By remaining totally committed to its quiet, drama-free, observational style of documentary filmmaking, Mr. Bachmann and His Class ends up teaching us a whole lot about the way we view educational spaces and difficult students as well. While the titular German teacher is mainly there to teach language, the way he patiently handles disagreement and conflict—reorienting the immature or harmful beliefs they may have learned from home or from elsewhere—is truly inspiring to witness. We never see these home lives and the film's director, Maria Speth, knows better than to romanticize anybody in this classroom. But over the film's lengthy runtime, it really begins to feel like we get to know and understand each of these kids, and to root for their ability to change their views and become more open and appreciative towards one another.
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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.
By all outward appearances, The Villages—a massive and manicured retirement community in Florida—looks like it does offer paradise to its aging residents, as promised. The list of activities is endless, the seniors are all partnered up. “It’s like going back to college,” as one of them puts it, where people from all over the country come together to create a new life with each other.
But of course, nothing comes that easy, not even death. Some Kind of Heaven follows certain residents (and one committed trespasser) as they grapple with the slipperiness of fulfillment in their later years. It gets very eerie when the film's bleak messages are contrasted with the home's vibrant Floridian colors and the residents' plastered smiles. But the eeriness adds to the overall intrigue and pull of the documentary. Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) co-produces this fascinating film.