The words “German comedy” still seem self-contradictory, but unlike the possibly overpraised and definitely overlong Toni Erdmann, Sam Garbarski’s Bye Bye Germany has the good sense to clock in under two hours. Being a story of con men and the unreliability of memory, it’s also the best German-language film Joel and Ethan Coen never made, even going so far as to kick off a title card announcing that it’s a true story — uh-huh — and that “what isn’t entirely true is nonetheless correct.”
In a bombed-out Frankfurt in 1946, Jewish businessman David Bermann (Moritz Bleibtreu) and fellow Holocaust survivors are eager to emigrate to America, and they concoct an elaborate scheme to sell overpriced linens to the Germans to raise the funds. Their fleece-fleecing caper goes well enough, until questions arise about Bermann’s activities during the war — including inquiries specifically asked of him by comely American officer Sara Simon (Antje Traue). Although the romantic subplot between Bermann and Simon is largely unnecessary, Bye Bye Germany is otherwise fun and snappily paced, striking a balance between screwball and darkness worthy of Ernst Lubitsch. The exterior settings also feel quite real, raising a question: Where do recent films set in postwar Germany like this and Phoenix find such authentic-looking ruins to film in, anyway?
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.