Posts Tagged ‘children’

Sabine Kleist
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).

sabine kleist

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

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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The East German film studio, DEFA, was founded in May, 1946. During the first few years in post-war Germany, it was, literally, the only game in town. While the Office of Military Government, United States (OMGUS) in the west dragged its feet on film production (mostly at the behest of Hollywood), the east got the old UFA studios in Potsdam and the AGFA film lab in Wolfen back into production almost immediately. Somewhere in Berlin (Irgendwo in Berlin) is the third film made by DEFA, and the second example of a Trümmerfilm, literally, a “rubble film”—that group of films shot immediately after WWII in the wreckage of Berlin (for more on this see The Murderers Are Among Us).

Somewhere in Berlin is the story of a gang of children living and playing amid the rubble of post-war Berlin. Gustav is a congenial little boy who seems to have no qualms about making friends with strangers. Gustav’s father ran a garage in the neighborhood (now a bombed-out ruin). He was taken as a prisoner-of-war, and the family has had no word from him yet. Gustav’s best friend is Willi, whose parents were killed during the war. The adults in the neighborhood are in a state of numb indifference to the destruction that surrounds them. When Gustav’s father, he, like many other soldiers returning from war, is an emotional wreck.

Director Gerhard Lamprecht might be called the first child of the cinema. At the age of twelve, he was working at movie screenings (at that point, the film industry was still in its infancy and most screenings were held in meeting halls and legitimate theaters). At the age of seventeen, he sold his first script to Eiko-Film GmbH, and a few years later he began acting in films. It wasn’t long before he got behind the lens and started to direct, quickly establishing himself as a talented director. Lamprecht continued to make movies during the Third Reich, a fact that got in his way when he went to OMGUS after the war. Many ex-UFA technicians found that working under Goebbels was automatic grounds for rejection in west during the first few years after the war. This combined with the lack of film production in the western sectors made Lamprecht turn to DEFA for employment.

Lamprecht had already proven his ability to work with children with the pre-war UFA classic, Emil and the Detectives (Emil und die Detektive). The children in both films are spunky and prefer taking charge of things without much help from the adult community, and in both movies the kids are capable of rational thinking, even though sometimes their choices leave something to be desired. There is also a similarity between the evil Max Grundeis of Emil and the Detectives, and the slimy Waldemar Hunke in Somewhere in Berlin, although the latter film’s antagonist is bit more charming (but only a bit). The most spectacular scene in the film involves a boy climbing the crumbling ruins of a building that looms over the neighborhood. It certainly looks like he is climbing the building and it is breathtaking.

But Lamprecht’s heart really wasn’t in the east. He made one more feature film for DEFA (Quartett zu fünft), but as soon as it was feasible, he was back in the west where he made a few more films before retiring from the industry. he died in 1974 at the age of 76.

As with other early DEFA productions, many members of the technical crew were UFA alumni. Cinematographer Werner Krien got his start as a feature film cinematographer during the Third Reich. With Konstantin Irmen-Tschet, he had filmed the dazzling Münchhausen (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), regarded as one of the best films to come out of UFA during the war years. But Krien was more opportunist than communist. Somewhere in Berlin would be his only DEFA feature film. Editor Lena Neumann also got her start during the Third Reich, but, unlike Krien, chose to stay with DEFA, editing such classics as Kurt Maetzig’s Story of a Young Couple, Slátan Dudow’s Destinies of Women, and Konrad Wolf’s Lissy.

The music is composed by Erich Einegg and it is his only feature film. Einegg was a talented composer and is best known for his songs sung by the famous lesbian songstress of the 1920’s, Claire Waldoff (whose life was the basis of the East German TV-movie Claire Berolina). Einegg’s music here, however, is strident, march tempo music, similar to that used in U.S. films about the glories of the heroic F.B.I. Later, other composers such as Karl-Ernst Sasse, and Hanns Eisler would handle soundtrack composition with more subtlety.

Worthy of special mention here is Paul Bildt, who played Herr Birke. Bildt had already made a name for himself  as a popular character actor during UFA’s early years. He also  was Gerhard Lamprecht’s acting teacher when the director was trying to break into movies. Bildt continued to work throughout the Third Reich, appearing in Veit Harlan’s Opfergang, and the extravagant Kolberg. At the end of the war he and his daughter attempted to commit suicide when the Russian Army invaded the town where they were staying (an all too common reaction; stories of the Red Army’s brutalities preceded them). Bildt’s daughter died, but he was nursed back to health and continued his acting career in the east. He appeared in several East German films, including Razzia, The Beaver Coat, and Heart of Stone. Most notably, he played the evil Chairman Mauch in Kurt Maetzig’s classic, The Council of the Gods.

Also worth mentioning is Charles Brauer, who played Gustav. After making one more Trümmerfilm for DEFA (Und wieder 48), Brauer moved to West Germany where he has continued his acting career to this day. Today, he is best known for his role as Hauptkommissar Peter Brockmöller on the popular German-TV crime show, Tatort, playing opposite former East German film star, Manfred Krug.

In spite the inherent grimness of Somewhere in Berlin, the film’s tone is positive, suggesting that the future of Germany is in the hands of the children, and that it will survive. It is interesting to compare the Trümmerfilme of DEFA with Italian neorealist Roberto Rossellini’s attempt at the genre, Berlin Year Zero. In spite of the grimness of the situation, the urban destruction, and the national disgrace the people of Germany must have felt, both Somewhere in Berlin and Murders are Among Us end on positive notes. Rossellini’s film, on the other hand, remains relentlessly downbeat. Rossellini sees no future for Germany. His ending—remarkably similar in some respects to the Lamprecht film—leaves us without hope. Fortunately for all of us, Rossellini was wrong.

 

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