Follow your dreams! It may sound like a Hollywood cliché, but what’s a fourteen-year-old orphaned Sorb peasant to do? Currently showing in German cinemas, “Krabat” is the first film version of Otfried Preußler’s 1971 novel of an old Sorbian tale whose eponymous protagonist is a beggar boy in the eastern Saxony of the early 1700s. Krabat is plagued by dreams of an old watermill outside the tiny hamlet of Schwarzkollm, which seems to be operational though farmers never bring grain to be milled.
Above, peaceful Schwarzkollm; below, the suspicious mill.
Heeding the call of his dreams, Krabat (played by David Kross) pays a visit to the mill and meets the creepy old one-eyed miller Goodman (played by Christian Redl). The miller offers to take on Krabat as an apprentice and the lad, being an orphan and not having anything better to do, gladly agrees.
Joining the secret brotherhood of journeymen and apprentices, it turns out this guild’s skill is not milling but magic — and black magic at that.
Bereft of kin, Krabat now finds himself a new family in the form of his fellow apprentices and the brotherhood’s craft seems, at first, innocent enough: learning to turn himself into a raven and that sort of thing.
The senior apprentice Tonda is played by Daniel Brühl, best known to international audiences as the main character in the excellent depiction of Ostalgie “Goodbye Lenin!”, and as the German officer Horstmayer in the muddle-headed First-World-War flick Joyeux Noël. (Perhaps worthy of mention is his small role as the brother of Franka Potente’s character in The Bourne Ultimatum).
Tonda becomes a best friend and older-brother figure to Krabat but mysteriously dies in an ostensible accident on New Year’s Eve during Krabat’s first year at the mill. The lad’s raised suspicions are only confirmed by the death of another apprentice friend exactly a year later.
Things get a little crazy from thereon in, as Krabat is determined to exact retribution for the death of his friends, and gets help from a local girl who sings in the church choir (played by Anna Thalbach, who’s also in the much-discussed Der Baader Meinhof Komplex currently showing).
While the tale is centuries old, Preußler’s novel is certainly intended to speak to readers of the twentieth century and beyond. Preußler, a native of Reichenberg in Bohemia, was in his twenties during the Second World War and served as an officer in the Wehrmacht fighting the Soviets on the Eastern Front. Krabat deals with young people’s complicated fascination with an alluring evil power, and posits that only Love is strong enough to overcome Evil. These larger themes aside, this might be the first major motion picture to depict life among the Sorbs of old, an intriguing and interesting people who seem to fade further and further into the pages of history with each passing generation.
Easter Eve among the Sorbs.
Krabat: “Everything in this world has its price.”