Siberia, 1952. Some gulag all other (they all look the same to me). A prisoner climbs over a barbed wire fence to go to the bedside of his young daughter. Its her birthday, and he hasn’t seen her in 3 years. He kisses her, then returns over the fence on his way back to his sleeping quarters. He is apprehended by prison guards asking what he’s doing. He stammers “Long live Communism. Long Live Comrade Stalin”, but it doesn’t matter. They shoot him dead.
The opening scenes explain how Antonia became a widow. Antonia has also been in the gulag for 10 years, but is sent to the DDR with some other dissidents and Trotskyists. Like them, she had originally. gone to the Soviet Union to build the new socialist project but fallen by the wayside. The condition of their release is that they may not talk about what happened to them.
Antonia gets involved with Konrad, a pediatrician who is excited about the young “socialist” state, refusing his father’s offer of a rich practise in Hamburg in the West to stay and build a new utopia. Antonia will be subsequently interrogated by people who share Konrad’s enthusiasm – including those who suffered real hardships in the Nazi concentration camps and are desperately trying to build some sort of alternative to capitalism.
This opens up a very interesting contradiction which the film eagerly exploits – to what extent can a repressive world system be opposed by a state which is equally repressive? The leaders and jailers of the DDR are sincere, but are they right?
With so much material, you’re not going to get a bad film, but it does pull too many punches. After playing lip service to the sincerity of Walter Ulbricht’s enforcers, too many of them are drawn as cartoon characters to create much dramatic tension.
So you have the crass bureaucrat who loudly complains that a children’s performance about vegetables doesn’t contain enough socialist realism. Or we see Konrad’s shock when he comes home to see Antonia and her friends drinking champagne to celebrate Stalin’s death. Not many minutes later, after reading Antonia’s diaries, he is ready to give up on the whole thing.
As we don’t see how disillusion takes hold, there is no real drama. This is supplemented by the style of many of the one-sided dialogues, where one person rants on, while occasionally. Pausing. For no real. Reason, Meanwhile the person they are apparently conversing with stays silent throughout. Its just a little too much film school, and not enough how people speak in real life.
Nonetheless I’ve seen enough films recently which are jusr long discourses about nothing. At least this one attempts to address important issues, even if its ultimately not really up to the task. In the end, I’m not sure it will satisfy either people who want to celebrate the DDR nor those who want to demonise it. The characters are a little too two-dimensional to allow either side any real discussion.
But it is a valiant attempt, even if it didn’t hit as many targets as it should.