February 14, 2006

Film drama brings Germany’s divided past to life

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - A heartbreaking love story set in the
Communist east just before the Berlin Wall was built brought to
life Germany's painfully divided past at the Berlin Film
Festival on Tuesday like no other drama before it.

"The Red Cockatoo" by Berlinale veteran director Dominik
Graf offers a riveting glimpse of a vibrant, carefree spirit in
East Germany that darkened only in the run-up to the Wall's
construction in 1961, which turned the east into a vast prison.

Named after a real Dresden club named "Der Rote Kakadu"
(The Red Cockatoo), the drama about a young theater worker who
falls in love with a poet named Luise is told against the
backdrop of growing East-West political tensions.

But the young man's love is unrequited because the
beautiful Luise, played by top local actress Jessica Schwarz,
is married to a fun-loving and unfaithful party animal named

All three become close friends in surprisingly
free-spirited East Germany but are split apart forever by the
Wall, which fell in 1989. East and West Germany reunified a
year later.

"We are still far from being reunited in the east and
west," said Graf, a west German. "We know far too little about
East Germany and what we know is so shallow, so distorted and
so wrong. We've just pushed East Germany out of our minds.

"There's still an invisible boundary between the two parts
of Germany," he added, referring to the myriad of intangible
borders that still divide the richer west from the poor east.
"The gap between east and west is only getting wider."


With an upbeat soundtrack of East German bands doing their
versions of 1950s-style Anglo-Saxon rock, Graf's delightful
film deftly touches on the political changes and worsening East
German police state without turning into a staid history

"I think East Germany was a far more lively place than in
the west then, or at least in Bavaria where I grew up," said
Graf, 53, who nevertheless said he was glad he did not live in
the Communist state, where repression increased after 1961.

"Life in West Germany in that age of Konrad Adenauer was so
repressive and stuffy, so dull. It was a bleak time. I've long
been fascinated by the mysteries of East Germany, what really
happened before everything was sanitized after unity in 1990."

Schwarz, 28, said it was a challenge to play an East

"I knew only very little about East Germany," said the west
German actress, aged 12 when the Wall fell. "I had to ask a lot
of questions and spent time talking to Dresden taxi drivers."

Max Riemelt, 21, who plays the theater worker, grew up in
East Germany and was five when the Wall fell. He agreed Germany
is still divided 16 years after reunification.

"The way East Germany is portrayed in history books and in
school history lessons is so black and white," Riemelt said.

Past competition entries by Graf, whose film is in the
panorama section, were heavy, depressed studies of German gloom
with little commercial success. He has mellowed with age,
however, and "The Red Cockatoo" will get a wide German release.

"Obviously I hope masses will see it," he said.