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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Big Girls Don't Cry: SE (2002)

"So now I'm next on your list, right? But you know what? I don't care. I'm not scared of you. I don't like you anymore."
- Kati (Anna Maria Mühe)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: November 11, 2003

Stars: Anna Maria Mühe, Karoline Herfurth, Josefine Domes, David Winter, Tillbert Strahl-Schäfer, Stefan Kurt, Nina Petri, Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Matthias Brandt, Teresa Harder, Dieter Laser
Director: Maria von Heland

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, language, drug use and some violence—all involving teens
Run Time: 01h:31m:33s
Release Date: September 23, 2003
UPC: 043396007062
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Without question, Big Girls Don't Cry is one of the finest movies I've seen in recent months. Directed with energy, sensitivity, and plenty of flair by rising German star Maria von Heland, this disturbing but compelling portrait of modern teen culture just might inspire parents everywhere to keep their daughters under house arrest until they turn 21. I know I'm seriously considering it.

With unflinching realism, the film pushes the envelope of adolescent angst as it follows the rocky relationship of best friends Kati (Anna Maria Mühe) and Steffi (Karoline Herfurth) through a maze of family trials and individual tribulations. Self-obsessed, thirsting for independence, and consumed by raging hormones, the two teens deny their emotional immaturity and proceed with the kind of life they think they desire. Like pigs going to the slaughter, the girls march their grown-up bodies into a host of grown-up situations while their little girl brains feverishly struggle to keep pace. And after jumping into this adult pool of sex, drugs, and Machiavellian manipulations, they flail about and try not to drown in the consequences.

Both girls hail from Berlin's west side and yearn to escape their claustrophobic families. Kati relishes pushing her mother's buttons and brazenly defying house rules, while the more affluent Steffi roams unsupervised, thanks to her parents' demanding jobs. Yet when Steffi spies her father kissing another woman in a local club, the revelation shatters her idyllic world. With icy ruthlessness, she devises an elaborate scheme to punish her dad's mistress by befriending the woman's daughter, Tessa (Josefine Domes), and then leading her horribly astray. At the same time, Kati begins a risky relationship with an older man, but her disillusionment over Steffi's guiltless behavior begins to drive a wedge between the two friends just when they need each other the most.

While parents of young girls (of which I am one) might cringe at Kati and Steffi's conduct, Big Girls Don't Cry honestly portrays the dangers that lurk around every corner, and how easily and quickly events can snowball out of control. Bombarded by stimuli they're ill equipped to handle, and hoping to hasten the coming-of-age process, the girls fall victim to their own feelings of invincibility and bogus maturity. As hard as their parents try to rein them in and set boundaries, the film proves they're often powerless in the face of such indomitable adolescent will. It also teaches that sometimes kids need to make their own mistakes, however disastrous, before they can move another step forward on the road to adulthood. Will they complete the journey? Sure—if it doesn't kill them first.

Mühe and Herfurth both give such natural performances it's sometimes easy to mistake Big Girls Don't Cry for a documentary. Their cute faces and giggly attitudes remind us of the way our own kids look and often act, which makes their characters' choices all the more frightening. Of course, it's equally frightening that Mühe could produce such a richly textured portrayal in her film debut—such top-notch work by an untrained actress is extraordinary. Herfurth also impresses, and the supporting cast of teens and adults all strike just the right tone, adding to the story's utter believability.

The real star, however, is von Heland, who directs her own perfectly pitched (and at times wickedly funny) screenplay with the same bold swagger as the teens she's depicting. The active camera work keeps the film fresh and exciting, yet never possesses the kind of gimmicky, self-conscious flavor so typical among brash young directors. Music video influences, though palpable, aren't overdone and fit the material well, while the film's lush, colorful look nicely mirrors the girls' inherent innocence.

The mark of a truly great movie is often that feeling of not wanting it to end, of wishing we could hang on to the characters and continue tagging along on their adventures. Big Girls Don't Cry made me sad to leave the lives of Kati and Steffi, despite all their shocking behavior. Maria von Heland's cautionary tale gives parents in any country a lot to process and digest, but she dilutes the medicine with striking visuals and a commanding style—just two of the many elements that make her film an unqualified triumph.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Recent films generally spawn solid transfers, but Columbia's effort here exceeds expectations. The image bursts with beautifully saturated colors and exceptional clarity, with nary a speck or blemish to be found. Fleshtones are true and natural looking, and both interior and exterior scenes exhibit good contrast and depth. Yet despite the crisp look, the transfer's smooth lines, terrific shadow detail and lack of edge enhancement help maintain a warm, film-like feel throughout. Kati especially glows, and her rosy complexion, cream-colored skin and strawberry blonde hair are captured to perfection. Although she's been around the block, the disc nicely conveys Kati's deceptive innocence and hammers home just how young these teenagers really are.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Big Girls Don't Cry features possibly the most active and enveloping audio track for a dialogue-driven drama I've ever heard. Filled with depth, range, and complexity, the DD 5.1 German-language track provides crystal clear sound and ample opportunity for the surrounds to shine. Consistent (and often amazingly subtle) ambient effects add atmosphere and draw the viewer further into the film, while the broad use of upbeat pop songs offer robust sonic enhancements. This is a truly impressive mix, but the potency never overwhelms the on-screen action or distracts from the story at hand.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Seeing Double, Taboo
8 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 00h:54m:25s

Extra Extras:
  1. Cast and crew interviews
  2. Photo gallery
Extras Review: Foreign films usually wind up shafted in the extras department, but the relatively short running time of Big Girls Don't Cry leaves plenty of disc space for special features. Columbia maximizes this opportunity and provides a decent collection of supplemental material. Leading off are eight deleted scenes, three of which would have added more comic flavor, while two help to further flesh out Steffi's parents. All were properly left on the cutting room floor, but are fun to view nonetheless. Especially noteworthy is the final deleted scene, which looks like an alternate ending—a weak sequence featuring an anemic pop song that, if allowed to remain, would have trivialized the depth of preceding scenes.

Next up is the best kind of behind-the-scenes featurette—one that's composed entirely of raw footage. The format gives the viewer a more realistic sense of the production process without all the puffy inter-cut interviews that so often suck the substance from similar pieces. The 7-minute backstage pass shows director von Heland setting up shots, conferring with associates, directing the actors, teaching dance moves, and devising a scene on the fly. We also see snippets of scenes as they're being photographed and gain an appreciation for the severely fractured art of motion picture production.

The Interviews section offers separate edited chats (totaling 13 minutes) with von Heland and the film's three lead actresses—Anna Maria Mühe, Karoline Herfurth, and Josefine Domes. All the interviews are worth a look, but von Heland provides the most interesting and substantive comments. The writer-director discusses the vast number of interviews she conducted with individual teens before she began writing the screenplay, touches upon the brutality of the teen years, and rhapsodizes about working with Mühe and Herfurth. The three actresses talk about their characters, with Mühe offering additional insights into her audition process and nude scene.

A photo gallery (featuring 17 color images), filmographies, and three trailers complete the tidy supplement collection.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

A masterpiece of cinematic style and subtlety, Big Girls Don't Cry tells an affecting, realistic coming-of-age story with warmth, humor and uncompromising grit. Marvelous performances by a young cast and dazzling direction and writing by Maria von Heland make this German film a bona fide must-see. Decked out with superb video and audio transfers and a spate of worthy extras, this disc earns our top recommendation.


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