It is a historical account of the 20th century and how both WWII and the division of Europe split and affected individual families.
The family portrayed in Sons has a highly dramatic history, rooted in the historical events. The ‘sons’ are five Polish/German brothers. Before WWII their mother and father lived in a nice house in Poland with their four sons, but the Second World War split up the family. The father was sent to war and killed and the mother fled to Germany with the two eldest sons. The two youngest were left behind in Poland, but right after the war ended in 1945, she returned on a dangerous journey to Poland to find them. She was arrested and imprisoned for eight months. After her release she apparently found the youngest son, Rainer, and returned to Germany with him, and did not find her next to youngest son until 1955. Much later they discovered that the Rainer she brought back was not her biological son after all, since they had been in touch with the ‘real’ Rainer who lived in a Polish family. He joined his biological family eventually becoming five brothers instead of four.
Volker Koepp sets the scene at a big Chestnut tree in the park of their childhood home. The five brothers have travelled together to their place of birth and this is where the film starts down memory lane. The scene sets the tone of the film, the warm but quiet relationship among the brothers and their search for roots in a turbulent life. Their conversation with one of their old neighbours reveals that their family story is complicated, that there is something different about the fifth son.
After that opening sequence their whole family history is told little by little by the five brothers. Each of them filmed at home with his own family tells bits of their life story. This is edited together to form the whole film, interwoven with segments from their trip together back to the childhood home, including shots of landscapes and dramatic skies.
It is like listening to a story being told at a tranquil pace. The viewer gets drawn deeper and deeper into this fascinating story and longs to hear more. Koepp asks the brothers questions that get them to reflect on their identity, how one’s identity is formed by having ties to several nationalities, to having such a turbulent upbringing, the emotional impacts of feeling abandoned, and how it has shaped their lives.
This is a premium work in its genre, a solid, well-formed film about a personalised piece of European history.