On an impulse, I watched Helke Misselwitz’ documentary, Winter Adé on Mubi streaming. The film is mostly a collection of interviews by the director of women in East Germany.
The interviewees are of various ages. Two teenagers who don’t want to live the life the country has mapped out for them and so choose to raise a little modest hell were interviewed just before they were shunted into juvenile correction programs. Another woman talks about drawing around her both her biological children and other kids who look to her for love they’re not getting in their homes. (One of her son’s ex-girlfriends becomes a virtual daughter.) Another woman talks about not pursuing a sustained relationship with a partner because of her sense that her primary reason for living is to work with at-risk children. Another has spent years walking around a factory with a mallet to whack flues to keep dust that might cause fires from being caked on the inside. The litany of mostly soul-deadening jobs in a society of limited opportunity is heart-breaking, but the fortitude and humor of most of those interviewed keep the film from being depressing.
Most memorable is a sequence focusing on an 83-year-old woman named Margarete Busse celebrating her diamond anniversary with her husband Herman. In a long group shot, first her children raise their hands, then her grandchildren raise their hands, and then their great-grandchildren raise their hands. All heart-warming and jolly. Except she is interviewed in a private session and reveals she only married Herman because of the bad luck of getting pregnant by him fifty years ago. And, as she continues to talk, you realize that Herman is a bastard who bullied her and cheated on her. As she expresses her regret at having spent her life with him, she hears the sound of him entering the apartment. She tells the interviewer they’ll have to stop or she’ll have a problem. Yipes.
The film was released in 1988, a year or so before the Berlin Wall came down. (There is no hint in the film that this is in the offing.) There is very little overtly political content, but a sense of shabbiness as a national motif pervades. I was particularly interested in this because Kristine and I recently watched a compelling German TV series called Weissensee about life in East Germany before, during and after the fall of the Wall from the perspective of a family involved with the Stasi, the East German secret police force. Weissensee and Winter Adé are holding a conversation in my head.
Oh, and the black-and-white cinematography by Thomas Plenert features one indelible image after another, caught on the fly.