REEL Women in East German Film
With our REEL Women in East German Film series, we highlight women’s contributions to DEFA and how their work in cinema intersected with questions of cultural and national identification, gender, race and socialism, and the politics of representation in East Germany during the global Cold War. Whether it’s the characters, the actresses, or the directors, they represent women in pursuit of life goals, personal happiness, or the belief in a better society. They are singers, professionals, workers, mothers, daughters, friends, wives, lovers, and so often they are living at the intersection of their life stations.
“A beautiful, whimsical and at times magical film about love, longing and racism.” —Goethe Institut Montreal.
After German unification: Johanna is a young mother and widow in the little town of Herzsprung, as well as one of the newly-unemployed East Germans forced to live on welfare. She eventually meets and falls in love with a Black man, who is a newcomer to the village and works in a roadside diner. Some people in Johanna’s village are unwilling to accept her new boyfriend and their relationship. Their racism and resentments in the face of economic collapse lead to a dramatic escalation of events.
“You can’t just exist in dreams, but you can’t live without [them] either.” –Lothar Warneke
The fun-loving, 26-year-old architect Franziska Linkerhand (Simone Frost) works for a famous professor. Feeling restrained by her dependence on him, she longs to take risks. After her marriage falls apart, she moves to a small town where she approaches her new life with vigor and idealism. Many of her colleagues have given in to the dictates of economic restrictions and prefabricated apartment blocks; but Franziska hangs onto her ideals and, as in her private life, is not willing to compromise. Based on Brigitte Reimann’s best-selling semi-autobiographical novel, Franziska Linkerhand.
“Gusner's [film portrays] feisty young women who cope cheerfully with the monotony of their demanding work [...].” --Andrea Rinke
Film student Ralf is assigned to document the work of a brigade of six young women workers at NARVA, a Berlin light bulb factory. The team has fun and works well together; but soon tensions between the women become apparent and they pull Ralf into their conflicts. Director Iris Gusner’s biggest hit, this was the only East German film ever to feature so many female protagonists.
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“The place where non-existence threatens absolute meaningfulness, where our existence stands before non-existence—this is our human borderline situation [that is] essential to our being human.” –Lothar Warneke.
Inge (Christine Schorn) is a single mother divorcee in her mid-30s and fully aware of her self-worth and independence. She is a psychologist and involved with a married man. After a routine check-up, Inge learns she may have a malignant lump in her breast and must have a biopsy the following day. In the next 24 hours under enormous psychological pressure, she re-evaluates her relationships and her life. With a powerful, semi-autobiographical script by Helga Schubert, Apprehension is considered by critics to be East Germany’s greatest women's film.
The film bravely discusses the contradictions between official slogans and reality in dealing with refugees.” –film-dienst.de
Twelve-year-old Isabel and her mother, a famous political singer, are Chilean refugees living in the GDR. Isabel and her mother have been living in a new apartment building in East Berlin for six years, as they await news of Isabel’s father, who is still in the underground in Chile. Their East German neighbors initially made an effort to welcome them, but later became more distant. Not even her friendship to the neighbor boy Philip helps Isabel feel at home in the strange country. Almost every day, Isabel sits on the stairs waiting to intercept a letter about her father, from whom she has not heard for many years.
Immediately after the 1973 military coup when Pinochet seized power in Chile, the GDR accepted over 2,000 political refugees. Isabel on the Stairs—in which the lead roles are played by Chilean exiles—describes the experiences of Chileans in GDR exile in the late 1970s. Official positive statements about the presence of Chilean refugees contradicted the realities of life for the expatriates in the GDR. In the 1980s, many Chileans left the GDR for Western Europe or returned home.