4 Könige (aka 4 Kings) | German Film Festival Review

A couple of weekends back I had the excuse I needed to catch up with my adopted granny, an art-house screening of 4 KÖNIGE (aka 4 KINGS). A Sunday morning screening in Paddington of one of the headlining films from the 2016 German Film Festival. The peeps from the Goethe Institut were launching the program guide for the 2016 festival and were throwing on a spread of champagne and German pastries at brunchtime Sunday. I was all over it. The 2016 German Film Festival runs from November 15th to 30th in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra. And while it was an excuse to take yee olde bestie out for the morning it was much more than a catch up, it was an eye opener to some sublime movies screening at this year’s festival.

Check out the trailer below for the festival – it is worth grabbing tickets to. I saw one of the films and will be heading in to catch a few others.




4 KINGS follows four institutionalised adolescents who are in a psychiatric emergency unit over the Christmas period. All polar opposites in their differences as individuals and ailments the four of them must learn to live with each other, the staff and their unconventional doctor.

Lara is in because of what I would imagine is some troubling mummy issues and because she can’t cope with her head up their asses parents so acts out in unacceptable ways. Most would just call this uncontrollable ADD. Alex is in because of the emotional hold her parents use against her and their marriage break up. She did something bad to herself because of her predicament. Fedja is a patient because of the uncontrollable bullying he faced at school and Timo is in because of uncontrollable aggression and violence be perpetuates as a result from further parental issues.


4 Könige Lara (Jella Haase) image



I bloody loved this movie, I was sold on seeing this by the above picture of Jella Haase holding a cardboard penis. It looked fun haha. I am also nearly always surprised by the greatness of foreign films that do not have the shackles of Hollywood filmmaking. Story tends to come through and original ideas are expressed. And so it was with 4 KINGS. A movie too dark to be indulged by a mainstream audience and at times often hopeless for a happy outcome.

4 KINGS never spells it out for you and to be honest you never really find out the depth of the cause of why these teens are in the institution. You pick up enough to let you know they need to be here but the cause of their arrival is not paramount. Where they are in terms of treatment in this stage of their institutionalisation is however.

4 KINGS is stunningly shot, the location is remote, it is bleak but it has an underlying beauty, just like the patients. The chemistry of the cast is phenomenal and the cast themselves give probably the best ensemble acting of the year for me.

It is the films ability to not spell it all out for you that I found the most appealing, more is explained on screen in 4 KINGS by saying less. It is purely performance based and facial expression and acting show more than you need to know.


This is director Theresa von Eltz’s first feature and she delivers a movie worthy of awards. Christmas is hard for a lot of people and this takes a look at a sad bunch of youth for whom Christmas must be painful. All the youths are so different in their life but they briefly grab a sublime moment of joy together. A moment of normalcy that has a tiny sprinkle of Christmas spirit in it. But it is only a moment and the reality of the situation is that this not a Hollywood movie, some drinks and fun together will not heal all wounds.


4 Kings lead cast image



I cannot fault the performances in the slightest. Every one of the leads is punching way above their weight in this movie and they all deliver, they even make it look easy. I do not know any of them, however from left to right in the above pic………..


Paula Beer’s Alex is a tormented individual. Following her parent’s break-up her mother uses emotional blackmail from her own depression to keep a hold over Alex. Threatening suicide if Alex stays with her father is an endless battle, so much so, in the lead up to Christmas Alex throws herself out of her father’s moving car to make it all stop. Alex is between a rock and a hard place and feels the need to be her mother’s emotional support. She is drained to the point of being mentally lost and needs to be free from her parents.


Mortiz Leu’s Fredja is a tormented soul. Afraid of pretty much everything from consistent beatings and bullying in his school he is petrified of anything that looks at him. Leu reminds me of a younger Adam Driver and his performance is on par with anything Driver has done. It is the loudest and most in your face of the group, Lara, who is determined to get inside Fredja’s head and bring him out into the group – it is also the comic relief at some well needed moments. Speaking of Lara, Jella Haase’s performance as Lara is sublime. Over the top, full of life and passion for everything, but too boisterous for her conservative parents who have pushed her to the boundary of mental stability.

4 Könige Dr Wolff (Clemens Schick) and Timo (Jannis Niewöhner) image



Of the patients, last, but not least, is Timo, performed by Jannis Niewöhner. Timo is never truly explained. He is the dark horse, the one violent patient that Dr. Wolff thinks he can help in this place as opposed to a locked up and more heavily regimented institute. From what I can garner Timo had an incredibly violent and possibly alcoholic mother who beat Timo and completely controlled Timo’s father. The constant beating has left the very physically built Timo on a very short rage fuse, when lit he can’t calm down and he has violent outbursts. Niewöhner nails the performance, under the rage is a soft and tormented soul. 

Clemens Schick, as Dr. Wolff, is probably the most known actor in the movie. Schick has has been in CASINO ROYALE, POINT BREAK (hideous remake) and ENEMY AT THE GATES, to name his U.S. outings. He provides a good adult presence in the youth’s life. My only negative in the film is probably that Dr. Wolff’s involvement with the patients was a little too lacking and generic than it could have been. It lacked the emotional bond I would have preferred, the Doctor was a little too professional and cold than necessary. The character needed some more development.

And special mention must be given to Anneke Kim Sarnau as Schwester Simone. A woman you will hate by the end of the movie and for that she does a remarkable job. He character stuck with me because she is not to blame but to some extent I have to blame her.


4 Könige Alex (Paula Beer) and Timo (Jannis Niewöhner) image



4 KINGS is a surprising work of brilliance, it is successful because of its cast and its ability to let them tell the story. More is said in the movie through saying less and while everything briefly becomes fun and games the movie does tell us that this doesn’t make everything peaches and cream. 4 KINGS will make my Top 20 of 2016 and I highly recommend a viewing and getting tickets to the German Film Festival. Auf Wiedersehen.


4 and a Half Pops





Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan.

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.