I Was Nineteen

(Ich war neunzehn)

GDR, 1968, 115 min, B&W
In German; English subtitles
Credits:
Director
Script
Dramaturg
Editor
Camera
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Performance)
Cast

Synopsis

Gregor is a young soldier entering Germany with the victorious Soviet troops at the end of WWII. But he is also the child of left-wing Germans who fled from Hitler and spent the war in the Soviet Union. As a result, his return to Germany is ambivalent; he finds he is a stranger in his own land.

 

As they enter Germany, Gregor begins to realize that he is different from all his comrades in arms, for this defeated land is his home country, the Germans he meets are his compatriots. He is a victor, but also one of the vanquished. He attempts to understand the Germans he meets along his way, but he is a 19-year-old: inquisitive, occasionally uncomprehending and repeatedly dismayed by the atrocities and lies he encounters.

Commentary

A true landmark of postwar German cinema, Konrad Wolf's masterpiece is a poetic exploration of the postwar dilemma of German identity and a powerful document about the search for a "usable" German past – especially in light of the East German film censorship debacle of 1965. Film critics rank Konrad Wolf’s most autobiographical and most famous film among the 100 Most Significant German Films of all time.

Awards

2016 Guest Director’s Selection, Telluride Film Festival
2005 Konrad Wolf Turns 80, Potsdam Film Museum
2001 The Divided Heaven, Retrospective, Film Archive Austria
1995 Voted one of the 100 Most Significant German Films of All Time
1990 Retrospective, Berlin International Film Festival
1987 Insights, 11th Duisburg Accents (West Germany)
1986 Konrad Wolf Retrospective, Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Rosario (Argentina)
1986 Konrad Wolf Retrospective, Tübingen (West Germany)
1981 DEFA’s Antifascist Films, GDR Information Center, Budapest (Hungary)
1976 Treasures from the State Film Archive, Oran (Algeria)
1973 DEFA Film Week, Danish Film Institute, Copenhagen (Denmark)
1972 DEFA Film Week, Rome, Milano (Italy)
1971 DEFA Film Week, France
1970 DEFA Film Week, India
1969 DEFA Film Week, Algeria

 

Press comments

"For years, we young filmmakers in West Germany considered I Was Nineteen to be the best film to come from the East, despite the interference from DEFA, the state production company, which supervised the script, casting, shooting and editing." —Volker Schlöndorff, Guest Director's Selection, 2016 Telluride Film Festival

 

“One of the best-known DEFA productions in history. The film’s narrative structure, editing style, camera movement, and dialogue are highly progressive for the time and seem closely related to techniques later employed by the directors of the French New Wave.” 
—New York Jewish Film Festival 2015

 

"Topnotch! Effective acting." —Variety

 

"The autobiographical structure allowed [Wolf] to formulate an individual's personal search for home, for Germany, into a general issue of national identity."
—Marc Silberman, German Cinema-Text in Conte

 

"An autobiographical masterpiece!" —filmportal.de

 

"As far as I am concerned, this is the best film—in a short eternity—that has been made in Germany."
—Hermann Kant, author, in the Berlin Forum, May 1968

 

"Rarely in the arts have postwar Germans been so precisely portrayed. But along with this differentiated, distanced, critically stringent and bitterly frank depiction, there is also human understanding and unbiased perceptions without any clichés. This truthful portrayal is painful but also healing ... After many years, we finally have a DEFA film whose aesthetic, formal quality is not out of sync with its idealistic, thematic quality. And also vice versa. This film is a self-contained and accomplished work of art - a first-class film."
— H. U. in the Berlin Neue Zeit on Feb. 2, 1968

Availability

Special features:
  • Biographies & Filmographies: Konrad Wolf, Jaecki Schwarz, Jenny Gröllman, Alfred Hirschmeier
  • Introductory Essay
  • Set Design Gallery
  • Vintage Newsreels

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