While I normally use the English language title for my heading, I’ve decided to go with the German title on this one. There are a number of ways to translate this title into English. They include: “escapade,” “affair,” “a bit on the side,” “adultery,” and “infidelity.” Escapade is the title used by IMDB and some books, while the DEFA Library at UMass Amherst seems to prefer Infidelity. Escapade is the more ambiguous word and so is Seitensprung—which can also refer to something as unrelated to marital affairs as a dressage—but “escapade” has a sense of frivolity about it that doesn’t jibe with the story in this movie. Seitensprung was also the German title for the 1935 romantic comedy Escapade, which also dealt with adultery, but that film was a comedy. The DEFA Library lists the title as Infidelity, which is more to the point, but a little blah. Since there are films released in the States with foreign language titles (e.g., Vivre Sa Vie, Cousin Cousine, Mala Noche, and Midsommar), I’ll stick with Seitensprung until something better comes along.1
At the start of the film we see Edith (Renate Geißler) and Wolfgang (Uwe Zerbe), a happily married couple—or so Edith thinks. Wolfgang is a devoted father to his son Danilo (Tobias Zander), but what his family doesn’t know is that he’s been having a long-term relationship with a co-worker named Helene (Renate Reinecke). To complicate matters, besides his son at home, he and Helene have a daughter named Sandra (Annette Voss). After Helene dies in a car accident, Sandra shows up on Edith and Wolfgang’s doorstep, looking for her father. At first, Edith is okay with Sandra, thinking Wolfgang’s affair with Helene happened before they were married, but when she finds out he continued seeing Helene on the side—spending International Women’s Day with her, no less2—the proverbial Scheiße hits the fan.
Seitensprung does a good job of capturing the tiny, mundane details of daily life in East Germany. This isn’t accidental. The film starts with that most quotidian of tasks: making coffee in the morning. The titles play over the brewing of coffee, from the bloom to the pour. Edith and Wolfgang reside in what the GDR considered to be a prestigious apartment, but the heavily patterned wallpaper and carpet made me think immediately of The Shining. The clothing and furnishings are vintage GDR 1980, which means lots of brown plaid shirts and couches, beige sweaters, and high-waisted jeans (the movie was made in 1980, but fashion in the GDR sometimes seemed stuck in 1974).
Seitensprung was directed by Evelyn Schmidt. Born in Görlitz, Schmidt attended the Academy of the Arts in East Berlin, studying under Konrad Wolf. She worked as an assistant director at DEFA for a couple years before becoming a full-fledged director. Seitensprung was her first feature film for DEFA. Her next film, The Bicycle, was met with more resistance from the authorities. While it never attacks the system, its suggestion that there were people in East Germany who were less than ideal citizens irritated those pushing the idea that everything was perfect in the GDR. They refused to allow foreign screenings of the film and wouldn’t allow Schmidt to make another movie for three years.
As Edith, Renate Geißler effectively plays a character who is trusting at first and eventually angry and devastated. Geißler worked primarily in television in the GDR. She was most well-known for the mini-series Jule – Julia – Juliane, in which she played the lead role. The mini-series was written and directed by her husband at the time Ulrich Thein. She was born in Wiesa, a tiny Saxony town near the Czech border. She studied acting at the Leipzig Theater Academy and performed on stage regularly until the seventies, when she became part of DFF’s regular line-up of actors. After the Wende, she returned to the stage, but, thanks to her long career in East German television, she has continued to appear regularly in television shows and TV-movies. more recently, she performed evenings of skits and songs alongside fellow actress Angelika Neutschel.
Uwe Zerbe has the unenviable role of portraying the two-timing husband Wolfgang. It’s a difficult part to make likable, and I’m not sure Evelyn Schmidt wants us to like him. He remains a cipher throughout the movie, cheerful and patient, but still a cad. Like many East German film actors Zerbe started on the stage. He appeared in several classic DEFA films during the GDR years, including Mama, I’m Alive, Solo Sunny, and Zille and Me (Zille und ick). Since the Wende, he has appeared in mainly in television productions and on stage.
This is the first and last film for Annette Voss. Voss has the right look. She is not an actress, but brings the kind of natural performance to the film that only non-actors can muster.3 As Helene, Renate Reinecke—now going by the name Renate von Wangenheim—doesn’t have much to do here except jump in the sack with Wolfgang. Renate comes from a family of theater people. Her mother was an actress and her father was a director. Her brother and half-sister are also actors. She appeared in dozens of made-for-TV movies in the GDR, most notably, the TV mini-series Stülpner-Legende (Stülpner Legend) starring Manfred Krug as Karl Stülpner, Germany’s answer to Robin Hood.
Seitensprung was a hit and was shown out of competition at the 1980 Berlinale. It is a must-see for any film buff interested in female directors, and belongs on the shelf next to the works of Joanna Hogg, Agnès Varda, Chantal Akerman, and Věra Chytilová.
1. If it were up to me (and it’s not), I’d go with something like The Unknown Daughter, Daughter/Stranger, or something else along those lines. Just sayin’.
2. While not a major holiday like Christmas or May Day, Women’s Day (Frauentag) was celebrated in most socialist countries. In 1975, the United Nations officially recognized March 8th and International Women’s Day. After the Wende, the celebrations stopped in Germany, but was recently reinstituted in Berlin.
3. For a textbook side-by-side comparison between professional actors and non-actors in natural roles, see Sean Baker’s excellent The Florida Project.
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