FunAstrology“Dear Thomas” in the cinema: In addition to time

“Dear Thomas” in the cinema: In addition to time

“Dear Thomas”, Andreas Kleinert’s film biography about the poet and filmmaker Thomas Brasch, fills a gap in German film history.

When modern cinema blossomed explosively in many Eastern European countries, in the years before the Prague Spring, it remained outwardly quiet in the GDR. Hardly anyone in the West could have foreseen that there were masterpieces such as 1966 “Year 45” by Jürgen Böttcher or “Spur der Steine” by Frank Beyer. Hidden in the Defa’s poison cupboards, they only experienced celebrated premieres after the fall of the Wall.

But a hole in film history can no longer be filled. What effect could these “safe films” have had if someone had seen them in their time? Which “young (East) German film” could you have inspired?

Those who belong to the ’68 generation in the GDR would instead combine movie memories with the well-behaved, colorful musical magic of “Hot Summer”. Angela Merkel’s declared favorite film is “The Legend of Paul and Paula”, the romantic cult film from 1973, set to music by the state-sponsored Puhdys. Anyone who grew up in the GDR had to be content with that little bit of youth culture that the party cadres just allowed.

Andreas Kleinert’s film “Dear Thomas” looks like a piece of GDR nouvelle vague that never existed. A young man writes poetry on a naked woman’s body, spread across the full width of Cinemascope’s black and white screen. Or better: “Totalvision”, as Defa called its replica of the American film format. Such a film about a young poet would have become a classic with iconic love scenes and pointed moments of small rebellion: Thomas Brasch, played by Albrecht Schuch, rides his bike across the East Berlin pavement, with his girlfriend Katarina on the handlebars, played by Jella Haase. Baroque music, as Truffaut would have chosen, gives the scene its swing.

In another scene you see him with another friend, fellow student Sylvia (Emma Bading), decorating a Christmas tree at the film school – with a banner: “Freedom is always the freedom of those who think differently.” Would suspect provocation.

Although this fake Defa film never existed, the poet in it has never been forgotten. Even his verses sometimes have a tendency towards strong slogans that need not hide behind those of Luxemburg. They can be heard and read again and again in this biopic. One of his best-known poems, “What I have, I don’t want to lose” from the series “The Paper Tiger” runs through the film in subtitles: “I don’t want to lose what I have, but / where I am I don’t want stay, but / I don’t want to leave, but / who I know I don’t want to see anymore but / where I live, I don’t want to die, but / where I die, I don’t want to go: / stay I want where I’ve never been. “

No wonder that the party officials, including his own father, the cultural functionary Horst Brasch, had to fear this author who knew how to formulate his individualism so easily. In the same year 1966, when the cinematic awakening was buried, his Vietnamese program “See this land” also died unseen at the Volksbühne in Berlin.

In 1968 Brasch was sentenced to prison for distributing leaflets against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact countries. He served 77 days before he was sent to a transformer factory for re-education. It’s a back and forth: sometimes he is allowed to work, then a theater production like “Lovely Rita” with Katharina Thalbach (written without an “h” in the film) is canceled before the premiere. After all, a volume of poetry was officially published in 1975.

It is the sound of the stick that alternates with the carrot that gives Kleinert’s film the rhythm. The style is fragmentary and yet homogeneous in the restrained, respectful tone of the actors’ leadership and short, powerful agitprop moments. The filmmaker, who was born in East Berlin, knows what he’s talking about: Between 1984 and 1989 he studied in Babelsberg himself. The immense running time of 156 minutes still seems too short: one would have liked to have found out more about Brasch’s own film work, which was not made in West Germany until 1980. In 1976 he had applied for an exit visa and moved to West Berlin with his girlfriend Katharina and daughter Anna.

The artist who is prevented is almost more present than the later spoiled for success. He was one of the few Germans to have two films in the Cannes competition, “Angel from Iron” and “The Passenger – Welcome to Germany”. Only marginally does the film touch on these successes in a very beautiful miniature – and again Brasch looks like the onlooker of a life that has been prevented. During its premiere, he meets his father in the foyer, who is visiting the festival for the East German Ministry of Culture. “Beside the Time” is the name of an earlier film by Andreas Kleinert, and that is where this artist seems to have ended up in spite of all the topicality of his work.

Dear Thomas. D 2021. Director: Andreas Kleinert. 156 min.

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