BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: Goethe Institut selects, round one.

ONE OF THE best parts of the Film Society year is when the Goethe Institut provide a few of the more obscure German films for viewing. This year, to commemorate twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Film Society is screening four East German films. Each was made by the state sponsored studio DEFA (which took over from the hugely influential UFA studios of inter-war and WWII Germany). The first film programmed, Berlin-Schonhauser Corner, is a 1950s teen melodrama set in East Berlin. The conceits of Hollywood teen movies like Rebel Without a Cause or The Wild Ones – the angst, the awkward rebellion, the acknowledgement of the adult world – are transplanted onto the Eastern German adolescents, and the result is a rather gritty and compelling film.

Dieter (Ekkehard Schall, Bertolt Brecht’s son-in-law) is a typical moody teenager. He’s apathetic to the point of letting his undeniable talents fizzle out, and the only thing he seems to have any eyes for is Angela (Ilse Page). His friends are an awkward bunch, from the physically abused misfit to the rich-good-for-nothing crook. But this is also post-war East Germany – and the war is an obvious subtext. There are few intact families in the film: Dieter’s an orphan and lives with his policeman brother; Angela’s widowed mother is attempting a romance with a prick (probably because he’s all that she can find). Bombed out buildings and mines are daily hazards. Furthermore, the teenagers were those who would have been born around the start of the War. As a result, their rebellion has a palpable target, the adults who caused so much ruin and despair in the first place. The city is beautifully shot as well, and the city’s architecture ends up playing a role in the film’s atmosphere.

The film's hard edges also make up for the more obvious socialist tendencies. The Western German side is shown to be inhabited by scoundrels and murderers. I also may be reading too much into the villains (the capitalist gangsters, who occasionally smoke cigars and are portly) but they also tend to be dubiously Jewish. Of course, this was the height of socialist anti-Semitism, so that might be a specific possibility. The ending isn’t in any doubt either, but the film refrains from celebrating the East as well. The kids are into rock n roll, jazz, hanging out, anything to avoid having to conform to the system. Disillusionment with the whole system runs through the whole movie, the film showing that the anti-establishment and youth go together no matter the political system.