Angelika (Senta Berger) and Diallo (Eric Kabongo) from Nigeria. The optimistic young man, who has lost his own family because of Boko Haram, quickly becomes his host family's psychologist / © Warner Bros. Pictures Germany

New film deals humorously with Germany’s ambivalent views on refugees

“Wilkommen bei den Hartmanns” is the first film to humorously deal with Germany’s ambivalent views on refugees. Made with a top cast, the result is hilarious despite its generous dose of clichés.

There’s the posh Munich suburb villa and then there’s the refugee accommodation center in yellow containers. There are those who are confronted with burnout and Botox injections, while the others need to deal with the fact that the Islamist terror movement Boko Haram destroyed their family and community.

In the film “Willkommen bei den Hartmanns” (Welcome to the Hartmanns’), directed by Simon Verhoeven, these two parallel worlds collide.

The storyline can be quickly summarized: The Hartmann family is well-off but deeply unhappy. The mother, Angelika (Senta Berger), is a retired teacher who drinks too much to compensate for her loneliness. The father, Richard (Heiner Lauterbach), refuses to age and regularly runs to his plastic surgeon (Uwe Ochsenknecht), who recommends to simply “chillax.” Then there’s also the daughter, Sophie (Palina Rojinski), an eternal student and unhappy single, and her burnout-plagued brother, Philipp (Florian David Fritz), with his son Basti.

They only start to realize how lost they are once Angelika decides to host a refugee, Diallo (Eric Kabongo), from Nigeria. The open and optimistic young man, who has lost his own family because of Boko Haram, quickly becomes the family’s psychologist. He starts hiding Angelika’s alcohol, fixing Sophie up with his jogging partner Tarek (Elyas M’Barek) and confronts Richard with a hard truth: “You’re an old man.”

All the expected stereotypes

The advantage of a comedy over a documentary or a drama is humor. This film does not skimp on the clichés about both refugees and Germans. From the radical leftist friend of the family in the role of the “do-gooder,” to the “Islamic State” sympathizer living in Diallo’s refugee shelter, without forgetting the neo-Nazis protesting against their presence – they’re all there.

The film plays with Germany’s two contrasting attitudes towards refugees: its willingness to help and its mistrust. These two perspectives even divide the family in the film. Angelika and Sophie welcome Diallo, whereas Richard and Philipp are initially uneasy with him.

It is probably not a coincidence that the film is set in Munich, the city where so many readily welcomed thousands of refugees arriving at the train station in September 2015 with granola bars and teddy bears.

Nine months later, another Bavarian event deeply affected the image of refugees. A 17-year-old Afghan attacked fellow travelers in a train near Würzburg. A video showing him declaring himself a “solider of IS” emerged afterwards. The boy had found a foster family just two weeks before the massacre.

Revisiting integration

In the film, Diallo has a positive effect on the Hartmann family. Despite Hollywood-style simplifications, it does reflect the fact that numerous German families have decided to host refugees in their homes.

For example, the family Leusch in Bonn says that their 17-year-old foster son from Afghanistan is now part of the family. “We have discovered a new family culture, we play more games and spend more time talking to each other in the evening,” says the father, Patrick Leusch.

Although “Willkommen bei den Hartmanns” doesn’t deal as subtly with the issue as other similar-themed films, such as “Welcome to Norway,” it still might encourage people to reflect on integration and their readiness to help others. 

“We Germans are still so goddamn inhibited about our own identity, even though we are a free, tolerant and great country,” Tarek says at one point, the character played by the popular actor Elyas M’Barek. The comedy suggests that the refugee crisis is an opportunity for Germans to reflect on their identity and their values – and ends on a happy note.

© Deutsche Welle

“Willkommen bei den Hartmanns” opened on 3 November in German cinemas.


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