Int’l Critics Line: Todd McCarthy On Germany’s Oscar Entry ‘And Tomorrow The Entire World’

Todd McCarthy
·4 min read

And Tomorrow The Entire World, the engaged latest film from writer-director Julia von Heinz, is something close to transfixing, as it zeroes in on the vital distinction between being a weekend radical and a truly committed game-changer. Germany’s Best International Feature Film Oscar entry made an impression at last year’s Venice Film Festival and should connect strongly with younger audiences in many parts of the world.

Although none the director’s previous four features (she’s also worked in television) have made a mark internationally, the sheer energy and sense of mission in this breathlessly-paced, intimate drama will pull audiences right along with it, as it intently addresses the extent of personal commitment necessary for those who might want to make a difference in implementing change and keeping authoritarianism at bay — issues on the rise in places around the globe.

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Employing a fleet visual style that keeps things going at a seriously propulsive but not frantic pace, von Heinz, working from a script she wrote with her husband John Quester, forcefully examines what it means to be committed in a technically peaceful but nonetheless turbulent time, when disturbing political currents are growing and/or festering. (The film itself was recently targeted by Germany’s far-right AFD party which said it presents a partisan view of German politics, something the filmmakers found “truly shocking.”)

The specific setting here is Mannheim, Germany, a city of about 300,000 people that’s home to a major university. First-year law student Luisa (Mala Emde, who bears a passing resemblance to Emma Watson) attends an initial meeting for students keen on participating in Antifa-style protests and actions; boxing workout sessions are another option. At night, the student club scene resembles almost any other: Dancing, coke, casual sex. And of course Luisa is a vegetarian.

An initial skirmish with right-wingers produces nothing more than thrown paint-balls and a pie. Very quickly Luisa falls in with two more experienced protestors, the pragmatic Lenor (Tony Schneider) and the quicksilver and almost ludicrously great-looking Alfa. In the latter role, actor Noah Saavedra resembles a much taller and more robust version of Timothée Chalamet.

Luisa takes her political commitment very seriously, and she’s met the more experienced Alfa at a time when he’s ready to raise the stakes against the righties he so despises; or perhaps he’s becoming more restless and anxious for action, or just wants to show off to Luisa. On a reckless excursion to a town where right-wingers have been beating up immigrants, Luisa and the guys ill-advisedly get involved in some serious mayhem, leaving her badly bloodied. Alfa is reminded of the group’s policy — they can disrupt things and destroy property, but not physically hurt people — and the police feel motivated to crack down on the radicals.

Be that as it may, this development sets up the film’s central conundrum: Where lies the dividing line between earnestly peaceful protests and genuine action that may harm others and involve putting your own life on the line? In other words, how far are you willing to go? If you look for trouble long enough, you’re likely to find it, and this proposition gets tested when the group discovers a stash of explosives in a right-wing compound.

There’s plenty to ponder here, and some of the film’s best moments are spent in the company of radical elder Dietmar (Andreas Lust), who, after serving a long prison term, has foresworn further involvement and keenly delineates for his young guests the difference between playing at politics versus really being on the front line.

Von Heinz offers her characters a number of opportunities to decide whether they’re all in or just tourists; whatever decisions the individual characters make about their involvement, history will make sure nothing becomes permanently settled. But the script puts the characters to a series of entirely plausible tests that, in the end, help them define the seriousness of their own commitments.

The firmness of Luisa’s engagement is strongly conveyed by Emde, her resolve outflanking that of her male companions, despite the sometimes rash, show-offy gestures on Alfa’s part. Daniela Knapp’s fleet hand-held camera is always on the move and yet always where it needs to be any crucial moment, and the editing is down to the bone in a way that’s dynamically exciting rather than annoying.

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