127 Best Movies to Watch In German (Page 6)

Staff & contributors

Germany has produced countless global sensations, from The Lives of Others to Downfall. But there are a lot more worthy titles out there, and not all about war. Here are the best movies featuring the German language to stream now.

In the words of the journalist Christo Grozev, Alexei Navalny isn’t just a politician; he’s also an internet personality, reporter, investigator, lawyer, and opposition leader who’s up against one of the biggest regimes in the world. He’s a dangerous man, a top Kremlin target, and the documentary gives us incredible access into the ins and outs of his daily operations. 

It’s always astonishing to see a hero humanized, especially since the documentary makes sure to balance newsworthy events with quiet moments of rest and reflection. But more than just a profile, Navalny is a valiant work of investigative journalism, as well as a timely reminder of the importance of activism. It's relevant, revelatory, and rousing; a must-watch in our ever-heating political climate. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alexey Navalny, Angela Merkel, Maria Pevchikh, Vladimir Putin, Yulia Navalnaya

Director: Daniel Roher

Rating: R

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei directs his attention towards the ongoing refugee crisis, the biggest displacement of people since World War II. His documentary is apolitical and tries to focus on the human side of the picture. It's not a news report or a commentary on the causes of the situation. Instead, it's a combination of heartfelt stories spanning 23 countries that showcase people's battle for dignity and basic rights. A truly epic movie complemented by impressive drone footage that's as impressive as it is sad.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Fadi Abou Akleh, Hiba Abed, Israa Abboud, Marin Din Kajdomcaj, Rami Abu Sondos

Director: Ai Weiwei, Weiwei Ai

Rating: PG-13

Great Freedom is not an easy watch. Apart from the quiet stretches of time and the claustrophobic confines of its prison setting, it also has its lead, Hans Hoffman (played with delicate force by Franz Rogowski) imprisoned again and again and again, unjustly treated like dirt by both his warden and fellow inmates.

But as a Jewish gay man who has lived through the war, Hans is no stranger to these trappings. As such, he takes each day as it comes, open to love, pleasure, and friendship, or at least the potential of these, despite the circumstances. And so Great Freedom is also hopeful and romantic, glimmering with the human tendency to not just survive but to live. Slow but compelling, subdued but powerful, Great Freedom is an affecting balancing act that's well worth watching. 

Genre: Drama, Romance, War

Actor: Andreas Patton, Anton von Lucke, Franz Rogowski, Georg Friedrich, Thomas Prenn, Thomas Stecher

Director: Sebastian Meise

Less a documentary on Johannes Vermeer himself and more about the art scholar's mission to study ideas of beauty and aesthetics from various perspectives, this documentary successfully takes an admittedly very esoteric subject and makes it compelling. Director Suzanne Raes easily gets to the essence of the complex questions and insights that these Vermeer experts have, but without dumbing them down or reducing them into generic academic talking points. In fact, the thing that really comes through in the film's discussions is the emotion that these people feel in figuring out how Vermeer managed to paint such stunning images, and what the man was drawn to in human beings. It's oddly persuasive; whether or not you're a fan of 17th-century artists, watching Close to Vermeer feels like finally solving a puzzle.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Abbie Vandivere, Anna Krekeler, Gregor J. M. Weber, Jonathan Janson, Pieter Roelofs

Director: Suzanne Raes

This earnest documentary is about filmmaker and actress Maryam Zaree's journey to unravel the truth about her birth. Her parents are part of a generation of Iranian revolutionaries who were jailed, many executed, and now have taken exile in Europe. The torture and difficult prison conditions they experienced are cause for so much trauma that Maryam, born in prison, has not been told anything about her birth. Her mom, now Germany's first foreign-born mayor, cannot get past tears to tell a story that Maryam is determined to know. 

Her mom is not the only one who is unable to tell the story, as Maryam's quest uncovers more silence. In the end, Born in Evin is as much about the question of "is the truth worth getting told?" as it is about the truth itself. It's a heartfelt exploration of trauma, both for the generation that experienced it and for the generation that follows.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Marya Sirous, Maryam Zaree, Soraya Zangbari

Director: Maryam Zaree

Rating: Not Rated

This is a gorgeous Danish period drama that’s based on a famous story and book in Denmark called Lykke-Per (or Lucky Per) by Nobel Prize-winning author Henrik Pontoppidan. Per, the son of an overbearing catholic priest, leaves his family house in the country side to seek a new life in Copenhagen. His passion about engineering was at the time contrary with the Christian faith, but manages to introduce him to the capital’s elite, and a chance at social ascension. Lykke-Per and A Fortunate Man are about nature versus nurture. Per’s passion about engineering and renewable energy (back in the 1920s) is set against his need to emancipate and the pride that was instilled in him by his upbringing.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anders Hove, Benjamin Kitter, Bille August, Carsten Kressner, Claus Flygare, Eliza Rønsbæk, Elsebeth Steentoft, Esben Smed, Finn Nielsen, Hans Holtegaard, Jacob Holm, Jakob Højlev Jørgensen, Jens Albinus, Jesper Ole Feit Andersen, Johannes Nymark, Julie Christiansen, Karl Fischer, Katrine Greis-Rosenthal, Katrine Rosenthal, Laura Kjær, Mei Oulund, Mette Munk Plum, Mikael Holst Nørlund, Mikkel Hilgart, Morten Hauch-Fausbøll, Naja Spuur, Nicolai Dahl Hamilton, Ole Lemmeke, Paul Hüttel, Peter Hald, Peter Plaugborg, Petrine Agger, Rasmus Bjerg, Sara Viktoria, Sarah Viktoria Bjerregaard, Sophie Marie Jeppesen, Tammi Øst, Tammi Ost, Tommy Kenter

Director: Bille August

Rating: TV-14

Whores’ Glory leads us through the hidden world of prostitution in three different countries. The lack of narration is an excellent choice here—all too often, it’s easy to accept preconceived notions about this type of work. Instead, what leads us through the film are words from the sex workers themselves and their clientele. In some ways, these words reveal their differences. The workers pray, worry about money, and share their troubles with each other, but it’s their employers and clientele who reveal their misogyny. Overall, while the Western soundtrack and glamorizing shots can be distracting, it’s clear that the film gives respect to sex workers and prioritizes their perspective.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Michael Glawogger

Rating: Not Rated

If you're a fan of musical theater of any kind, Topsy-Turvy pays tribute to that notoriously tricky art form with a stunning attention to detail and a dedication to telling its story without any unnecessary drama whatsoever. It's hard not to get swept up in the humor, entertainment, and simple joy found in the writing process and in rehearsals of entire scenes. Come for the Oscar-winning costumes and makeup, stay for the wonderfully old-timey musical numbers, the brilliantly grounded performance from Jim Broadbent, and the sense of satisfaction of just watching everything finally come together to thunderous applause.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History, Music

Actor: Akemi Otani, Alison Steadman, Allan Corduner, Andy Serkis, Angela Curran, Anna Francolini, Ashley Artus, Ashley Jensen, Bríd Brennan, Cathy Sara, Charles Simon, Debbie Chazen, Dexter Fletcher, Dorothy Atkinson, Eiji Kusuhara, Eleanor David, Eve Pearce, Francis Lee, Gemma Page, Geoffrey Hutchings, Heather Craney, Jim Broadbent, John Warnaby, Jonathan Aris, Julia Rayner, Julian Bleach, Kacey Ainsworth, Katrin Cartlidge, Kenneth Hadley, Kevin McKidd, Lavinia Bertram, Lesley Manville, Louise Gold, Mark Benton, Martin Savage, Mary Roscoe, Matt Bardock, Matthew Mills, Mia Soteriou, Michael Simkins, Monica Dolan, Naoko Mori, Nicholas Boulton, Nicholas Woodeson, Nick Bartlett, Paul Barnhill, Richard Coyle, Roger Heathcott, Ron Cook, Rosie Cavaliero, Sam Kelly, Shirley Henderson, Sophie Duval, Steve Speirs, Sukie Smith, Teresa Gallagher, Timothy Spall, Togo Igawa, Vincent Franklin, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Leave it to a master filmmaker like Krzysztof Kieślowski—known for the Three Colours Trilogy, The Double Life of Veronique, and the miniseries Dekalog (whose sixth episode was expanded into this film)—to take a premise as banal as that of a peeping tom and to turn it into something mysterious and poignant. There are definitely still parts to this story that may not hold up to scrutiny, like its belief in a romantic/spiritual connection that rewards the immature man for barging into a woman's life. In different hands, this subject matter would just be creepy. In Kieślowski's, the loneliness of these characters takes full shape.

As young postal clerk Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) quickly admits his spying to the older and more jaded Magda (Grażyna Szapołowska), the two are drawn to each other with a combination of fear, pity, and lust. And what Kieślowski does—with the help of cinematographer Witold Adamek's stunning, intimate frames; and his cast's subdued sorrow—is move the film away from concerns about consent and control, and to tell a story about what it means to truly be seen and acknowledged by another person. In an existence made up of meaningless routine and temporary relationships, seeing someone else at their most vulnerable feels like lightning.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Grażyna Szapołowska, Olaf Lubaszenko

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

If you’ve been paying close attention to Royal Families in general, then get a snack and settle in, because A Royal Affair’s got it all for you: the steamy scenes, dirty, affair-laden hands, the corsets, and a stunning backdrop of 18th Century Europe. Quite literally deranged and mentally incapable King Christian of Denmark (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) marries the brave Princess Caroline of Great Britain (Alicia Vikander), only to find out that he isn’t cut out for the wedded life. Enlightenment comes in the form of Dr. Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a German physician to the infantile King and true-born reformer. Mostly saddened by her unfortunate fate, the now-Queen Caroline finds herself falling in love with the intellectual; thus, beginning a whirlwind of events that shakes up the entire Kingdom.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Alicia Vikander, Bent Mejding, Cyron Melville, Daniel Bambas, David Dencik, Frederik Christian Johansen, Harriet Walter, Ivan G'Vera, Jacob Ulrik Lohmann, John Martinus, Julia Wentzel Olsen, Karel Polišenský, Klaus Tange, Kristian Fjord, Laura Bro, Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Morten Holst, Nikolaj Arcel, Petr Janiš, Rosalinde Mynster, Søren Malling, Søren Spanning, Tereza Terberová, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, Trine Dyrholm, William Jøhnk Nielsen, Zinnini Elkington

Director: Nikolaj Arcel

Rating: R

When German forces occupy Paris in 1942, a close-knit Jewish family tearfully sends their two youngest sons, Jo and Maurice, to escape the city on foot, with promises that they will all eventually be reunited in the Free Zone in the South. Told from the perspective of Jo – and based on the 1973 memoir of Joseph Joffo – what follows is a story of adventure, discovery, loss, love and the resilience of family bonds. A tapestry of cherished memories woven together with traumatic ones, the tone shifts again and again as Jo and his brother reach the bright shores of Nice––before they are driven to hiding again. Above all else, this is a story about the power of a family’s love, and of children who rise against the odds by their own courage and tenacity.

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Batyste Fleurial, Bernard Campan, Candide Sanchez, César Domboy, Christian Clavier, Coline Leclère, Dorian Le Clech, Elsa Zylberstein, Émile Berling, Eric Bougnon, Etienne Chicot, Fred Epaud, Frédéric Epaud, Holger Daemgen, Ilian Bergala, Joël Dupuch, Kev Adams, Luc Palun, Lucas Prisor, Patrick Bruel, Pierre Kiwitt, Vincent Nemeth

Director: Christian Duguay

This sociologically revealing documentary follows the attempts of the largely “snow-white” staff of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk art museum to refresh the institution’s collection, just 4% of which was by women artists at the time of filming. The museum also featured exactly zero works by artists of color — another embarrassing truth that the Stedelijk’s staff, headed up by (white) museum director Rein Wolfs, work frantically to rectify by acquiring new works and “turning the mirror around” on the canon to contextualize whiteness as a distinct category of its own, rather than “the standard” (as the museum’s own Charl Landvreugd puts it). 

Though it features discussions on such worthy topics as artistic canons (who defines them?), linguistic nuances (should works with problematic titles be renamed?), and how to decide which art will be put into storage to make room for works that better reflect Amsterdam’s diverse population, this documentary is less interested in delving into the dark side of art history itself than the human behavior that arises when confronted with such uncomfortable truths. More than anything, what director Sarah Vos is perceptively spotlighting here is the intense discomfort and self-consciousness of the museum’s white staff when confronted with these historic issues — when, in a sense, the mirror is “turned around” on them.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Sarah Vos