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Films Show Vibrant Women and Their Nation

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Goethe Institute, 8501 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills, presents three evenings of outstanding films from East Germany starting at 7 tonight with “Solo Sunny” (1979) and “On Probation” (1981). Both these pictures and Wednesday evening’s offering, “Apprehension” (1981), are solid, intimate and engrossing movies in a strong realistic style that bring to mind the well-made, thoughtful films of Volker Schlondorff rather than the more bravura work of R.W. Fassbinder, Werner Herzog or Wim Wenders.

The three films are also striking, fully illuminated portraits of three vibrant but very different women, representing Oscar-caliber performances by their respective actresses. All the films are set in Berlin.

“Solo Sunny,” which was written by Wolfgang Kohlhaase (who will be present) and directed by Kohlhaase and the late Konrad Wolf, is an affectionate, poignant portrait of a survivor, a scrappy aspiring pop singer of limited ability who insists on living on her own terms. It is also a quite honest depiction of the stable but fairly impoverished life in the then-closed society of East Germany. Auburn-haired, pretty and irresistibly impish, Renate Krossner was voted best actress at the 1980 Berlin Film Festival for her portrayal of the determined Sunny. In director Hermann Zschoche and writer Gabriele Kotte’s “On Probation” Katrin Sass’s Nina is a wonderfully earthy young woman caught up in a desperate struggle to grow up. The mother of three while still in her teens, Nina lost custody of her children in the wake of her abusive ex-husband’s departure. Admittedly a neglectful mother and hard-living party girl, Nina, now in her mid-20s has a steady job (as a streetcar washer) and a stable boyfriend, and would like her children back. With compassion and affection “On Probation” traces Nina’s far-from-easy or straight-forward path to self-knowledge and maturity; everyone can identify with Nina’s insight that life may be lousy--her description is actually blunter “but it’s the only one we’ve got.”

Frank Beyer’s “The Break-In” (1989), which Kohlhaase wrote, is considerably more than a caper comedy. Certainly, its three principals are amusingly familiar criminal types: Gotz George as Walter Graf, a handsome, virile womanizer; Rolf Hoppe as Bruno Markward, an impassive, imperious old pro; and Otto Sander as Erwin Lubovitz, a skinny, wistful guy with a droopy mustache. The time, however, is 1946, and Kohlhaase evokes with dark-hued humor and irony the wide-open, anything-goes atmosphere of the immediate postwar era.

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This trio, moreover, is echoed by another, composed of a young woman with whom Graf is having an affair, and the two youths who are pursuing her, one of whom becomes a cop, the other a crook. The point Kohlhaase makes about the woman is that most of the men her age died in the war. The caper itself, which involves knocking over a railway office safe, is not a matter of suspense; what matters to Beyer and Kohlhaase is to investigate the amoral climate of the era and to pay heartfelt but unpretentious tribute to the Berliners’ spirit of survival.

Never mind that “Apprehension,” written by Erika Richter from a story by Helga Schubert and directed by Lothar Warneke, echoes previous pictures dealing with a day in the life of a woman awaiting word on tests for cancer. This film is so incisive, so observant--a description that applies with equal force to “Solo Sunny” and “On Probation” as well--and Christine Schorn’s performance so comprehensive and luminous it’s as if it were offering a unique experience.

Schorn’s Inge Herold is an attractive, radiant woman of about 40, a psychologist who works as a counselor in marriage and family problems at a welfare center. She is, in her own phrase, “happily divorced,” having an affair with a married man (and unconcerned about her teen-age son’s animosity toward her lover) and confident in her work. However, the news that she has a lump in her breast which must be removed and which may be malignant, devastates her. The knowledge causes her to re-evaluate her life and loved ones from the perspective of a pervading sense of mortality that has been so abruptly thrust upon her.

For more information: (213) 854-0993.

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VideoLACE and Filmforum present “Red Fish in America: New Independent Film and Video from the Soviet Union,” a program of 16 works made between 1985 and 1990, none of which was available for preview. (213) 624-5650. The works screen at downtown’s Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, 1804 Industrial St., tonight and Tuesday at 8 p.m.


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