Seeking Transformation: The Films of Siegfried Kühn
University of Massachusetts Amherst
“The heroes of my most important films are people who want to break out.” Siegfried Kühn’s statement runs like a thread through his oeuvre, and his main characters—often women—take huge risks in their desire to transform their lives.
The six films in this series all tell stories about the process and experience of transformation. Anna (The Dream of an Elk) and Susanne (Time of the Storks) set out into the unknown because they long for a new existence. Edward (Elective Affinities) and Platow (The Second Life of Friedrich W.G. Platow) make a sudden decision and begin anew. Maria (The Actress) risks her life for love. And Childhood, a poetic reflection on the final days of war, recounts the director’s own personal discovery of transformation.
Kühn achieved early fame in East Germany with his box-office hit love story, Time of the Storks (1970), only to reap official criticism with his next film, the comedy The Second Life of Friedrich W.G. Platow (1973). Elective Affinities (1974), based on the novel by Goethe, offered the director the protection of association with the German classical author. Twelve years later, Kühn revisited the themes of love and infidelity in The Dream of the Elk, and explored the cataclysmic period of German history in which he had grown up in the autobiographical film entitled Childhood (both 1986). Finally, The Actress (1988) brought Kühn international recognition for his skillful handling of its difficult and intriguing subject matter.