And Along Come Tourists



MUNICH -- Young German director Robert Thalheim's second feature film, "And Along Come Tourists," is a quiet triumph. Thalheim's original script -- loosely based on his own experiences working at Auschwitz's International Youth Meeting Center -- economically blends modern life's truths, such as the fragility of 20-something love affairs, with universal themes, such as the search for meaning and the human need to expiate guilt.

Buoyed by understated and compelling performances from newcomers Alexander Fehling and Barbara Wysocka alongside the stalwart of Polish cinema Ryszard Ronczewski, "Tourists" should have a good arthouse run as well as solid DVD sales. It has a lower-budget feel than the Oscar-winning "The Lives of Others," but it is no less well-made.

Fehling plays Sven, who has opted out of the compulsory German military service in order to do a year of community work at Auschwitz, the modern Polish city of Oswiecim. From the first moments of the film, director of photography Yoliswa Gaertig explodes the usual visual cliches associated with the grim recent history of this centuries-old locale, confining barbed-wire fences to one side of the screen and showing us the neat gardens and lace-curtained windows of the homes across the street.

Among Sven's duties is looking after a former Polish political prisoner, now in his 80's, who still lives at the camp. Irascible and haughty, Stanislaw Krzeminski (Ryszard Ronczewski) has devoted his life to building up the conservation department at the Auschwitz museum, preserving suitcases taken from Jews upon their arrival at the camp and then ransacked by the Nazis while their owners were sent to the gas chambers.

Sven is no do-gooder, and his general lack of enthusiasm for everything he encounters in Oswiecim infuses his every body movement. Only the pretty, highly intelligent local tour guide, Ania (Barbara Wysocka), provides a ray of light. As time passes, Sven and Ania fall in love and the young German learns compassion for his difficult elderly charge. But when the scientists at the conservation department start worrying that Krzeminski's old-fashioned methods are doing more harm than good to the suitcases, Sven is forced to choose between the emotional well-being of one survivor and keeping history alive for future generations.

Almost casually, Thalheim leaves no moral stone unturned while maintaining an honest, keenly observing distance from his characters. "Tourists" cements his position as one of Germany's top up-and-coming directors.

23/5 Filmproduktion GmbH, ZDF Das kleine Fernsehspiel
Director-screenwriter: Robert Thalheim
Producer: Britta Knoeller, Hans-Christian Schmid
Director of photography: Yoliswa Gaertig
Production design: Michal Galinski, Rita-Maria Hallekamp
Music: Anton K. Feist, Uwe Bossenz
Editor: Stefan Kobe
Sven Lehnert: Alexander Fehling
Stanislaw Krzeminski: Ryszard Ronczewski
Ania Lanuszewska: Barbara Wysocka
Krysztof Lanuszewski: Piotr Rogucki
Klaus Herold: Rainer Sellien
Andrea Schneider: Lena Stolze

Running time -- 85 minutes
No MPAA rating