Fack ju Göhte is the most successful film in Germany in 2013. Does that mean anything? Probably not, as success is rarely in conjunction with quality when it comes to movies (or anything). The movie is something like a school comedy, which might be a reason why it is so beloved by students since they enjoy laughing about school. But the plot is… you can’t even call it absurd because it so obviously is just an excuse for the movie to get a bank robber into a school posing as a teacher – that’s the “gimmick” of the movie and the plot behind it (that his bait money is buried under the school) is not believable for a second. Does the movie work? It’s difficult for me to say. My expectations were very low and the movie was better than I had thought. But it wasn’t great. It has its moments but the style of comedy, a sort of constant noisy, over-the-top, aggressive humor, is hard to bear at first, but you get used to it. The characters are mostly clichés, but they are allowed to have some depth at times and even some growth, more or less. Some of the humor works too. The movie strangely grows on you over time, if you don’t think about it too much. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it didn’t hurt to watch it.
If I do think about the movie, two things come up that I want to look into. The first one is obvious, because how could I not talk about school? How is school shown here? It’s basically hell. All the teachers are disillusioned or suicidal, the students don’t care about school and play tricks on the teachers, the headmaster is just barely managing to hold everything together and parents don’t exist. It’s funny since it’s not so far from reality but it’s still extremely exaggerated. It’s in fact so much over the top that it doesn’t work as a satire anymore. You don’t think about it because it seems so far away from reality, which is not necessarily bad, but it’s a missed opportunity. No one will go: “So, that’s what is wrong with school!” Maybe it even plays into the assumption that this is how school is supposed to be and that there is no other way, which would be even worse.
But this wouldn’t be a school if not for a teacher who does things different and is beloved by all his students. Yes, this is anothertrope and sometimes it works (like, when it inspires you to become a teacher) and sometimes it doesn’t. The teacher here is Zeki Müller (Elyas M’Barek), the ex-con who becomes the fake teacher. He gets the worst class in school, full of failures, and turns them around eventually, making them attentive and successful in the end. How? First, he shouts at them, is mean, shoots them with a paint gun (that’s the most effective method) and insults them constantly. There are many teachers like this (except for the paint gun) and usually, they are no fun. They are authoritative but not in the traditional, old-fashioned way but basically by being assholes, who like to humiliate their students. Later on, Zeki changes his concept and also shows them the “real life” of gangsters and junkies to destroy their gangster life illusions (which is actually an interesting idea) and then he… no, wait, that’s it. He changes of course, from not caring because he just wants to have his money to really caring because they look up to him. The way the movie presents this development is not believable since they go from kids who can’t write to kids who enjoy and understand Schiller and Goethe. Overconfident much? It’s clear that the movie has to get to the point where the students start to learn something and succeed, and since subtlety is not one of the movie’s strengths, you can’t expect any realistic teaching concept. But I found the idea why they became better, boils down to: just because. And because he is such a jerk to them. I have to come back to that because jerkism is not a trait students favor. Very recently I saw a teacher being a real jerk to his students and it was very unpleasant to see. Being demeaning, sexist and racist is not exactly cool (I can’t go into any details here because my name is on this blog, so I have to be careful). Of course you can make jokes and if you have a good relationship with your students they appreciate that because they know you don’t really dislike them, which the movie somehow makes clear later on.
It works well enough in the movie because the opposite is his colleague and naturally his love interest Elisabeth ‘Lisi’ Schnabelstedt (Karoline Herfurth, who falls victim to the First Law of Funny Names: “Funny names, in general, are a sign of desperation at the screenplay level.”). She is always overcorrect and adheres to the rules, so she is constantly mocked by everyone. She becomes cooler throughout the movie (mainly by spraying graffiti on a train), but the contrast between her and Zeki is what makes him look so much cooler. The other boring teachers help too.
All in all, it’s a weird portrayal of school as it criticizes and romanticizes it at the same time. School sucks terribly but all students can become amazing in a few weeks! Again, the main problem is that the movie doesn’t know what it thinks about school, it just wants people to laugh. Which is fine and all but, oh well…
The other thing I wanted to talk about is the portrayal of women in this movie. Zeki is also a jerk to women, which seems to be an attractive thing since Lisi falls for him pretty fast although he treats her like dirt for most of the movie. Which is not so unusual for romantic comedies but what I found especially disquieting was that he continued to do that after they got together in the end. I don’t remember the exact things he says but right before the end, she dresses up for a school dance and, surprise, she was beautiful all along. Again, fine, but then he looks at her with big eyes and she says: “Don’t think you can kiss me now” except that he interrupts her mid-sentence to grab and kiss her. Maybe it doesn’t sound as bad as it looked but it continued the whole “I’m a man and I tell you what to do” theme that ran throughout the movie.
Another female character is Charlie (poor Jana Pallaske) who is a prostitute and a friend of Zeki. Her characterization switches between scenes: sometimes she’s the dumbest person in the world, but then she says the wittiest things in the whole movie. She also continuously offers Zeki blowjobs as if it's the most casual thing. I know it’s supposed to be funny, but this really made me cringe. At one point, Zeki brings Lisi’s teenage sister to her, so she can make her more attractive because “a hooker knows how to look attractive.” Her character was not necessary and very troubling.
The strangest thing about the misogyny in this movie was its casualness. Of course Zeki treats women badly but, hey, he has a heart of gold, so it’s okay. No one cares. Of course Charlie offers her body to him for free, but, hey, she means it well, so that’s okay too.
I wonder what the inevitable sequel will do with both the concept of school and the treatment of women. Which doesn’t mean I will run to a cinema to see it, but I’m sure in a couple of years a class begs me (as it was with this one) to watch it with them before the holidays because “it’s the best movie ever!” And maybe it will be.