It’s remarkable to see how German filmmakers, faced with such overdone subject matter as the political horrors of their past, keep their films interesting. The Red Cockatoo is yet another take on this theme.
It’s 1961 in Dresden and 20-year-old Siggi (Max Riemelt, Napola) is an aspiring artist working as a scenery painter. He soon meets the alluring poet Luise (Jessica Schwarz, Perfume), who, together with her philandering husband Wolle (big screen newbie Ronald Zehrfeld), introduces him to the titular nightclub The Red Cockatoo. Notorious for its subversive Western music and liberating nightlife, the club soon has a regular in the impressionable Siggi, who indulges in its irresistible pull of music, dancing and sexual promiscuity, even as he finds himself increasingly drawn to Luise. With the deteriorating political climate in the East, and thousands escaping to the West, he soon has to make a decision about his future, both with Luise and with his country.
The film excels most in showcasing the unexpectedly dazzling and irrepressible nightlife culture of the period, and the excesses of its denizens. Who knew that post-Nazi East Germany was so happening? Although the festivities inevitably succumb to the persecution of the socialist government, culminating in the heart-wrenching erection of the Berlin Wall, director Dominik Graf (A Map of the Heart) still keeps the proceedings upbeat; as such we can’t help but feel a greater sense of loss at its eventual suppression.
The cast carry out their roles competently as fun-loving youths just out to have a good time, especially Zehrfeld’s charismatic and impulsive Wolle. Riemelt’s likeable but morose performance really underscored his character’s hapless infatuation. We did wish to see more of Schwarz’s Luise though, and her true motivations for staying—both with her unreliable husband and in East Germany.
By keeping a light touch by not overdoing the melodrama, this love story with a political backdrop manages to be a stylish and compelling portrait of the period.
If you dig The Red Cockatoo, you’ll like: Other German political films like Good Bye Lenin!, Downfall, Napola and The Lives Of Others.