surprisingly thrilling viewing experience.

The younger stars turn in convincing performances, particularly Frederick Lau as the unstable yet sympathetic Tim. Jurgen Vogul, as the class’s teacher, is especially notable as he manages to maintain his character’s likeability and humanity while capturing a dangerous undertone which lends the film’s climax added drama. The acting is complimented by an excellent script, which allows for the characters to develop and interact in a highly believable and realistic way. Indeed, the film seems to carry no great pretensions or self-importance, settling to tell a simple story well rather than become overwhelmed by the weight of the subject matter, and despite a different ending to that of the novel (upon which the film is primarily based), it nonetheless stays within the realms of reality and possibility. In so doing, The Wave allows the audience to discuss their own opinions of the story and events rather than doing what so many mainstream films do, and dictate how the audience should react.

Lively, fascinating, and with brilliant direction and performances, The Wave is a superb piece of cinema that should appeal to a wide demographic. A must for students, it is also a master class in direction and creating a concise, succinct and understated movie with realistic drama and thrills. CD

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