The Wave (Die Welle)

welleBased on a real-life incident at a California high school in 1967, Dennis Gansel’s cautionary thriller takes a disturbing look at fascism’s ongoing appeal.

Set in an affluent German town, The Wave sees hip schoolteacher Rainer Wenger tackle the subject of ‘autocracy’ for a school project week by creating his own mini-dictatorship in the classroom. He sets himself up as commander-in-chief with his pupils assuming the role of dedicated followers. Initially sceptical, the teenagers soon embrace the idea enthusiastically, choosing a uniform for the group, giving it a name (The Wave), designing a logo which they later spray-paint all over town, and greeting each other with a secret handshake. By working together they establish new friendships, become more creative and achieve more academically.

Soon enough though, the pupils’ newfound sense of comradeship turns into something more sinister. Individuals who stand in the way of the group’s aims are ostracised, and its members become increasingly violent towards outsiders. Rainer meanwhile is enticed by the power he is able to wield over his pupils, to the increasing worry of his wife who warns him the experiment has gone too far.

The premise is intriguing and provocative, but its execution is a little rushed. The writers take care in gradually exposing the divisions that break out among the class, as well as tapping into character traits that are likely to respond to a more disciplined approach. However, a week isn’t really a credible timeframe for a body of mainly apathetic and unassuming teenagers to turn into fascist thugs, lending an air of contrivance to proceedings. Rainer’s class is filled with the usual bunch of teenage stereotypes and misfits, and it will come as no surprise that a geeky loner becomes one of the Wave’s most fervent supporters.

J├╝rgen Vogel gives a commanding performance as the maverick teacher who realises too late the nature of the beast he has unleashed. He is supported by strong performances from a youthful cast, especially Frederick Lau who plays Tim, a social outcast who finds in the Wave the recognition and kinship he so desperately craves.

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