Film Review:  Fritzi – A Revolutionary Tale  (NZIFF 2020)

Set in East Germany in the summer of 1989, Fritzi is an animated family movie about twelve-year-old East German Fritzi, who says goodbye to best friend Sophie who is leaving for a holiday in Hungary. When Sophie does not return, or call, Fritzi begins a quest to find out where her friend is. In the process, she finds the courage to question the repressive behaviour of the authority figures around her, which becomes a revolutionary quest.

Directors: Matthias Bruhn, Ralf Kukula.
Voice Actors: Ali Lyons, Oison Conroy, Lucy Carolan, Nicola Lindsay

As the movie opens, you are immediately captivated by the beautiful animation. Full of vibrant, bright pastels. Reminiscent of superior Japanese anime, say Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). Or Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville (2003).

Fritzi (Lyons) and Sophie (Carolan) are best friends. Sophie is going to Hungary for the school holidays with her mum. She will leave Sputnik, her border collie, with Fritzi to look after.

Fritzi notices that Sophie’s mum’s car is laden with a lot more luggage than is warranted for a two-week holiday.

This is East Berlin in 1989. A lot of people are disappearing to the West. Of course, Sophie is leaving Sputnik with her best friend, so this is not any concern of Fritzi’s.

Sophie doesn’t come back and school starts. There is no word from her. There is a realisation they are trying to escape across the border to West Germany where Sophie’s grandmother lives.

At the school we meet Mrs Liesegang (Lindsay). She is the exact cartoon image of Aunt Lydia from Handmaid’s Tale. East Germany in the last year of the Berlin Wall. There is nothing to fear if you have the right thoughts. Of course, this has to be maintained in schools where education is also indoctrination.

Mark Twain said that history doesn’t repeat but it does rhyme. Indoctrination in education as a system has been around since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Mrs Liesegang represents the watchful authoritarian enforcer, well-disguised as the Maths Teacher. Many of them were odd-balls in my youthful experience.

Fritzi starts to notice the people who are rebelling or voicing dissent. Her own mother works as a nurse who wanted to be a doctor but was barred. So, she sympathises with her daughter. The father teaches music, and is anxious that none of his family cause any undue attention.

So Fritzi decides that Sputnik is pining for Sophie, and it is her mission to travel to Hungary, and possibly across the border to where Sophie’s grandmother lives. So begins her journey of revelation and revolution.

Questioning the teacher at school brings swift rebuke and barely disguised threats. The classmates are encouraged to isolate her. Except Bela (Conroy) who is developing a crush on her.

She draws the attention of a Stasi agent, when she enquires at a travel agent about taking a trip to Hungary by herself. A school camping week, and she finds herself near the patrolled border fence in the forest. There she is caught and interrogated.

In the meantime, agitation and demonstration is mounting in East Berlin. The authorities cannot keep the lid on.

This delightful animated movie is drawn from a novel Fritzi War Dabei, by Hannah Schott and Gerda Raidt. It is very much in the style of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in that it is a family friendly tale which carefully unwraps the serious underlying content, and the human sorrow therein.

Except this tale has a real-life happy ending. In superbly crafted art.

Fritzi – A revolutionary Taleis part of the New Zealand international Film airing, showing on line and at select theatres across the country. For online acces/ticketing information, please go HERE.

Rev Orange Peel