When Nelly left the German Democratic Republic or East Germany everything in her life was in turmoil. She lost her Partner Wassily, a famous physicist died in a car accident three years before. Forced from her job as a biologist after this, she has had too spend much of that time waiting for her and her son to be granted an exit visa to leave. Now in West Germany however life hasn’t changed as she had hoped. Stuck in limbo, her life begins to return to that of the past. Suspected of knowing something or hiding something else, Nelly begins a series of interrogations and cross examinations by American servicemen. The world of East Germany is closer than she thought possible. as she had hoped.
More often than not we have seen the narrative of what ‘they’ did and what the west had to do in response. They (read the communists of Soviet Russia) were viewed as the ultimate evil and western powers were fighting for citizen’s lives and their very civilization. Finally after a distance has been placed between events and now, we have begun to engage with the other troubling side of this narrative. The cold war has become a period of great self-reflection and contemplation. Historians, commentators and now film makers have opened the door onto untold stories and worlds within worlds of the iron curtain.
Christian Schwochow film is a delight in this area. Taking as its focus the lives of people already destroyed by oppressive governments, Schwochow
uses great poise and thought in his engagement. This is derived from the large and the small touches. The small is very particular indeed. It ranges from the way period details has been captured, to the excellent mannerisms of East Germans compared to their West German cousins.The large touches are far more complex but would be best described as the lead performances (Jördis Triebel is stellar as Nelly) and the script. Written by Schwochow mother Heide his constant collaborator, it does something staggering. We see the lives of ordinary people in a compelling and relatable way. rare indeed for a film that is handling a subject matter so highly charged with emotion and memory.
It is not all good news as some of the film falls very flat on its face. The Americans characters for example are one dimensional and feel heavy in the piece. The have an unfortunate place within the complex tapestry and really break the stride of the film. This really does hamper an otherwise excellent film. Well told, compelling and deeply felt in places. It is best to be considered as a film about the pain of emigration and settlement. It is telling that this film has received little mention in the wider film community, I feel it is more to do with the subject matter than the film makers ambitions or marketing strategy. We are living in a time where fear of the other is very present. In this film the other is the protagonist and as such we live in her shoes.