Sabine Kleist, Age 7 (Sabine Kleist, 7 Jahre…) falls into a sub-category of films that could be collectively labeled “Children’s Escapade” films. The are stories that start with a child who, either by their own choice or accidental circumstances, is left to wander around alone in the city. While the adults search for the kid (or are unaware they are missing), the kid enjoys various adventures and meets interesting people. These films are usually labeled as children’s films, but they are really intended more for adults than kids. Examples include Little Fugitive, Escapade in Japan, the Home Alone films, and, in some respects, The Florida Project. It is an interesting sub-genre because even the most comedic versions of this story have an underlying sadness, while the more serious ones have a playful quality about them.
The film starts with black-and-white still shots of a car accident. The two adults in the car, a man and woman, are both killed, and only their daughter Sabine (Petra Lämmel ) survives and is sent to an orphanage. The film then flashes forward to a ceremony where the orphanage is saying goodbye to a teacher named Edith (Simone von Zglinicki). Edith is about the give birth to her first child, and seems conflicted about leaving the children, especially Sabine, who has formed a strong attachment to Edith. After Edith leaves, Sabine sneaks out of the school to look for her. She wanders around Berlin, enjoying various adventures and meeting people from every walk of life. It becomes clear that, more than anything, Sabine wants to be part of a family. This unrequited longing weighs heavily on the film adding sorrow to an otherwise light film about a child’s adventures in Berlin.
Sabine Klest is directed by Helmut Dziuba. Dziuba was best known for his work on his films for children and young adults although he did occasionally work in other genres (Coded Message for the Boss, for instance). Unlike many other children’s film directors, Dziuba’s films have a darkness that reflects the fears of childhood. His “proletarian trilogy” (Rotschlipse, Als Unku Edes Freundin war, and Jan auf der Zille) examined the lives of young people during the Weimar and Nazi periods. His frankness sometimes rubbed the authorities the wrong way, and his last film Jana and Jan, could only have been made after the Wall came down (for more on Dziuba, see Jana and Jan).
The film stars Petra Lämmel in her only film role, and she is sensational. Director Dziuba noticed Lämmel, and thought she’d be perfect as Sabine Kleist. He wasn’t wrong. Lämmel was praised for her remarkably nuanced performance in Sabine Kleist. She was chosen as the best child actress at the 1983 International Film Festival in Moscow. Apparently, however, acting didn’t agree with Lämmel. Sabine Kleist was the only film Lämmel appeared in, and when Dziuba went to see if she wanted to be in his 1990 film, Forbidden Love (Verbotene Liebe), Lämmel turned him down. Today, she is a mother and works as a dental technician in Berlin.
Simone von Zglinicki, who plays Edith, on the other hand, has had a long career in films, theater, and television. Von Zglinicki has a tough job here, playing a woman who has kept her emotions in check for so long, that she is no longer sure how she feels about anything. It required the normally expressive von Zglinicki to remain stone faced throughout most of the movie. Von Zglinicki first appeared on screen in Bernhard Stephan’s Too Young to Love?, the story of a girl’s transition into womanhood. It was an auspicious beginning. She went on to appear in dozens of East German films and television shows, while, at the same time, continuing to pursue her first passion: theater. With her extensive television experience and her youth, the Wende had less effect on her career than some of her fellow East German actors. She has continued to appear in several television shows, and as made the occasional movie, all the while continuing her career in theater.
One of the most usual things about Sabine Kleist is its soundtrack, which has aspects of everything from Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota, to Bebe and Louis Barron. Composer Christian Steyer had been playing the piano since he was a kid. He attended the University of Music and Theater Leipzig and studied music for several years with Amadeus Webersinke. In the seventies he started acting and was soon both appearing in films, and writing soundtracks. With his bushy head of hair and wild beard, he became DEFA’s resident hippie, appearing in films such as The Legend of Paul and Paula, Too Young for Love?, The Dove on the Roof, and Godfather Death. With two skills to rely on, the Wende had less effect on Steyer’s career than it had on the careers of many other East German actors and composers. Today, he is probably best known in the West for his portrayal of Tannhaus in the German-language Netflix show Dark.
Sabine Kleist was popular at film festivals. When it was shown on television the following year, the still shots of the accident at the beginning were cut out because the TV station felt that the public would find them too disturbing and might tune out. Critical opinions of the film were mixed. Some felt it was too sweet, but the finale hardly qualifies as sweet. At its core, it is a deeply sad film and is worth seeing.
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