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Films that presaged the wall's fall

On the 20th anniversary, film festival honors Eastern bloc movies made in the decade before the Berlin Wall's demise.

By A.J. GoldmannContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / February 20, 2009

'After Winter, Comes Spring': The 1987 award-winning documentary by Heike Misselwitz follows the lives of women in East Germany.

Courtesy of Berlinale



Mauerfall ("wall fall") is what the Germans call it – part of their rich vocabulary to discuss the fate of East Berlin.

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As the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaches this November, the 59th Berlin International Film Festival paid tribute last week with a series of films that presaged the collapse of socialism.

"After Winter, Comes Spring," a special program of films produced in Eastern bloc countries in the final decade of the cold war, included features, documentaries, animated films, and experimental ones from East Germany, Poland, Russia, Hungary, Romania, the former Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria. After screening in Berlin, the 15-film series goes on a national tour.

The curator, Claus Löser, is an East German native who dismisses the notion that these films explicitly predicted the fall of Communism. "These films are documents of discontent and resistance," he says in an interview. "Of course, they are not prophetic films in a way of seeing exact historical changes. It's more abstract." The films, he adds, "have a healthy amount of disrespect and struck a new note by documenting in film the advent of change."

Dieter Kosslick, the festival's director, makes an even bolder claim: The series shows "how artists can seismographically sense changes ahead of time and incorporate these" into their films, he told German news agency Deutsche Welle.

Above and beyond exhibiting works that are prescient, Mr. Löser intends the series to pay tribute to unsung films and to show that Eastern bloc cinema of the 1980s was producing great art on a level with David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, and Peter Greenaway. "The central mission of this program," he says, "is to remind about a forgotten chapter of history."

The best-known work is the Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski's "A Short Film About Killing" (1987), expanded from an episode in his 10-hour-long, "The Decalogue," about a man who commits a senseless murder and is, in turn, executed by the state. The film equates capital punishment to murder.

"It's a good example to explain the relationship between artistic and political messages," says Löser, adding that Kieslowski uses the double killing to represent a laconic and frozen society.