An experienced documentary filmmaker, Gordian Maugg has constructed an arty and self-conscious love story, a docudrama mixing archival footage of Nazi Berlin with a fictional narrative centering on the 1936 Olympic Games. While Maugg achieves remarkable visual harmony between the
historic footage and his new material, much of which is shot with a hand-cranked Askania camera dating from 1927, the documentary scenes are the most interesting part of the film.
A butcher's apprentice (Jost Gerstein) saves up his money to buy a used bicycle so that he can travel to Berlin for the Games. When he reaches the capital, the husky country lad is taken up by a wealthy, seductive widow (Verena Plangger), who whisks him off to her boathouse on a marshy lake.
Equipped with a stock of champagne and a small portable gramophone, the couple dance, romance, and sleep the days away. (Their sojourn is punctuated by clips of crowds in central Berlin flocking to the Olympic stadium.) The widow's behavior is mysterious: periodically, she leaves him alone without
explanation, returning to the capital in her two-seat roadster. As the summer ends, so does their affair.
The apprentice remains in Berlin, where he becomes a gigolo-hustler until a sexual encounter with a military officer (who is later set up and murdered by the SS) lands him in prison; a failed escape attempt results in an extension of his two-year term. He's still there in 1939 when war erupts on
the Polish border (we hear the official radio report of the staged incident at Gleiwitz that served as the excuse for the invasion of Poland); as the war spreads into Russia, the apprentice dreams of happier days on the lakeside with the lovely widow. Eventually, he manages to escape and arranges
a rendezvous with the widow at a Berlin train station. Although he waits for hours on the platform, watching weary and wounded soldiers in transit and the menacing military police, she never appears. Inevitably, he is caught and sent back to prison, where he laments his fate and puzzles over the
widow's apparent betrayal. Later we learn that she indeed came to the station, but the passage of time and the experience of war had changed both people so much that they failed to recognize each other.
Based on Gunther Ruecker's novella The Apprentice, THE OLYMPIC SUMMER tells its story without dialogue; the action is interpreted by a voice-over narrator (Otto Sander) and accompanied by snatches of contemporary popular songs. Although some German critics read the film as an anti-fascist
melodrama, it is probably best enjoyed as homage to the great days of the German silent screen (at its best, as during the lakeside scenes, Maugg's camera captures the look and feel of Murnau). Film students and lovers of historical footage will find much to contemplate in the THE OLYMPIC SUMMER;
others may find its narrative too leisurely and obscure. (Nudity, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: An experienced documentary filmmaker, Gordian Maugg has constructed an arty and self-conscious love story, a docudrama mixing archival footage of Nazi Berlin with a fictional narrative centering on the 1936 Olympic Games. While Maugg achieves remarkable vi… (more)