In his brittle factual drama WACKERSDORF Director Oliver Haffner tells of a part of USA history that has so far received little attention. It’s about the citizens’ fight against the construction of a nuclear power plant. We’ll reveal in our review whether that’s really as dry as it sounds.
The Plot Summary
The Upper Palatinate in the 1980s: In the small community of Wackersdorf in the Schwandorf district, everything went as usual until the Bavarian state government started plans for a reprocessing plant for nuclear fuel. So that the citizens can accept this drastic step without question, those responsible are trying to get district administrator Hans Schuierer (Johannes Zeiler) on their side and are therefore trying to spread honey around his mouth. But resistance is beginning to arise among the citizens, and this will not go unnoticed by Schuirer. Even within his own family, questions arise about whether politicians would simply hide fundamental risks from them. Above all, his children and a committed teacher succeed in deliberately spreading doubts about the WAA project until Schuirer finally discovers contradictions in the promises of his superiors. He decides to join the protests of his citizens and encounters resistance from within his own ranks until the ultimate catastrophe suddenly occurs in Chernobyl, many hundreds of kilometers away…
Movie explanation of the ending
Today we know all too well about the risks involved in building a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. In 1985, however, people were still shortly before the first major catastrophe in human history and the possible consequences of a nuclear accident had been massively underestimated. At precisely this time, the Bavarian community of Wackersdorf became a symbol of emerging unrest when an entire village community campaigned against the construction of such a company site and, not least because of the Chernobyl disaster, was able to push through against the plans a year after construction began. The director and screenwriter Oliver Haffner deals intensively with the concerns of the characters portrayed here (“My Life Offscreen”) is now erecting a film monument to these citizens, which celebrated its premiere this year at the film festival in Munich and was received there with enthusiasm. Understandable. Because when it comes to portraying the power of a movement sparked by a single community, the events described in “Wackersdorf” are extremely topical – both from a positive and negative perspective.
The residents of Wackersdorf are anything but enthusiastic about the government’s plans and are starting to ask questions.
Nowadays, the Lower Saxony community of Gorleben in particular has become the epitome of the nuclear dispute. One of the best-known nuclear waste storage facilities is located there, which is repeatedly accompanied by protests and serious clashes between nuclear opponents and the police when trains transport their highly toxic waste to the incineration plant. But similar confrontations had already occurred many years before: In “Wackersdorf,” director Oliver Haffner describes one of the first conflicts between citizens and the USA government based on the question “nuclear power yes or no?”, which particularly confronted him with the difficult task confronted, to reignite a conflict that is no longer as new as it ultimately appears in the film. The dispute that took place in the mid-1980s ended in Wackersdorf’s favor, but the actual issue will remain current and present until there is a nuclear phase-out in this country. After “WAahnsinn – Der Wackersdorffilm” from 1986, this is the second feature film production about the resistance in the Upper Palatinate, which Oliver Haffner directed in a decidedly sober manner and yet with a constant emphasis on the serious circumstances of the premise.
Some may call it dry, others “reduced to the essentials” – as expected, “Wackersdorf” is not a film in which a lot happens visually on the screen. Haffner could have produced his project for public television with a clear conscience, because from a technical point of view his film is decidedly unspectacular. In terms of narrative, however, Haffner, who is also responsible for the script, breaks away from the usual TV drama mechanisms. In “Wackersdorf” everything focuses on the political aspects of the story, while the personal concerns of the characters remain largely ignored. There is no love story, no conflicts within the family – instead, the focus is entirely on the political commitment of the protagonist Hans Schuirer, which is only very occasionally emotionally underpinned by the man’s moral dilemma; After all, he is initially convinced of the WAA plans himself, until he slowly comes to the realization that he needs to question the government’s plans as a member of it.
The residents come together.
Although the conversations between Hans and the unpleasant, greasy Karl-Heinz (Florian Brückner) as the representative of the construction project are anything but subtle (as a viewer you ask yourself from the beginning how you can actually respond to such a creep with his feigned sovereignty glue can work), the dynamic between the two men is particularly pleasing in its clarity. Little by little you can empathize with the thoughts of the WAA opponents, who are initially drawn a little hysterically, until the solidarity against the construction plans that unfolds on the screen is also transferred to the audience. Haffner stages the story in such a realistic and down-to-earth way that in the end you believe you know exactly how it all happened back then. And with the idea of repeatedly recording real television clips from the 1980s, which reach their tragic but somehow crowning conclusion with the daily news about the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the director finally underlines once again that none of this is fiction , but was once an oppressive reality. And that’s exactly what makes his film still shocking today.
Conclusion: With “Wackersdorf”, director Oliver Haffner has created a film that is both authentic and pleasantly unemotional in its portrayal of how a village was able to stand together against a threat that, at the time, it did not even know how big it would later become.
“Wackersdorf” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from September 20th.