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.
Mauerfall ("wall fall") is what the Germans call it – part of their rich vocabulary to discuss the fate of East Berlin.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
Other filmmakers took a surreal approach to representing social ills and the desire for change. A prime example is director Gábor Bódy's "The Dog's Night Song" (1983), a beautiful film that offers no easy answers. A disconcerting portrait of a Hungarian town thrown into disarray by the arrival of a new parish priest, the film is a web of fragmented and often intersecting narratives: The audience follows a wheelchair-bound veteran of the 1956 uprising unable to commit suicide; an astronomer who moonlights in a punk band; the abused wife of an explosives officer who runs away to join the band; and their son, who films his world with a German tourist's Super 8 camera.