Director: Mirjam Unger
Writer: Sandra Bohle, Mirjam Unger
Based on: Christine Nöstlinger’s autobiographical novel
Cast: Zita Gaier, Ursula Strauss, Gerald Votava, Konstantin Khabenskiy, Krista Stadler, Heinz Marecek, Paula Brunner
Seen on: 21.3.2016
World War II. 8-year-old Christl (Zita Gaier) spends a lot of time with her grandparents (Krista Stadler, Heinz Marecek) as her mother (Ursula Strauss) is hunting for food and necessities in Vienna. Her father (Gerald Votava) is fighting. Or rather, he is in the hospital with a shot up leg. As the bombings in the city get worse and the grandparents’ apartment is damaged, Christl’s mother hatches a plan to head to a house at the city’s edge where she used to clean. The owner of said house has fled and needs somebody to take care of it anyway. So, Christl, her sister (Paula Brunner) and her mother make their way there, leaving behind her grandparents who are unwilling to move.
Maikäfer flieg is a well-made film and an excellent adaptation of Nöstlinger’s novel. I enjoyed it a lot.
Unger and Bohle were very faithful to their source material in their adaptation. Of course a few trims were necessary here and there, although there were only a few cuts and practically no changed to story or characters. Since the source material is strong, that was an excellent choice.
The cast was great too. Zita Gaier in particular was absolutely wonderful and carried the movie on her young shoulders with apparent ease. There was so much sense of adventure and pure force of will to her performance, an older actor would have struggled with getting it all across to the audience. The movie sticks with Christl’s perspective for the most part, making Gaier’s performance even more essential to the film.
Most of the films about World War II either chronicle the fate of the persecuted and victimized or are about kicking Nazi butt. There’s very little cinematic material (as far as I know at least) about the rest of the people: the Austrians and Germans who were neither outright Nazis nor persecuted, the majority who just tried to get by somehow. Maikäfer flieg is about them: there are those who do sympathize with the Nazis and flee or opportunistically turn coat once the Russians are there, but there are also those who await the Russians with a mix of trepidation and anticipation. Finally they will be freed – but who knows if the Russians are better than the Nazis?
And in all this turmoil are the children who don’t know any other life. They know hunger and bombings and fear, but they also know a lot of freedom and adventure. The movie leaves Christl when she’s about to face getting back to a life that we’d consider normal, at least more or less. It would be interesting to spend more time with them after that (if they don’t make another film, there’s at least Nöstlinger’s other autobiographical novel). In the meantime though, I can only recommend watching this film.