THE ARCHITECTS (Peter Kahane, 1990)

Bolstered by a beautiful lead performance by Kurt Naumann and guided by Thomas Knauf’s excellent script, Peter Kahane’s sharp, engrossing Die Architekten dramatizes the stifling atmosphere of East Germany in what would prove its last gasps. By the time the film was released, the Berlin Wall had fallen.
     Idealistic architect Daniel Brenner, fed up with designing bus stops, finally secures an important commission, an East Berlin cultural center, for which he assembles a young team that likewise wishes to oppose the calcifying socialist standard: the sort of sensible, ugly structures that our eyes take in throughout the film—and without, I might add, Kahane’s drearily pointing them out. State authority does its best to reign in the team’s project, eventually canceling it as hifalutin and politically dangerous before reinstating it with a new set of requirements. How far can artists compromise and remain artists? How much can people capitulate and remain human?
     Meanwhile, Daniel’s marriage unravels. Wanda moves with their daughter, Johanna, to join her lover in West Berlin, urging Daniel to follow. He stays behind.
     Kahane’s film, unlike so many recent films about the East German experience, is bereft of melodrama and hysteria; indeed, its shrewd calm is one of its principal assets. I find elusive, however, whether the film finds the state also somehow responsible, if only in part, for the collapse of the Brenners’ marriage, and if so, how this is so. One of the most memorable shots shows Johanna from an upstairs window dropping an umbrella so that her father can use it against the rain.
     Cinematographer Andreas Kofer has used color with unusual restraint, achieving a highly expressive result. It contributes to the film’s overall sobriety and seriousness—and broodingly offsets a montage of black-and-white photographs late in the film.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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