Icarus

(Ikarus)

GDR, 1975, 90 min, color
In German; English subtitles
Credits:
Director
Script
Dramaturg
Editor
Camera
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)
Cast

Synopsis

Mathias is eight and lives with his divorced mother in East Berlin. One day, he pays his father a surprise visit. When he opens the door, his father is confused—and Mathias notices that a strange woman is there. When he sees Mathias looking at a picture of Icarus, he distracts the boy from the situation and tells him the legend of Icarus. When his father promises him a sightseeing flight on his upcoming birthday, Mathias is excited; but it breaks his heart when his father fails to turn up on the appointed day. Mathias wanders through the city and decides that Icarus didn't crash because he wouldn’t listen, but because his father forgot him.

Commentary

Shot in East Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district and near Ostbahnhof, this film was only granted a limited release because officials criticized its presentation of divorce and what they considered a hostile image of socialism. There might have been another reason, however. Klaus Schlesinger (scenario) and his wife Bettina Wegner, who wrote the film’s title song, had been under Stasi surveillance for their political activities since 1974; they protested against Wolf Biermann’s expulsion in 1976 and left the GDR in the early 1980s.

Awards

2014 Panorama, Berlin International Film Festival
2001 Der geteilte Himmel retrospective, Film Archive Austria, Vienna
1982 Children's Films from East Germany retrospective, Berlin International Film Festival

 

Press comments

“From today’s point of view, Icarus (1975) is the artistically most uncompromising and most mature feature film made by the director. Based on a [short story] by Klaus Schlesinger that he adapted for the screen, the film describes the loneliness of an emotionally neglected child. […] Peter Welz plays the part of the boy with unbelievable intensity.”   —Claus Löser, taz

 

“This film gave a very direct reflection of the social circumstances and conditions of the time. It mirrors the thick local color and atmosphere of contemporary East Berlin—and more or less represents the GDR. It makes visible social, cultural and political things that were taken for granted and, in retrospect, is both an aesthetic and historical document.”   — Jürgen Bretschneider, lernen-aus-dergeschichte.de

 

“A dense and, despite its amiable relaxation, very serious film about the vulnerability of children and adults’ lack of sensitivity and attention. Criticized as hostile to socialism by leading GDR politicians, the film was rarely shown after its premiere.” —film-dienst

 

“Thanks be to Heiner Carow for a beautiful, bitterly necessary and deeply human film. And a loud shout out to Peter Welz, the little leading actor, for his exceptional performance.”   —Renate Holland-Moritz, Eulenspiegel

 

“Like in the classical legend, adapted by playwright Klaus Schlesinger, the film dispenses with a happy ending and instead ends the films with a desperate outcry—the boy’s last option to draw attention to himself.”   —rs, DHM

 

Icarus, the ordinary story of a boy growing up in comfortable circumstances in the GDR, who vainly trusts in his father after his parents’ divorce.”   —Hans-Jörg Rother, Der Tagesspiegel

 

“Played by Peter Welz, Mathias as Icarus is a helpless, searching child whose longing for a lasting connection and understanding is as clear as his deep fear of renewed disappointment. […] The film’s complex, layered story with numerous flashbacks and rich associations is by author Klaus Schlesinger. Carow’s Icarus, which shows a cold and hard GDR, was hidden in the children’s program of cinemas. This angered him greatly, as he had never considered this work to be a children’s film. It can certainly be seen and understood as one, however.”   —Knut Elstermann, Früher war ich Filmkind

 

“The creation of Icarus benefitted from director Heiner Carow’s earlier experience with working with children and young people. It can be seen in the sensitivity with which a vulnerable sphere is captured, in the psychological precision and subtlety of performance. The differentiation of expression and behavior achieved by the director and the 11-year-old leading actor (Peter Welz) is astounding. This goes for the other children’s scenes as well, which are all fresh and not artificial.”   —Fred Gehler, Sonntag, 1975

 

“This is a film for adults; because everything that Mathias experiences on that day and how he experiences it comes from the world of adults. His attitude is a reaction to all they do and don’t do; especially what they don’t do, their neglect. Especially their carelessness, because the grown-ups—dealing with their grown-up problems—don’t see that there’s a little person here who needs attention. […] In the tradition of Slatan Dudow, Carow creates a tangible, detailed image of reality that can be seen and felt down to the smallest elements of streets and places, but is always greater than pure documentation. One could possibly say that he used created authenticity as a springboard into poetic compressions and symbols. So, for the boy, flying is the boy’s real wish, which takes him to the airport and drives him into various adventures; but it is also an overwhelming longing for harmony.”   —Rosemarie Rehahn, Wochenspost, 1975

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