Carefree and perky, Marta moves through life without much thought, until things get real.
Every once in a while, a television movie comes along that becomes as much a part of media literacy as any feature film. It’s the one that everyone was talking about the next day at work and continued to talk about for years after. Think Duel, or Brian’s Song, or, if you’re from Britain, The Stone Tape. One East German television movie that was as popular as anything in the theaters was Marta, Marta. This wasn’t because it shook things up or challenged authority; far from it. It was a safe film with strong socialist content. Its secret was its lead actress, Marijam Agischewa, who became the face of the young generation in the GDR thanks to this movie.
Marta is the kind of girl who, in the nineties, might have been referred to as a “manic pixie dream girl.”1 She is almost always upbeat and cute as a button. She has sex appeal, but doesn’t seem to be aware of it or even care. The story begins with Marta trying to decide what to do with her life now that she has graduated from high school.2 Helping her with her decisions is her neighbor and confidant Monty (Walter Plathe). Marta has a bit of a crush on Monty, but isn’t sure that he feels the same way. Marta decides to become a nurse, not out of any inherent interest in the profession, but because it seemed like a good idea. Not surprisingly, Marta quickly finds out that being a nurse is a lot harder than she expected. She admires Dr. Maurer (Otto Mellies), the hospital’s chief physician, but he’s a stern man who has little patience for people who make mistakes and Marta makes a lot of them. Going to bat for Marta is head nurse Marianne (Hildegard Alex), who understands better than the doctor that it takes experience to become a good nurse.
Director Manfred Mosblech worked exclusively in television and was best known for his work on crime shows and TV-movies. He directed thirteen episodes of Polizeiruf 110 (Police Emergency Call 110), as well as working on other popular series such as Blaulicht (Blue Light) and Der Staatsanwalt hat das Wort (The Prosecutor Has the Floor). Perhaps because he had worked exclusively in television rather than film, Mosblech’s career after the Wende went on unimpeded. He continued to direct popular TV shows, in particular, The Country Doctor and Für alle Fälle Stefanie (For Every Case, Stephanie). He died in Berlin in 2012.
The script for Marta, Marta was written by Gisela Steineckert. Steineckert was born in Berlin and grew up poor. She worked for a while as a receptionist and then became a freelance writer in 1957. In 19962, she was hired as the Cultural Editor of the East German humor magazine Eulenspiegel. She was one of the most prolific writers in East Germany and one whose works are still readily available today. At one point, she was as well known for her song lyrics as she is for her writing. She remains to this day an ardent socialist and a feminist and continues to write. Since 1990, she’s been the honorary chairwoman for the Demokratische Frauenbund (Democratic Women’s Association), a successor organization to the Demokratische Frauenbund Deutschlands (DFD—Democratic Women’s Association of Germany).
Even though she had only just turned 18 when it aired and was still in acting school, Marta, Marta wasn’t Marijam Agischewa’s first TV-movie. She had already appeared in two TV-movies and an episode of the popular TV series Schauspielereien (Acting). Agischewa was born in China to Austrian diplomat Ernst Schwarz. When the girl was two, Schwarz moved to East Berlin where he accepted a job teaching China Studies at Humboldt University. She studied acting at the Ernst Busch Drama School in Berlin, which is where director Wolfgang Hübner spotted her and cast her in his TV-movie Siblings (Geschwister), a kind of East German Brady Bunch story. Marta, Marta was her fourth television appearance and led to Neues Leben magazine designating her as the most popular actress in the GDR.
She went on to appear in dozens of films and television shows including Kippenberg, Classmates (Klassenkameraden), Outsider (Außenseiter),and Novalis. Shortly before the Fall of the Wall (Mauerfall), Agischewa decided not to return to East Germany, choosing to move to West Berlin instead. After the Wende, she continued her career working in television. Today, she is best known for her portrayal of Dr. Karin Patzelt on In aller Freundschaft – Die jungen Ärzte (In All Friendship – The young doctors), a spin-off of the popular doctor series In aller Freundschaft.
As is fitting for a film about a teenager, the soundtrack includes songs by various pop singer, including Eva Maria Pieckert, the rock band Wir, and Wolfgang Ziegler, whose song “Mädchen, schönes Mädchen” (“Girl, Beautiful Girl”) acts as the TV-movie’s theme song.
Marta, Marta is a charming little movie. As with most DFF TV-movies, it includes plenty of nods to socialism, including a gratuitous scene of Marta admiring and posing with the bust of East German cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn. It also offers some glimpses into the popular teen fashions in 1979, thanks to costume designer Doris Haußmann.3
1. This point is arguable. The term was created by film critic Nathan Raban, who describes the character as one that solely exists in the imaginations of male writers, while Marta, Marta was mainly written by women.
2. I realize that Germany doesn’t have “high school,” exactly, but that’s a discussion for another time..
3. Although Doris Haußmann did very little television or movie costume work after the Wende, her son Leander Haußmann has gone on to become a successful film director in his own right. For his film NVA—a follow up to Sun Alley (Sonnenallee), which he also directed—Leander hired his mother to be the costume designer.
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