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Helma Sanders-Brahms was one of the most important German filmmakers of the post-war era. A selection of seven films from the director’s extensive oeuvre provides an overview. She was comfortable both in fiction and documentary cinema, making films about historical themes as well as about contemporary issues, and poignant dramas as well as political satires. Unconventional biographies of artistic personalities run through her work just as much as fictional portraits of women, which function like a magnifying glass to make visible social and political grievances. As personally motivated as many of her films are, as subjective and emotional in their approach, all of them are genuinely political. Not infrequently, they struck an almost painful chord with the times, which always attracted rejection.

SHIRINS HOCHZEIT (FRG 1976, 22.11.) Shirin, a young Turkish woman from Anatolia, escapes to Cologne in Germany to avoid an arranged marriage to a rich man and to search for Mahmud, whom she loves and considers her real fiancé. But a hopeless decline from hard factory work to unemployment to prostitution, which will end in her death, awaits her. Helma Sanders-Brahms was one of the first women to explore the conditions of female migrants in film. The desperate tragedy, the use of neorealist black-and-white as well as the auteur’s voiceover accompanying the protagonist’s suffering, which provided a highly subjective counterpoint to the documentary-like images, remain as radically provocative today.

HEINRICH (FRG 1977, 23.11.) The portrait of the poet Heinrich von Kleist, whom the director admires, shows a torn personality, a desperate lonely man, torn between the romantic ideal of love and poetry, Prussian reality, and the warlike and revolutionary course of time. Sanders-Brahms is not concerned with a historically authentic portrayal, but with a puzzle comprising unhappy relationships, poetic work, experiences of war, and longing for death, reflecting the essence of a poet who has become an enigma even to himself.

DEUTSCHLAND, BLEICHE MUTTER (FRG 1980, 24.11.) examines the neglected story of the women who fought energetically on the "home front" during the Second World War and managed their families through it. Hans and Lene marry in the summer of 1939; when their daughter Anna is born, Hans is already a soldier in occupied France and Germany is the target of Allied bombing raids. Lene gets the child through the war alone. After the return of her husband in peacetime, family life paralyzes her – not only in a figurative sense. After its premiere in 1980, the film was cut for theatrical release in response to sometimes very negative reviews from German critics. The restored version includes approximately 30 missing minutes.

LAPUTA (FRG 1986, 25.11.) Between flights, Paul, a French architect, meets his lover Margoszata, a Polish photographer, for a day or a night in Berlin. For him, Berlin is 'Laputa', the flying island from Gulliver's Travels. This time, Margoszata only has an hour and a half for him. The situation between expectation and disappointment creates an increasingly passionate and aggressive atmosphere. Narrative time and narrated time are identical here: the action covers the hour and a half that Margoszata is in Berlin. The action takes place mainly in an apartment and consists almost exclusively of the conversations between the two, their harsh arguments and attempts to restore intimacy.

MANÖVER (FRG 1988, 26.11.) is a satirical comedy about divided Germany in the 1950s, against the backdrop of the Cold War and rearmament. In the GDR, Max Klett, a lieutenant in the National People’s Army, is trained to dance the tango in order to seduce the West German Defense Ministry secretary, Elly Wackernagel, and thus obtain one of the “class enemy’s” secret weapons. Although, or perhaps because, Elly is having an affair with her married boss, assistant secretary Dinklage, she agrees to help the attractive East German spy with a maneuver. 1950s flair, newsreel clips and a cast featuring Alfred Edel and Adriana Altaras turn the spy story into a whimsical Cold War comedy.

HERMANN MEIN VATER (F/FRG 1987, 26.11.) is a very personal documentary: Helma Sanders-Brahms undertakes a journey to France with her father, visiting the places in which he was stationed during the war and recording the new encounters with people he had met at the time. The footage is juxtaposed with documentary material that allows the viewer to feel the cruelty and impact of the German invasion of France. The director wants to confront her father with the historical truth and elicit a confession of guilt, but he prefers to pursue his personal memories and evade confrontation. On the one hand, this father-daughter journey is meant as a counterpart to DEUTSCHLAND, BLEICHE MUTTER about the director's mother; on the other, it completes her post-war trilogy, alongside MANÖVER.

MEIN HERZ – NIEMANDEM! (G 1997, 27.11.) is another artist biography or double biography. The Jewish poet Else Laske-Schüler and the Nazi writer Gottfried Benn were passionately in love with each other. Numerous poems, which can be understood as a dialogue, bear eloquent witness to this. Their love poetry is at the center of this collage-like film, which interweaves scenes, documents and musical sequences. (ah)

A Deutsche Kinemathek - Museum für Film und Fernsehen event. Other films by Helma Sanders-Brahms will be shown at Bundesplatzkino between Nov. 21st and Dec. 13th.

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media