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Review by Chris Heller
Rating: (4 out of 5)
Friday, 10/21/2011, 6:00 PM
Feature presentation, $12 at GWU Amphitheatre
German with English subtitiles
HARVEST IS UNLIKE just about any coming-of-age movie you’ll see. Set in the rural Brandenburg district of Germany, it juggles social concerns with teenage identity crises without cliché or overwrought dialogue. It’s a story that’s both foreign and familiar, a touching portrayal of a working-class romance.
Marko (Lukas Steltner), a withdrawn teen whose parents abandoned him as a child, first meets Jacob (Kai-Michael Müller) in the German equivalent of vocational school. With only a few weeks left before final exams, Marko is struggling to decide if he wants to be a farmer, while Jacob, who comes from a stable, middle-class background, prefers an agricultural life over cubicles and office droning. They’re drawn together despite their differences, slowly building chemistry with stolen glances and subtle flirts.
It’s the ideal love story for director Benjamin Cantu, a documentary filmmaker, who blends a vérité style into Harvest that adds a pragmatic visual edge to the story. Earthy tones dominate the screen, while most shots are grounded in some sort of hard-labor reality, like herding cattle or raising crops. (The only downside? The method isn’t fit for the nighttime, where scenes look dull and unfocused onscreen.) Cantu takes his time to usher Marko and Jacob’s relationship along — and uses every chance to drum up the socioeconomic differences between their lives — but uses a deft hand, sculpting such believable progression that Harvest doesn’t plod. These effects ultimately build toward Marko and Jacob’s first kiss, a powerfully evocative moment that drives the plot to its finish.
In Harvest, Cantu explores a society largely unknown to most audiences at Reel Affirmations. Sure, it’s a foreign-language film, but it has a universal message that shouldn’t be missed.