Fallen East German Star Returns to Film
Feb. 14, 2003
BERLIN (AP) _ One of Germany's biggest screen hopes at this year's Berlin film festival is the story of a devoted communist who emerges from a coma eight months after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It stars Katrin Sass, an actress famous in the former East Germany who has had troubles of her own getting a professional foothold in reunified Germany.
``Good Bye, Lenin!'' is one of 22 films competing for the Golden Bear award for best movie at the festival that ends Sunday.
German films have been scarce in the festival's competition in recent years. Last year, British director Paul Greengrass' ``Bloody Sunday'' shared the Golden Bear with ``Spirited Away,'' from Japan's Hayao Miyazaki.
In ``Good Bye, Lenin!,'' Sass stars as a single mother in East Berlin who falls into a coma and awakens, frail and bedridden, after the wall has fallen. To spare her the shock of this change, her son creates the illusion of an intact communism in the confines of their small apartment.
Wolfgang Becker, the movie's director, insisted that an actress from the former East Germany play the role. Sass said Becker told her he was struck by her feel for the defunct ideological world.
``I realized during the filming that not so much time had passed,'' the 46-year-old actress said. ``I was reminded of amusing things. The things we used to buy ... and also things you couldn't buy.''
Working on the film also brought up old resentments toward East Germany's stifling political system, especially while filming scenes that depict the demonstrations that swept across East Germany in 1989.
``It is absurd that a regime had to intern its 18 million citizens behind a wall, and on top of that employed every third one as a spy,'' Sass said. ``It was a pretty wretched system that needed to do that.''
Sass acknowledges she was no victim of the East German system, but says she was eager to see it collapse. Early in her film career, she paid a price for success. After winning a Silver Bear at the 1982 Berlin festival in the movie ``Surety for a Year,'' she was permitted to travel to West Berlin to pick up the award _ then was snubbed professionally at home.
``I was punished for that. For two years, I did not receive any roles,'' she said. ``You have to remember that 'star' was a forbidden word under communism.''
After gradually being allowed to return to work, Sass expected to be courted by studios in a reunified Germany. No offers appeared.
``In East Germany, I was really spoiled. Each year a film script lay ready for me,'' she said. ``After 1989, nobody knew me. There simply were not any offers.''
When she finally got a break, in 1993, it was on television, playing a police investigator on a series for six years. It wasn't until 2001 that she made another movie, playing a middle-age Berlin shopowner who discovers romantic love in ``Heidi M.'' She won Germany's best actress award for that role.
``Good Bye, Lenin!'' has won critical acclaim in Germany, and its producers are looking for a U.S. distributor.
Of her character's ignorance of communism's demise, Sass said: ``I wouldn't have liked to sleep through any of it.''
Sass also appears at the festival in ``Babij Yar.'' The title refers to a ravine in Ukraine where more than 30,000 Jews were executed in 1941 under Nazi occupation.