I would certainly not call this a classic film, but it deserves more appreciation than it has actually obtained. It merits a decent place in the art-house circuit. In fact even confirmed commie-haters may find some enjoyment in this film. In addition its hidden reflection on the state of mind in the final years of the GDR (East-Germany) make it into a cultural milestone. The film was brought out in 1988, as another low-budget project of Defa Studios, with a simple story and lots of dialogs. The stage is a nursing home for tubercular patients, around 1951 in East-Germany. A Bolshevist superintendent of police and a clergyman share the same room, with pictures of Stalin and Jesus Christ on each side. There is evidently competition right from the start, with the officer (always in uniform) boasting the newly acquired power, and the vicar leaning on traditional authority. Their dialogs are not sharp or witty, but interesting from a philosophical point of view. They urge the other patients to visit either the party meetings and elections or the religious service on Sunday. Gradually the bystanders force the officer and the vicar to develop a certain degree of tolerance. Both agitators have their own adherents, but the majority simply does not care and wants to be left alone. The medical superintendent cares only about the well-being of his institute, and is an opportunist who formerly joined the NSDAP and now offers to become a SED (=GDR Bolshevist party) member. The vicar forgoes treatment with a scarce and expensive American medicine in favor of the officer. When the officer finds out, the vicar explains that death does not scare him: "I am in Gods hands". The officer dreams that the American medicine will one day be produced in the GDR. In the course of their quarrels they indeed manage to get on speaking terms with each other. It should be remembered that this film was recorded during the period of Soviet perestroika and glasnost. In the GDR large demonstrations were held on a regular basis, and the church played a significant role as meeting-place in these activities. The government felt, that it lost control of the situation, and this may explain the gloomy and ailing atmosphere in the film (comparable to the film Die Architekten, which was designed in the same period). At the end it remains unclear whether either of the ideologists will actually survive - although the officer, with his new American medicine, obviously has the better chances. The GDR government was a dictatorship, but it has always envisaged this situation as a temporary provision. The bourgeois ideas were supposed to wither in a cultural break, during which the people would realize the economic and humane advantages of cooperation. The absence of private financial assets would extinguish any remaining feelings of greed. It was this dream of the future, which made the real large-scale anti-government demonstrations of the people into a cognitive torture for the ruling party. It caused a profound ideological crisis, just as the beat down of all these other upsurges (GDR and Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Poland 1970) did. Somehow the ruling leaders were not able to integrate the protests into the system and turn them into a conformist reformers movement. This makes the film into a produce of makers, who sense that their plea is already in vain and their cause is lost.
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