Totalitarian regimes cannot afford to let children grow up to be free-thinkers, so they try to beat them into obedience while they are still children. That means schools are more often a place of indoctrination than education. Young Fritzi becomes the focus of her teacher’s wrath through no fault of her own. However, history is on her side in Matthias Bruhn & Ralf Kukula’s animated feature, Fritzi: A Revolutionary Tale, which screens during the 2020 New York International Film Festival.
Fritzi and her best friend Sophie are so close, they are almost like sisters. That is nearly as true for their mothers, so Fritzi and her family agree without hesitation to look after Sophie’s dog Sputnik while she and her mom vacation in Hungary. They had heard reports that the Hungarian border was becoming rather porous during the summer of 1989, but they never gave it much thought until Sophie fails to return for the start of class.
Their venomous teacher, Ms. Liesegang openly condemns Sophie for abandoning the socialist state in class, but Fritzi naively defends her friend. That immediately puts her on the outs with Liesegang and the school’s Young Pioneer enforcers. Soon, only Bela, the hipster son of democracy activist parents will talk to her. Fritzi still does not fully understand the hypocrisy and oppression of the East German system, but she will learn the hard way when she innocently attempts to find her way to the Federal Republic, to reunite Sophie and Sputnik.
This is 1989, so there is a happy ending waiting for Fritzi, but getting there will not be easy. Along the way, she gets swept up in the Monday Demonstrations at St. Nicholas, first as an inadvertent bystander, but eventually as an active participant. Of course, we know where it is all headed, but Beate Volcker’s adaptation of Hannah Schott & Peter Palatsik children’s novel vividly captures the hope, fear, and uncertainty of the era. They also manage to shoehorn a girl-and-her-dog story into the grand historical events of 1989 quite nicely.
Bruhn & Kukula’s animation is not particularly sophisticated, but Sputnik is sufficiently cute and Fritzi and her classmates all look and speak like young teens. More importantly, they manage to agilely walk a fine line, maintaining a tone appropriate for young viewers, while concretely establishing the very real danger Fritzi and her family face.
Fritzi is a smart and sensitive animated film that is grounded in real history. It is exactly the kind of film young people should see, because they will relate to it as pure entertainment, while it tells some important lessons. Highly recommended for viewers of all ages, (especially seventysomethings running for president), Fritzi: A Revolutionary Tale screens this Saturday (2/29), the next Saturday (3/7), and the following Saturday (3/14), as part of this year’s NYICFF.