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Saturday, August 31, 2013

DER GETEILTE HIMMEL / DIVIDED HEAVEN (1964)

You know what you’re in for when a film about the separate worlds of East & West Germany has the chutzpah to call itself DIVIDED HEAVEN. Konrad Wolf’s pic, taken from the Christa Wolf novel, is one of those ‘thoughtful’ Communist Block tales that slipped thru the Soviet censors during a brief cultural thaw. Critics had to hail these cracks in the system quickly, before the authorities clamped down on the film’s release. (Hardly a problem confined to the past with China & Iran still coming down on their own Film Fest entries.) But nobly conceived or not, this ‘classic’ from the old GDR is one lousy piece of work, and only fitfully survives as a historical curiosity. The set-up is simple enough, SHE’s a naive young thing; bright eyes & bushy-tailed, pulling her weight in a factory job while studying to be a teacher. HE’s older; sadder, wiser & sexually experienced, a chemist with a new formulation he can’t get into production. Maybe he’d have better luck in the more open-minded West? What makes the film sound interesting is that it was made just as the French New Wave was sweeping over the continent, even East Germany. (Truffaut’s JULES ET JIM/’62 is all over the place.) But after a couple of reels, the yummy b&w WideScreen lensing grows ridiculously self-conscious. As one all-too-artful composition follows another, the colliding frame-worthy images begin to cancel each other out, like a German meal mit schlag on every dish. By the time we get to the covert rhapsodies on shallow Capitalistic tendencies versus noble Communist advances, you may long for the straightforward dodges of barefaced propaganda.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Wipe away the sham humanism with a healthy dose of East/West vulgarity: Billy’s Wilder’s uneven, often uproarious ONE, TWO, THREE/’61, shot as the Berlin Wall went up.

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