German Film Fest: 4 Kings

Kate Young
3rd Nov 2016

'Tis the season to be jolly, but for Alex (Paula Beer), Lara (Jella Hasse), Fedja (Moritz Leu) and Timo (Jannis Niewohner) nothing could be further from the truth. For these four emotionally troubled teenagers, Christmas Eve takes a completely different turn as they find themselves placed in the adolescent psychiatric ward. Placed under the care of unorthodox Dr Wolff (Clemans Schick) the teens must learn to live with each other and overcome their own personal demons.

4 Kings (4 Könige) is director Theresa Von Eltz's feature debut, and is a heartbreaking glimpse into the world of adolescence and the struggles to survive in a world into which these four character just don't fit. The story begins with Alex; Unable to cope with her parents' constant quarrelling she makes a drastic decision, which later sees her placed into the care of the psychiatric ward. Here she meets the film's three other protagonists. There’s the charming Lara who comes from a very wealthy and academic family and, though she attracts the attention of everyone by reason of being unusual or strange, still remains invisible to her parents; Fedja, a Georgian immigrant whose extreme shyness makes him vulnerable to bullying; and violent Timo who has just been moved from the closed ward, under the care of Dr. Wolff.

Unlike the majority of the hospital staff, Dr. Wolff refrains from coddling or trying to control the teens. Instead he sets out to instil trust and allow them the freedom to learn from past mistakes and experiences, which he sees as the best method towards gaining control over their own emotions. From the hilarious group therapy session (where one can only speak once they have rung the gong) to the secretive sanctioned outings in the woods behind the hospital, this band of so-called misfits under the guidance of the doctor learn just how normal their “craziness” is.

Set in Hamberg, a city that was labeled “The gateway to the world” it almost as if it’s a cruel joke to have these teens captive in such a small cage. Though Theresa Von Eltz has been very clever through out the film to fill a lot of the dialogue with white noise, at once creating a feeling of vast loneliness but also as if secretly calming the characters. The film presents a charming journey of self-discovery for not only the central four characters but also for the hospital staff. When it comes to the four protagonists, it is the polar opposites that make them so similar. Lara wants parents that are present and to not have to live up for their elitist expectations, whereas Alex desires to stop being the parent and having pressure placed upon her to mediate. For Fedja is being bullied and using self-harm as a coping mechanism, as opposed to Timo who bullies and inflicts harm to assert his supremacy. Both struggle with the idea of power and what it means to be a man.

4 Kings is a brilliant film, reminiscent of The Breakfast Club and Girl, Interrupted, creating a portrait of the times when we all feel misunderstood and like we don’t belong. Theresa Von Eltz handles he characters with such care; She gives them strength and in turn gives that strength to the audience as we get to momentarily live vicariously through these characters and their ability to discuss what we all keep so hidden. One thing for certain is they will spend a Christmas together that none of them, nor we in the audience, will ever forget.

4 Kings will screen as part of the Goethe-Institut's German Film Fest, taking place at Paddington's Chauvel Cinema and Leichhardt's Palace Norton Street cinema from November 15th to 29th. Check out the full program of new features, kid- and teen-oriented movies, documentaries, and retro classics via the Goethe-Institut website.