“The smart ones fight back.” It’s a motto that Lukas, the 15-year-old protagonist in the film Sun and Concrete (Sonne und Beton), quickly learns. Lukas and his friends, Gino, Julius and Sanchez, don’t fight without good reason. But in Gropiusstadt, the high-rise housing estate in the south of Neukölln, it’s hard to keep out of trouble. Things take a turn when Lukas gets a bloody nose, but that turns out to be the least of the boys’ problems. There are girls to impress and alcoholic fathers, drug dealers and police with bones to pick. The teens want to escape it all, but how can you when you’ve scarcely enough money to go swimming? Rarely has a German film portrayed growing up in social housing so honestly and with such humor. Following its world premiere at the Berlinale, Sun and Concrete is being released nationwide today. The film avoids the superficiality you see in lesser Tatort episodes and manages not to replicate Romain Gavras’s inner city drama “Athena”, a film which deals with many of the same themes. This freshness is thanks to the source material: Felix Lobrecht’s 2017 novel of the same name, which he adapted for the screen with director David Wnendt.
The film’s dialog is authentic, as are the locations. Lobrecht himself grew up in Gropiusstadt with a single father and two siblings. Today he fills stadiums as a stand-up comedian and co-hosts one of Germany’s most popular podcasts, talking openly about his Neukölln youth. Sun and Concrete is less about Lobrecht reckoning with his own childhood and more about shedding light on similar places that exist all over the country – where the kids wear Picaldi jeans, drink Cherry Coke at the kiosk and smoke weed in their bedrooms. The fact that the film strikes the right balance between social study and coming-of-age drama is down to the good casting – above all Levy Rico Arcos, who makes his cinema debut as Lukas. Jörg Hartmann puts in a strong performance as Lukas’ father, as does the excellent Franziska Wulf as Sanchez’s mother. They’re joined by many familiar faces from the Berlin rap scene, among them Lucio101, Juju, B-Tight and Luvre47, who provides the title song. Sun and Concrete is a film about youth, friendship, and a love (of sorts) for Gropiusstadt. This affection is confirmed in the credits, where everyone – from participants to extras – gets a credit. It’s as warming as when, well, the sun hits concrete…
Text: Laura Storfner / Photos: © Constantin Film Verleih
Sun and Concrete (Sonne und Beton) is released in cinemas today (02.03.2023)