Berlinale Retrospective: To the point, sweetheart – female filmmaking in East and West

Around 50 years ago, the male monopoly of filmmaking was questioned throughout Europe. Although there had been films by women before, these directors remained loners. Only at the end of the sixties did something fundamentally change. This paradigm shift took place in the middle of the Cold War on both sides of the Iron Curtain, also in both parts of Germany. It is very interesting to take a closer look at this parallel story.

Under the title “Self-determined. Perspectives of filmmakers “gives this year’s retrospective an opportunity. For the first time almost 30 full-length and 21 short films from the Federal Republic, the GDR as well as from the all-German decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall can be seen side by side in one program.

There are works by almost all important women directors, well-known names and titles like Margarethe von Trotta (“Die Bleierne Zeit”, FRG 1981), Evelyn Schmidt (“Das Fahrrad”, DDR 1982) or Angela Schanelec (“Glck der Schwester Sister “1995) are next to rediscovering films such as Claudia von Alemann’s” The Journey to Lyon “(West Germany 1980) or” Who Fears the Black Man “by Helke Misselwitz (GDR 1989).

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“Who is afraid of the black man?” (A film by Helke Misselwitz)


DEFA Foundation / Heiko Koinzer

In the magical year 1968 and shortly thereafter, the turning point took place in female filmmaking in Germany: Suddenly, something became visible that had long since begun. Two examples from both parts of Germany make this clear. In January 1968, a movie premiered in Munich, which the Wirtschaftswunder-Republik seemed to have been waiting for.

“To the point, sweetheart” the then just 27-year-old May Spils mobilized a total of nearly seven million viewers, perhaps also attracted by the erotically auspicious title, but in any case by its fresh style. Fuzzy, quick and somewhat frivolously staged, without theses political ambition and with very slight borrowing from Godard’s “out of breath” (1959), the film promised the connection to Paris, London or even New York. The final farewell to the dilapid Adenauer era was announced.

1968 also played an important role in the Defa: for the first time ever, a woman could complete a full-length feature film for an adult audience. Ingrid Reschke’s programmatically titled debut “We Get Divided” does not run in the retro, but her two years later “Do you know Urban?” – which is also the better movie. In collaboration with the dramatist Ulrich Plenzdorf (“The New Sorrows of the Young W.”), who was just about to break through, she had developed an unusual material around a completely “atypical” GDR adolescent.

Fresh from jail, he sets out in search of a friend: the mysterious Urban. During his journey through the small country, he frequented several major construction sites, going through a maturation process, without Urban still needing it.

Parallel to the filming and also afterwards Reschke (1936-1971) had to endure repeated interventions in her material and its implementation, so that today it must remain unclear how far away the finished film moves from its actual intentions. He is more of a torso, but tragically testifies to the stylistic ambition of a director who could then realize no further film. During the preparations for her next project, she died in a traffic accident. She is said to have been completely annoyed because of the harsh handling of her film by the cultural bureaucracy.

"Do you know Urban?": Hoffi (Berndt Renn) and Gila (Jenny Grllmann)

“Do you know Urban?”: Hoffi (Berndt Renn) and Gila (Jenny Grllmann)


German Cinematheque

It is enlightening to be able to perceive the works of Reschke and Spils next to each other. Both are films of women over men, staged in the West as a popular, playing with genre-patterned liberation, in the East determined by tactical maneuvers to squeeze the narrow constraints yet still artistic originality. Of course, neither Reschke’s film in the West nor that of Spils in the East was shown at the time. The merger is only now taking place as part of the retrospective.

Self-determination in the GDR?

At the same time, the strengths and weaknesses of “self-determined” reveal themselves in the constellations that have now been created. Maybe the historical framework has simply gone too far. It spans the period from 1968 to 1999, ie more than 30 years, and covers two chapters of German film history which, due to world politics, were almost isolated from each other. In this context, the title of the review also becomes problematic. Self-determination could not really be talked about in the GDR.

This is best shown by one of the films shown. Immediately after the fall of the Wall, Sibylle Schnemann set off for the filming of the “Lost Time” in the GDR, which was still in existence, in order to search for traces and confront men and women whom she had been helplessly exposed to years before: Defa studio for feature films, in court and in jail. In 1984, she was arrested after she had filed an exit request with her husband Hannes Schnemann. Their children could not see them until one year later after the free trial by the Federal Republic. This is what “self-determination” in the GDR looked like.

Masculine power apparatus

The films from the FRG and GDR are still side by side rather than corresponding with one another. The current stocktaking should therefore be seen as a platform from which further discoveries and, above all, contextualizations can be made. Two publications and a DVD anthology also provide concrete clues. It took forever for women to get their own votes in the still-masculine powerhouse called the Cinema. After they finally succeeded in doing so, they too often found themselves excluded from public perception and discussion. Film historiography can adjust quite a bit, can unduly retrieve forgotten things and make them present. You can hardly ask for more.

Accompanying material to the retrospective:“Self-determination. Perspectives of filmmakers “Deutsche Kinemathek (ed.) Publisher Bertz + Fischer, 25 euros, to 2 DVD, absolutely media, 19.90 euros; “You. Defa directors and their films “Cornelia Klau, Ralf Schenk (ed.), Publisher Bertz + Fischer, 416 pages, 29 EUR