At the start of Liane, we see the films namesake applying for a part in a film being shot at the electrical company where she works. Immediately, we see that she’s the type of person who speaks candidly, regardless of the situation. Liane works as a Springer—a job designation that’s only one step above being a temp worker. It isn’t long before she runs afoul of the authorities and is demoted for no good reason. Working along side her at the electrical company is Kalle (Torsten Bauer), a man who seems to land somewhere on the autism spectrum.1 Kalle has a crush on Liane, but Liane only has eyes for Jürgen (Thomas Putensen), an easy-going student whose attitude towards their relationship is less serious than Liane’s.
Liane is based on the radio play Warum ausgerechnet ich? (Why me, of all people?) by Daniela Dahn and was directed by Erwin Stranka. Stranka started directing films for DEFA in the sixties after working as the first assistant director to Gerhard Klein on The Gleiwitz Case. After directing a television movie, he directed his first theatrical feature, Verliebt und vorbestraft (In Love and Previously Convicted) in1963. When Hans Rodenberg, who was the Minister of Film at the time, demanded cuts, Stranka refused. The cuts were made against Stranka’s wishes, and the director found himself unable to get work as a director for the next eight years. During that time he worked as a draftsman, writer, and cartoonist.
Stranka returned to DEFA with the Manfred Krug comedy Husaren in Berlin (Hussars in Berlin). Since the story in the film takes place in 1757, during the Seven Years’ War, the censors had less trouble with this film and the director was allowed back into the fold. Treading cautiously, he followed this with another comedy set in 1757, also starring Krug. While the reviews for these films were tepid, the films did well enough to restart his career. His next film, Susanne and the Magic Ring (Susanne und der Zauberring) was a kids’ fantasy film, which also did well.
Stranka made several more films for DEFA including For Example, Joseph (Zum Beispiel Josef), Outlaw Morality (Die Moral der Banditen), Sabine Wulff, Motoring Tales, and Two Strange Characters (Zwei schräge Vögel), the last of which quickly became a cult film in East Germany thanks to its many inside jokes.
Stranka’s career as a director ended at the same time as the Wende. He was undergoing heart surgery at the time, and finding work in the new film industry as an East German was not going to be easy. He decided to hang up his director’s hat and retire. He died in 2014, not far from the Potsdam-Babelsberg studios in which he worked.
As Liane, Arianne Borbach brings the right combination of emotional vulnerability and gutsy determination to the role. As with most East German actors, Borbach started on the stage and has continued to act on stage throughout her career. She continued to work in films and television after the Wende but is better known for her work as a voice talent, appearing in radio plays, and dubbing the voices for actresses such as Cate Blanchett, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Diane Lane.
Playing her suitors, Torsten Bauer and Thomas Putensen were both relatively new to films. Bauer was born on the day the Berlin Wall went up. He appeared in a few DEFA films, including Blond Tango (Blonder Tango), The Dragon Daniel (Der Drache Daniel), and Today, Only Others Die (Heute sterben immer nur die anderen). Since the Wende, he has appeared in a few films and televisions shows, but primarily performs on stage these days. Putensen got his start playing the oafish Ali in Ete and Ali. He appeared in several more DEFA films, including Green Wedding (Grüne Hochzeit), The Dragon Daniel, and The Land Beyond the Rainbow. Since the Wende, he has primarily concentrated on his career as a musician, composing songs, singing, and playing the piano. In 2009, he appeared in Andreas Dresen’s entertaining comedy Whisky mit Wodka.2
The film features an excellent supporting cast, including Christine Schorn, Peter Sodann, Ulrich Thein, and Rolf Hoppe. With the exception of Ulrich Thein, who died in 1995, all of these actors have gone on to successful film and television careers since the Wende.
Had this film been made a few years earlier, it might have been shelved. Its examination of work dissatisfaction would have rankled the authorities. But by the time this movie was released, Gorbachev was executing his policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reform) in the USSR, and Reagan had given his “tear this Wall down” speech.2 Honecker wasn’t happy about the changes happening all around him. He told Gorbachev that they had no need for openness and reform since they had already accomplished these things. This wasn’t even close to the truth, of course, but Erich Honecker—like Ulbricht before him, and America’s current president—was never one to let facts get in the way of the narrative he wanted to promote. While not a radical challenge to the status quo, Liane is a look at one aspect of the daily grind in the GDR and is a nice snapshot of a lost time, performed by an exceptional cast.
Not currently available on DVD, but you can stream it here.
1. With its inherent inability to relate to others or comfortably adapt to a social structures, autism seems like a socialist’s nightmare. I haven’t found any studies on it, but I think an examination of the GDR’s responses to autistic individuals would make for an interesting read.
2. Dresen’s film was based on a rumor about the actor Raimund Schelcher. Schelcher was a notorious drunk and, during the filming of Castles and Cottages, director Kurt Maetzig reportedly hired another actor to duplicate Schelcher’s parts in case the actor fell off the wagon. Dresen wasn’t that interested in the veracity of the story, but saw it as a good concept for a comedy.
3. Reagan’s speech is filled with disinformation, misinformation, and downright nonsense, such as the claim that the East German government had spent millions to try and keep the Fernsehtun’s reflection from looking like a cross (not true). It was written by Reagan’s speechwriter Peter Robinson and, regardless of one’s political beliefs, it’s unquestionably a masterful piece of propaganda. It’s only failing is that anyone reading it will quickly realize that Ronald Reagan could not have written it.
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