And Tomorrow the Entire World, Julia von Heinz’s topical drama about antifascist activists, was Germany’s entry in the best international feature category at this year’s Oscars, although it didn’t make the final shortlist. The film offers a critique of Germany’s Antifa movement while acknowledging their necessity, as white supremacy slithers out from under its rock across Europe and elsewhere. The title is taken from a line in “Es zittern die morschen Knochen,” the official song of the Hitler Youth, and is seemingly used here as a warning about history repeating itself. But while the film’s discussion of violent versus non-violent resistance is deftly handled, And Tomorrow the Entire World is a frustrating piece of work, one that is timid in explicitly stating some of its arguments and featuring a protagonist — teenage activist Luisa — to whom it is difficult to warm.
Director/co-writer von Heinz was an antifascist activist herself in the 1990s and has described And Tomorrow the Entire World as her most personal film, but how much of it is autobiographical isn’t clear. Luisa (Mala Emde), a first-year law student from an upper-class family, moves into an antifascist commune — known as P81 — in the centre of Mannheim in southwest Germany. Despite her conservative upbringing, she becomes ever-more reckless and radicalised, a process accelerated after meeting Alfa (Noah Saavedra as the “Alpha male,” presumably), the commune’s resident heartthrob whose politics seem informed more by the opportunities for sex and violence they afford him than actual ideology.
A tactical fissure soon erupts within P81 between those who advocate for non-violence (such as Luisa’s bland best pal Batte, portrayed by Luisa-Céline Gaffron) and the likes of Alfa, who believes in physically confronting fascists regardless of the consequences. Luisa chooses Alfa’s side, but it’s unclear if she’s for real or if her actions are inspired by some combination of rebelling against her stuffy parents and impressing Alfa to whom she is clearly attracted. And because the audience can’t necessarily trust Luisa’s motivations, it’s difficult to take her seriously, even after she’s twice injured in incidents involving fights with white supremacists.
Although Emde works hard to give her character depth, Luisa is one of the film’s main problems. She doesn’t really work as an audience’s point-of-view character because her own life is just as removed from most people’s experience as that of an Antifa activist (her mum and dad own a huge, ivy-covered country mansion). Why exactly does she have these politics? Luisa is never given an “origin story” or any particular motivation, so it’s difficult to properly engage with her, and she remains a puzzle box of contradictions throughout (as well as being a wealthy radical, she’s a vegetarian who skins and guts the animals her parents kill on a hunting trip). It’s possible there may be something in her family’s past that is responsible for her views and building rage, but, if that’s the case, von Heinz keeps it to herself. This isn’t a film that is particularly interested in interrogating modern German teenagers’ attitudes to the Third Reich, and it’s only mentioned once, when Alfa points out that more violent resistance to the Nazis in 1933 “wouldn’t have hurt”.
Von Heinz uses Luisa as a way of critiquing the racial make-up of the P81 crew, who are almost entirely white. There is much talk of defending and supporting refugees, but they never appear on screen and the few people of color involved with the group are peripheral characters with few, if any, lines of dialogue. There’s a nicely-written scene in which Luisa — driving her parents’ car and dressed in her mother’s second-hand tweeds — uses her class and color to avoid trouble after being pulled over by the police, but exploration of this subject is a double-edged sword. On the one hand pointing out the #antifatoowhite nature of the P81 crowd is perfectly legitimate, but it also serves to trivialise them, threatening to make the film little more than a rich white girl’s coming-of-age story.
For all the activists’ fevered activity, And Tomorrow the Entire World completely sidesteps the exploration of political ideas and ideology beyond the simple urge to thump Nazis or argue with racists (as Luisa and Batte do in their law class). It’s hard to believe that no one in an actual political commune ever discusses Marxism, anarchism, feminism, nor any combination of them. Political theory is entirely absent in a place where it would surely be front and centre, and undermines any claim the film might have to authenticity.
Indeed, when such ideas are discussed at all, it’s all kept frustratingly vague. The audience is introduced to Dietmar (Andreas Lust), a former revolutionary now living under the radar after he “blew something up in Frankfurt” and went to prison for five years. He talks about the “big picture” and dismisses the protagonists’ activism as providing “simple answers to complex problems” but is never allowed to expound on any of it. In fact, von Heinz uses clumsy symbolism (a dead wasp under an upturned glass, a bag of chips past their expiry date) to paint him very much as “yesterday’s man” who is trapped by his past.
But Dietmar’s words have resonance later in the film, and it’s a pity that von Heinz doesn’t seek to make it more explicit. In Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s black comedy The Third Generation (1979), he points out that extremism and terrorism are actually useful to government because they give it an excuse to increase repression and restrict freedoms. It’s an idea von Heinz runs with in And Tomorrow the Entire World. P81 are “at war” with fascists, but at the same time are under siege from a police force that raids the commune, arrests its inhabitants and oversteps legal boundaries to prosecute them. The state will almost always be more dangerous than a gaggle of tooled-up skinheads because it has the power to permanently screw up your life, and it is this “bigger picture” to which Dietmar alludes.
Von Heinz uses lots of short, sharp edits to give her film a nervy, restless quality that perfectly chimes with the fact these characters spend much of their time on edge, especially towards the end when the stakes are raised with the theft of explosives from a Nazi storeroom. The quickfire cuts also imbue And Tomorrow the Entire World with effective pacing, something that is particularly useful early on as the director has to quickly introduce viewers to a host of different characters, relationships and settings. The film’s action set-pieces, including a night-time pitched battle between Antifa and Nazis, are kinetically thrilling and well-choreographed, its depiction of protests and activism “in the field” believably staged.
The fascists themselves — the usual melange of shaved heads and snarling faces — are mostly glimpsed through binoculars, in photographs or recorded on phones. Towards the end, though, Luisa shows up at a sparsely attended far-right gig, a singer strumming a guitar while crooning a vile racist song about smashing immigrants against a wall. She heads down to the front and stares at him and those who sing and dance close by, searching for a spark of humanity amidst the hatred to convince her they can be reasoned with (“People can change,” another P81 activist had told her earlier). Deciding no, she turns away in disgust as if emerging from an open sewer. It’s a genuinely powerful moment in a film that could have used a few more of them.
Andy Winter (@andywinter1) has worked in British magazines and newspapers for more than two decades. He has previously written about film for The Digital Fix and Film Inquiry. You’ll find more of his writing at the website andywinter.online.