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GoetheInstitute

22/03/2006

From the Feuilletons is a weekly overview of what's been happening in the German-language cultural pages and appears every Friday at 3 pm. CET.. Here a key to the German newspapers.

The Stasi film "Das Leben der Anderen" hits the German screens tomorrow

"Das Leben Der Anderen" (The Life of Others) is the debut work of young West-German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (more here and a photo here). It tells of the changes that take place in the life of a line-toeing officer of the East-German Ministry for State Security, or Stasi, when he is entrusted with spying on a successful playwright and his actress girlfriend.

Singer songwriter Wolf Biermann, a former GDR dissident who was denaturalised in 1975, watched the film with a couple of friends. Writing in Die Welt, he tells how he is flabbergasted at how this young upstart from the West has managed to give a face to the "faceless scoundrels" of his own Stasi files. "Lohr and Reuter worked for years in the Stasi's 'Poets' section. And their job was systematically to 'decompose' me – as chemical as the terminus technicus of the Stasi sounds. Two of the roughly 20 measures against dissidents were typed in a long list on an old typewriter: 'Destruction of all love relationships and friendships,' and 'Faulty medical treatment' (...) Certainly, they were somewhat altered as film characters, but for the first time I saw these phantoms as human beings, right down to their inner contradictions. The ghosts leave their world of shadows. Sometimes a work of art can have more documentary authenticity than documentary films, whose truth is put in doubt both by the perpetrators – of course – and more painfully by audiences who get bored very quickly."

It is rare indeed that a film review features as the lead article on the front page of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's feuilleton section. Andreas Kilb was deeply impressed by "Das Leben der Anderen." He writes, "The film could well have foundered for moral overzealousness. But it takes its time, patiently observing how the constellation it builds up slowly topples, artfully contriving to bring about the ensuing catastrophe. Patience like this needs a coldness of heart rarely found in debut filmmakers. And it is even rarer in those personally involved in the events. Perhaps it's no accident that von Donnersmarck comes from West-Germany, and that he grew up in Berlin, Frankfurt and New York. An East-German director would probably have approached the material in a less innocent, less inquisitive way."

In Der Tagesspiegel, Jan Schulz-Ojala observes a new trend in German film: portraying "both major and minor perpetrators as victims." The trend is seen both in "the mega-hit 'The Downfall', about the last days in the Hitler Bunker, and the radical rapist psychodrama 'The Free Will', which will probably come out in the second half of this year. They may not all do equally well at the box office, but what they have in common is their melodramatic drive to show human beasts larger than life and – even worse – their icy disinterest in the victims of this bestiality. You can't directly accuse Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's film of indifference to the Stasi victims, because in the end they do provide the necessary warmth in an incredibly musty, spy-and-snitch dictatorship. But the real boon of this debut film, which was assiduously shot to get straigt A's in all subjects, goes to the initially evil, but then poor Stasi swine Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), and his cathartic transformation to a 'good person'. That gets three dramatic exclamation points."


Süddeutsche Zeitung, 22.03.2006


Ingo Petz talks with a student in Belarus, who tells him how things are going on October Square in Minsk (pictures here). "The mood was good, very emotional. Those demonstrating were mainly young people who've been agitating for change for a long time because they see no perspective in this country. They've lost all their fear, they've got nothing to lose. I also spoke to some young Estonians, Georgians and Ukrainians who'd come to support us. An elderly Belarusian who was present at the vote count told me that Milinkievich got at least 30 percent of the vote. That's why he came to the square: for the truth. All the others sat at home in front of the television, as usual. What's important is that they see that there's a demonstration in Minsk. Many have understood that something's wrong in our country. They are demoralised, they are still afraid. But the cars honk when they drive by and strangers bring us food. So, of course they are risking something. That's a good sign."


Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 22.03.2006


Andreas Breitenstein notes that Eastern European authors are forced to voice political opinions. "Ukrainian authors are forced to be political, alone because of the coming elections on March 26. It was touching to see how authors in Leipzig were willing to set aside their literary obstinacy and be engaged as commentators of political dogfights (the Eastern and Central European colleagues tired of this role long ago). Despite sobriety, the pride of the young democracies has not evaporated." Unfortunately, Breitenstein did not meet with Belarusian authors. (See our feature "Europe - my neurosis" by Ukrainian author Yuri Andrukhovych)


Die Welt, 22.03.2006

In an interview, the winner of the Leipzig Book Prize Ilija Trojanow talks about the Islamic faith and the hero of his most recent novel, the British diplomat and explorer Richard Francis Burton. In response to the question whether Burton, like himself, was a converted Muslim, Trojanow says, "No, I'm not, that's an extremely exasperating question because people are so conditioned that they can only think in black and white. Which is why this question is still being discussed, 150 years after Burton. If one thinks spiritually, deeply and not ideologically, if one wants to participate in the wealth, and senses an affinity for what Islam calls Sufism, then one cannot convert."

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