DEFA Film Library
at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
Cinema of East Germany
Divided Heaven: From the Ice Age to the Thaw
1988-89, East Germany (DEFA), color,
111 min. English subtitles
"In war-devastated 1946 Berlin, a quirky band of small time crooks crack a bank vault. From the opening sequence in a ratty postwar movie house, Peter Ziesche's fluid camerawork establishes the film's bittersweet nostalgic mood. There are food shortages, black market swindlers, tattered pin-striped suits - everything in flux.
The dialog is crisp and full of delightful word plays and puns. There's not a superfluous line in this picture's screenplay by veteran DEFA scriptwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase. West German TV police action series star Götz George gets top billing and turns in a relatively subdued performance.
Director Frank Beyer, who has been making films and TV shows since the early sixties, has a firm grip throughout this film, resulting in fine ensemble acting. Rolf Hoppe handles his role as a retired safecracker who is talked into taking on one last job with a skill and charm that has the audience rooting for the 'bad guys.' Politics in war-torn Berlin are ever present, and the 'good guys' are bumbling rookie postwar policemen who have replaced ousted Nazis. In one moving scene, Hoppe's safecracker is interrogated by a detective (Gerhard Hähndel) who was once incarcerated at the same Nazi prison as the safecracker. The detective, a communist, had been branded a political criminal. That vignette is typical of Beyer's attention to detail and his ability to reach inside characters to show what makes them tick.
Technical credits are superb, fleshing out a bombed-out city and making it come to life through rich color and sound."
Variety, March 1-7, 1989.
About the Director:
Frank Beyer was born in Nobitz, Thuringia on May 26, 1932. In 1951 he worked as a scenario editor and as an assistant director at the Theater in Glauchau/Crimmitschau. He later studied theater in Berlin, and directing at the famed Prague Film School (FAMU) with Milos Forman and other budding Czechoslovakian directors. After completing Zwei Mütter, his thesis film, Beyer began directing at the DEFA Feature Film Studios in 1957. His film Spur der Steine (Trace of Stones) was banned by GDR state officials for being "politically inappropriate." He was not allowed to work as a film director again until his re-emergence in 1974 with Jakob der Lügner (Jacob the Liar), which was nominated for best foreign film at the Academy Awards in 1977. Beyer is known for directing some of the most powerful and historically significant films at DEFA. Since DEFA's dissolution he continued to work primarily in television.
Frank Beyer died on October 1, 2006, aged 74, in Berlin after a long illness.
Zwei Mütter (1957), Eine alte Liebe (1959), Fünf Patronenhülsen (1960), Königskinder (1962), Nackt unter Wölfen (1963), Karbid und Sauerampfer (1963), Spur der Steine (1966), Jakob der Lügner (1974), Das Versteck (1977), Der Aufenthalt (1983), Bockshorn (1984), Der Bruch (1989), Der Verdacht (1991), Nikolaikirche (1995- television production).
About the Scriptwriter:
Wolfgang Kohlhaase was born on May 13, 1931 in Berlin. He began writing while he was in school in Berlin, and in 1947 he was a volunteer as well as an editor for a youth newspaper. He also worked for the FDJ newspaper Junge Welt. He began his career at DEFA in 1950; by 1952 Kohlhaase was a freelance scriptwriter and author. Some of his major works include: Alarm im Zirkus, Der Fall Gleiwitz, Berlin um die Ecke, Ich war Neunzehn, Solo Sunny, Der Bruch, and Der Aufenthalt.
Kohlhaase, Wolfgang. "DEFA: A Personal View." DEFA: East German Cinema, 1946-1992. Seán Allan and John Sandford, eds. New York: Berghahn, 1999. 117-130.
- - - . "Some Remarks about GDR Cinema." Selected Papers from the Twelfth New Hampshire Symposium on the German Democratic Republic 8. Margy Gerber, ed. Lanham, MD: UPs of America, 1987. 1-6.
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