While recuperating in the hospital Hoffi (Berndt Renné) meets Urban (Manfred Karge). Urban, has worked as an engineer on projects all over the world, and Hoffi sees him as a source of meaningful employment. Hoffi just spent 1½ years in prison on an assault charge and nobody wants to hire an ex-con. Hoffi hopes to hook up with Urban once he gets out of the hospital and get his life back on track. After leaving the hospital, Hoffi is joined by his brother Keule (Harald Wandel), a bit of a simpleton whose goals in life is to work with animals. The two brothers work as itinerant construction workers on the building projects that were popping up all over East Germany in the early seventies (mostly Plattenbauen). At each new site, Hoffi asks if anyone knows Urban, but has no luck. In the meantime, Hoffi meets Gila (Jenny Gröllmann), a young intern working in the construction site’s drafting department.
Hoffi hits a roadblock when the next project is in Berlin (even East Germans had to be approved to enter East Berlin). Although Hoffi is from Berlin, he can’t go there because of his assault conviction. Eventually, the construction company smooths things over for him. He and his brother are hoping to stay with their mother, but find out she has a friend living with her. Meanwhile, Gila’s parents are horrified to find out that their daughter is pregnant with Hoffi’s child. Just when Hoffi is ready to marry Gila, he’s drafted. Eventually, Hoffi meets up with Urban again, but will it matter anymore?
Do You Know Urban? was directed by Ingrid Reschke. In 1971, Reschke was well on her way to becoming one of East Germany’s most respected directors. She is sometimes referred to as the first female director in East Germany. While that’s not quite true (Bärbl Bergmann holds that honor), she was the first to become part of the official cadre of DEFA directors. It looked as if Reschke would have a long and productive career at DEFA, when—like the Russian director Larisa Shepitko—she died in a car crash much too young (Reschke was 35, Shepitko was 41). At the time, she was just starting work on her next project—a film about a love affair between an unmarried woman with children and an unhappily married man. After her death, Ulrich Plenzdorf—one of the screenwriters for Do You Know Urban?—went on to make the film. That film was The Legend of Paul and Paula, and it went on to become the most-loved film in East German cinema history.
Do You Know Urban? is shot in Totalvision, which used the same aspect ratio as Panavision (2.35 : 1). Reschke had used Totalvision once before, on We Are Getting Divorced (Wir lassen uns scheiden), and she seems comfortable with the format, using it effectively here to set up several people reacting differently within a scene. Some credit has to be given to Claus Neumann, who is really put to the task here with a wide variety of shots under every type of lighting imaginable. That same year, he’d demonstrate his skill further with Ralf Kirsten’s visually stunning The Lost Angel.
Berndt Renné, who does a great job here as Hoffi, appeared in several DEFA films and a few TV shows but he is better known for his work as a theater director. Most recently, he was in charge of the Theater an der Landstraße near Ulm. Playing opposite him here is Jenny Gröllmann. Although Gröllmann had appeared in films before this (see I Was Nineteen), Do You Know Urban? was her first starring role (for more on Jenny Gröllmann, see The Flight).
Manfred Karge doesn’t get much screen time, but he gets to play a good guy for a change. He was so effective in his role as the ruthless Gilbert Wolzow in The Adventures of Werner Holt that roles in which he was anything other than a villain became hard to come by. Like Renné, he is better known for his work in theater and has written several successful plays, including Die Eroberung des Südpols (The Conquest of the South Pole), Lieber Niembsch (Dear Niembsch), Mauerstücke (Berlin Wall Story), Killerfische (Killer Fish), and Jacke wie Hose, which was made into the film Man to Man, starring Tilda Swinton. He made a name for himself on the stage in both East and West Germany before the Wall came down. More recently, his play, Paris–Dakar oder Schrödingers Katze, was performed as part of the May Festival in Wiesbaden.
Harald Wandel, who played the dreamer Keule, studied to be an architect at the Bauhaus Academy in Weimar. While studying, he performed as a singer-songwriter at various cabarets, where he caught the attention of Ingrid Reschke. Do you Know Urban? was his first film, but he went on to make several more before giving it up to pursue his interest in architecture. In 1982, he started working at the Haus der Kultur und Bildung (House of Culture and Education) in Neubrandenburg. He performed at several Chansontage der DDR—a singing competition held every two years in the GDR. Wandel’s songs were filled with social commentary, which put him on the radar of the Stasi. He still lives in Neubrandenburg and still writes songs.
The music for Do you Know Urban? is by Rudi Werion and performed by the Modern Soul Band—an East German jazz-funk band. The main theme sounds a bit like a Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale,” while other tunes seem influenced by Henry Mancini. Werion mostly composed music for television shows, primarily the ever-popular Polizeiruf 110. Ingrid Reschke’s handling of Werion’s music, though, leaves something to be desired. None of it sounds diegetic (music that emanates from a source within the movie, such as a radio), even though people in the film are apparently dancing to it. Perhaps this is simply some kind of Godard-like experimentation on her part, but it doesn’t work.
Ingrid Reschke was still blossoming as a talented director when she died. Do You Know Urban? Is imperfect, but it shows that Reschke was only just beginning to stretch her creative wings. This makes her early death even sadder. As with the other East German female directors, she is never mentioned in retrospectives on female directors or directors who died too young (a situation I hope to rectify soon).
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