Jahrgang 45 (Born in '45), 1965. Also banned by the Eleventh Plenary. If The Rabbit is Me was brushed by Truffaut, Born in '45 borrowed from Godard. The only narrative movie directed by the painter and documentary filmmaker Jürgen Böttcher, this one takes a more radical approach to storytelling, with a clipped style and almost random selection of scenes, and a clear sympathy for interior, individual experience and angst, rather than the realistic representation of life as it would fit the ideological education of the workers. It doesn't quite sustain itself - too many longeurs and too little actorly charisma - but the experiment is worthy.
Die Söhne der großen Bärin (Sons of the Great Bear), 1966. Not surprisingly, despite films extolling the virtues of the workers' state, GDR audiences dug genre movies, including a series of East German Westerns made from the mid-1960s onward. The chiseled Yugoslavian actor Gojko Mitic, truly the Schwarzenegger of his time, often starred in these offerings (he's a noble Indian chief in this one, the first of his starring run). This film is fairly sluggish, but the appeal of cowpokes speaking German is undeniable, and the spectacle of white Americans portrayed as imperialist running-dog oppressors makes the subgenre a historically fascinating one.
Heisser Sommer (Hot Summer), 1968. An all-singing, all-dancing East German version of a Beach Party movie? That's right - except Hot Summer makes How to Stuff a Wild Bikini look like The Graduate. You might have spotted some of the more jaw-dropping moments from Hot Summer excerpted in East Side Story, that compendium of kooky Soviet-bloc musicals, but the movie itself achieves an even more exquisite note of perkiness mixed with nausea (the kind of madness that can be found in 60s-era Scopitone music videos). Pop stars Chris Doerk and Frank Schöbel lead the horrifyingly upbeat cast in this film about fun 'n' sun on the Baltic coast.
Die Legende von Paul und Paula (The Legend of Paul and Paula), 1973. According to most sources, this is the most popular film ever made in East Germany, a fact that surely belongs in the "I guess you had to be there" category. It's a kitschy romance with a weird blend of cutesy fantasy and kitchen-sink realism, set to a rock soundtrack by the Puhdys. At the very least, Angelica Domröse makes a luminous heroine of the working class, and the 70s views of life in East Berlin are valuable. Director Heiner Carow later made Coming Out as the GDR was ending in 1989, the first East German take on homosexuality.
Die Arkitekten (The Architects), 1990. Peter Kahane's critical view of life in the GDR was filmed as the Wall was coming down, which might explain the openness of its frustration with a played-out system. It's ostensibly about a team of architects whose utopian design for a housing community is shredded by doctrinaire officials, but it's easy to read it as a general rejection of Socialist-dictated order and as a metaphor for East German filmmaking (the scenes of the architects hearing their best ideas get trashed could easily be an arts ministry turning thumbs-down on a provocative screenplay).
And so the DEFA era ends with a perfect allegory of its own compromised but (in hindsight, anyway) fascinating saga. Not even the "Ostalgic" denizens of Good Bye, Lenin! would mourn its passing, but - like walking around Berlin and gazing upon the wacky architectural legacies of the GDR - DEFA remains a corner of film history with rewards for the curious.
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