Brave new world 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Berlin Is in Germany, part of Goethe Institut's Recent Films from Germany series, casts an ex-con as a kind of Rip Van Winkle. Martin (Jorg Schuttauf) has been jailed (for reasons revealed later) in Brandenburg Prison since shortly before the Berlin Wall. Now, a decade later, he's been released on parole.

A lifelong resident of East Berlin, Martin leaves jail to find his hometown nearly unrecognizable. The city is now a forest of construction cranes, suggesting a capitalist boom after decades of Communist stagnation. And as along as Berlin Is in Germany focuses on Martin's adjustment to democracy and a united Berlin, the film offers a fascinating portrayal of culture shock. But it's when it eventually succumbs to shopworn clichés about a well-meaning ex-con trying to go straight that the film falters.

At first, Martin marvels at the mobile phones and robotic pets of Germany's brave new world. His gloomy, downtrodden pal Peter (Thomas Jahn) explains the downside of unification, such as the bigotry against "Easties," as if being raised under Communism makes you dumber than those who weren't. Writer/director Hannes Stohr deftly integrates a few of the social changes into the plot: When Martin tries to get a taxi license, he struggles to learn the new names of East Berlin streets. But Stohr's story takes increasingly sentimental turns as Martin tries to get to know the son he never met and rekindle the affection of his ex-wife, despite the hostility of her new boyfriend.

As Martin resists the temptations to turn to a life of crime, Berlin Is in Germany's once-engrossing storytelling becomes less artful and more pedestrian. For a film about personal and political freedom, Berlin Is in Germany shackles itself to the conventions of older movies.

Berlin Is in Germany screens Wed., Feb. 9, 7 p.m., at Goethe Institut Inter Nationes Atlanta, 1197 Peachtree St., Colony Square. $4. The Recent Films from Germany series runs through March 30. 404-892-2388. www.goethe.de/uk/atl/enindex.htm.

CURT.HOLMAN@CREATIVELOAFING.COM

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