JAHRGANG ’45 (Jürgen Böttcher, 1965)

Alfred is a 23-year-old East German automobile mechanic whose two-year marriage to Lisa, a maternity ward nurse, is dissolving. Al is in fact divorcing Li, but the judge in the case has given him six weeks to reconsider and withdraw his petition for divorce. Family, friends and his employer all put in their two cents on the matter, and it’s the same two cents; this divorce makes no sense. Indeed, underneath his flippancy, Al is still in love with Li. Before moving out of their apartment, Al, despite having served Li with divorce papers, still wants his intimacies with her and seems genuinely perplexed at her refusals!
     Al feels vaguely dissatisfied—old before his time. His buddies have moved on from their adolescent band days, but Al fancies himself a frustrated musician. Sometimes, when he is alone, he does odd things that tell us about his feelings. His playing with a feather suggests how he can’t quite get hold of something he can identify as a life; his making a to-do about smoking a cigar suggests he is still modeling behavior in order to arrive at a firm identity—an adolescent trait. A co-worker tells him he doesn’t know what he wants, and Li reiterates the point: “You know what you don’t want but not what you do want.”
     We like Al a lot, partly because he is a good, if lost, guy, partly because he is funny, although without meaning to be, and partly because of his friendship with Mogul, a neighbor who is nearly fifty years his senior. And we like Li, who is composed and remarkably tolerant of her spouse’s foolishness. The film allows us to see that both of them are adept at their jobs. We also note that the couple is childless—a point underscored by the fact that one of Al’s buddies has five kids already. One of Al’s complaints is that he married too young; we surmise that this particular buddy’s example may have helped pressure his decision to marry. From what we also see, we have little doubt that Al married the right girl.
     This very gray black-and-white film was co-written (with Klaus Poche) and directed by Jürgen Böttcher, the painter whose documentary about the fall of the Berlin Wall, Die Mauer (1990), is on my list of the 100 greatest films. Detailed and naturalistic, the film called in the States Born in ’45 itself has an air of documentary about it. It’s a wonderful film—and one banned until reunification for being without purpose: a Stalinist complaint.

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