Isabel on the Stairs

(Isabel auf der Treppe)

GDR, 1983, 67 min, color
In German; English subtitles
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)


Twelve-year-old Isabel and her mother, a famous political singer in Chile, fled their home country after the 1973 military coup. Isabel’s father stayed behind, fighting in the underground resistance movement. For six years, mother and daughter have lived in a new apartment building in East Berlin. Their neighbors welcomed them, but six years later, they have grown distant to Isabel and her mother. In addition to her mother becoming more despondent in her loneliness and worrying about her husband, Isabel also feels alienated. Even her friendship with the neighbor boy Philip cannot her overcome these feelings. Almost every day, Isabel sits on the stairs and waits to intercept a letter about her father, hoping to save her mother the grief.


This film, based on a radio drama by Waltraud Lewin, reflects the experiences of more than 2,000 political refugees who came to the GDR immediately after the coup. The lead roles played by Chilean exiles (Isabel is played by Irina Gallardo Baez, who became a known actress, and Isabel’s mother is played by actress Teresa Polle, the wife of the theater director Carlos Medina) describe the fate of Chileans in GDR exile in the late 1970s. Official statements proclaiming a positive environment for refugees contradicted the realities of life for Chilean expatriates in the GDR, who often felt unwelcome.



2017 Arts Night, German Studies Association Conference, Atlanta, GA
2016 DEFA Films on Chile, Cineteca National, Chile
2012 Cineteca National, Chile
2011 Re-discovered, Goldener Spatz Film Festival, Gera, Germany
2007 SOLIDARITY! DEFA and Latin America, DEFA Film Library Summer Institute
1985 Young Audience Jury Prize, "Golden Sparrow" National Festival of Children's Cinema and Television Films, Gera

Press comments

“A plea for tolerance.”  –


“The film is timeless and, today, more important than ever.”    –


“The film put the solidarity of East Germans with refugees to the test.” —Potsdam Film Museum


The film bravely discusses the contradictions between official slogans and reality in dealing with refugees.”  –


“The film dramatizes the fate of Latin American exile in the GDR and is based on a more straightforward tone of sympathy for the plight of refugees in need of help.” —Barton Byg, “Solidarity and Exile,” in Moving Pictures, Migrating Identities


“The film is educational and well-made. It promotes understanding and a willingness to help refugees.” –Lexikon des Internationalen Films


“The Chilean actors’ own experiences contributed to their performance and gave the film authenticity.”  —Heinz Kersten, So viele Träume


“It is important to show the film because it tells the story of a country that offered many children asylum but does not exist anymore today.”  —Irina Gallardo Báez, actress playing Isabel


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