Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Jasmine Giang
Fack ju Göhte (Suck Me Shakespeer) is a 2013 German screwball/romantic comedy, directed by Turkish-German director Bora Dağtekin. It proved to be one of the most commercially successful German films of the decade, placing second in gross income in the 2013 German yearly box office, surpassed only by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (not German). It stars Elyas M’Barek as the male lead Zeki Müller and Karoline Herfurth as the female lead Lisi Schnabelstedt. Zeki is released from prison after serving time for a robbery. He promptly finds out that one of his friends buried the stolen money at a construction site, where Goethe High School’s gym was erected. Although unqualified, he finds his way into the role of substitute teacher at the school in order to dig under the gym after hours. It is here that he meets Lisi, a passionate, but unassertive teacher at Goethe High, who is largely ignored and bullied by her students. A romance develops between the pair as she shapes him into a teacher and he helps her gain the respect of her students.
The film was a light, fast-paced comedy. It never addressed social issues heavy-handedly, but a couple of topical references are made. For example, Zeki takes his class on an unconventional field trip, which includes a visit to a Neo-Nazi’s bedroom. He also makes a comment about the students’ “Nazi grandparents” in class. Because it takes place in a high school, specifically a school mainly for “youth from the under-educated class,” the film plays on many stereotypes of teenage personas and also different socio-economic classes. Zeki bluntly tells the students about how they are perceived, “You’re the loser class … You’re scum,” to which direct connections can be drawn to the words thrown around during the recent migration protests in Germany. The title itself is a phonetic transcription of “Fuck you, Goethe” and many of the characters, including Zeki, speak ungrammatical/slang German. This breakdown of language is used to separate the low social class from the high. A member of the faculty and members of the drama club are preparing to put on the play Romeo and Juliet, when Zeki questions its “stilted language,” calling into question the relationship between the mastery of language and its power, with respect to its comprehensibility.
Zeki and the students of class 10B may not have mastered the German language and they may be the under-educated, but Goethe High functions as a transitional space, an overlap of different social spheres, where they hold the power. The power dynamics are flipped as the school struggles to find a teacher capable of handling the students. One of the “trouble students” ends up defending a group of nerds from being bullied and ultimately excels in the science fair. There is an underlying social message that education plays a large role in the shaping of “underdogs” capable of instilling the self-confidence needed for success. Zeki, an underdog himself, emerges as the first person to be able to understand where the students are coming from and to uproot their distorted social perspectives by combating them with his personal experiences. In an environment of mutual understanding, he is able to improve their German scores drastically and refine his own ambitions.
Fack ju Göhte is a typical high school movie that entertains its audience through its sarcastic dialogue, blunt humor, American pop music, and attractive main characters. The plot of the film is fairly predictable and many of its resolutions are cliché, but I personally found it more entertaining than similar American films such as School of Rock and Bad Teacher. It would be interesting to know how closely the English subtitles were able to capture the German comedy; to what extent the viewing experience was altered by the translation, or lack thereof, of the jokes, idioms, and cultural references in the film. I found myself wondering how much of the humor/meaning was lost, or even going completely over my head if it was accurately captured in the subtitles.
– Jasmine Giang