“Foreign Language”, by Claire Burger, a Franco-German teen movie tailor-made for the Berlinale


Claire Burger’s entire film Foreign Language , in the running for the Golden Bear at the Berlinale, revolves around working on words, with depth and lightness. As if language was the driving force of the story and could make it possible to divert the clichés about Franco-German relations, or even to probe some burning issues, such as the rise of the far right in both countries. The director and screenwriter, born in 1978 in Forbach, in Moselle, on the Franco-German border, knows what she is talking about.

First of all, let’s note the title, Foreign language : what is it about here? Of this oral organ which is used to taste, to kiss? Or the German that Fanny (Lilith Grasmug), a high school student from Strasbourg who comes to spend a few days with a German correspondent, Lena (Josefa Heinsius), who lives in Leipzig with her mother (Nina Hoss)? Both, of course! We could also dissect the famous expression “Franco-German couple”, which, in France, immediately brings to mind not love, but the policy of cooperation between the two former enemy countries. In the film, Lena notes that in Germany we talk about “Franco-German friendship” ( “Freundschaft” , she says), and not about a couple.

This is a teen movie well tailored for the Berlin competition, with an LGBT touch, the attraction between Lena and Fanny acting as the detonator of new adventures. Because the young Frenchwoman, rather shy and uncomfortable in her skin, sometimes invents things to make herself interesting. It is because they want to spend time together that the two young girls will explore the militant, “antifa” bars in Strasbourg, in fleeting but credible scenes – the two actresses are fantastic.

A lively and impactful story

Centered on the two teenagers, the scenario allows us to explore their love life, their relationship to the story, during a scene filmed in high school, their desire to get involved and take action, why not on the black blocs, in Strasbourg, triggering the concern of Fanny’s parents, from the left – played by Chiara Mastroianni and Jalal Altawil, Syrian actor.

The picture on adolescence could be discussed. Young Germans seem more benevolent than the French, more mature too, and more gifted in foreign languages – that’s not a scoop. The film delivers a lively and impactful story, even if the screenplay, co-written with Léa Mysius, overloads the boat a little too much on the side of the “darons” and their marital setbacks. Still, Nina Hoss reveals all her comedic talent here.

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