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A few things that spring to mind when thinking about German cinema are bleak set design, cold characters and unnerving themes. The 11th annual German film festival looks to be an example of just how diverse cinema from Germany and Switzerland can be, with the festival’s new director, Dr Arpad Sölter focusing on films involving dramatic twists and intriguing self-revelations. Presented by the Goethe-Institute and German Films, the fortnight is always a refreshing constant in the international film festival calendar.

I must admit, I have become a bit of a Germanophile of late. It isn’t surprising that the exquisitely intricate plot detail and emotional explorations of characters in the films set the festure this year inspired me, particularly the gripping Cracks in the Shell, which follows the psychological turmoil of a young acting student in Berlin who is cast to play a modern day Camille. The captivating Danish actress Stine Fischer Christensen depicts an understated beauty who is emotionally tortured by her obsessive and sadistic director, and finally cracks under the pressure.

Another film examining youth, anxiety and the ambiguous liberty of choice is Combat Girls, a scary and original tale about an angry young woman in East Germany who happens to be a Neo-Nazi. The Good Neighbour is a psychological thriller about a journalist who is involved in a hit and run accident, leading him to become a pawn in a thrilling game of cat and mouse. Other highlights include Colour of the Ocean about African refugees on the Cayman Islands, a provocative drama involving an unusual ménage a trois, Three, and a follow-up to the play on Sex and the City that was a hit at the festival two years ago, Men in the City 2.

The Sydney season of the festival will commence with a screening of Hotel Lux, a satire set in Moscow in the 1930s about a cabaret actor who finds himself stranded in a hotel and pose as Hitler’s personal astrologer. The opening night party at the Chauvel will be complemented by other special events, including a talk with the film’s director, Leander Haubmann.

Apr 18–30, Chauvel Cinema, cnr Oxford St & Oatley Rd, Paddington & Palace Norton Street Cinema, 99 Norton St, Leichardt, $11-50, goethe.de/australia