Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Other Woman

On Saturday afternoon, Smartmom went to the newly enlarged Museum of Modern Art to see a screening of "The Other Woman" a German film written by Best & Oldest.

What a thrill to see her credit roll by in the dark theater.

And she is in excellent company. The film was directed by Margarethe von Trotta, who made "Marianne and Julianne," "Sisters," and "Rosa Luxemburg." "The Other Woman" stars another Park Slope luminary: the brilliant Barbara Sukowa, who played Rosa Luxemburg, as well as numerous Rainer Werner Fassbinder heroines.

As Best & Oldest describes it, "The Other Woman" is, on a certain level, "the story of one man and two women. The oldest story in the world." But with a post-war German twist. A wife's discovery that her husband, a member of the Stasi - the East German secret police - had another life with another woman as part of his job is at the heart of this human drama. The other woman, played by Barbara Sukowa, is now in jail serving a sentence for espionage. Her life in ruins, she invites the wife to prison and slowly reveals the truth -- and the lies -- about their duplicitous husband.

Apparently, these Stasi romances were quite common during the cold war. Women who worked for embassies and other government agencies were seduced by these Stasi "Romeos" who would romance them, wine them and dine them, marry them, even have children with them in order to steal state secrets. In the Stasi it was called: "Fucking for the Fatherland."

Best & Oldest, in an interview said, "The script is based on a true story, which is about the Stasi. They had a program in place called “Project Romeo.” The idea was as follows: they would seduce woman working for embassies and other organizations throughout West Germany, to steal their secrets, but what made it different was that by and large these relationships lasted for years, were phony marriages, others lived together and these women were told stories that you can’t possibly believe. And they were unique in spying for love in that they were all German. The men spoke their language and they knew the women’s culture. Some of them met, were seduced, fell in love, some of the women were overwhelmed by the communist ideology. Some of the men said they were scientists, that they were Danish. It offered a whole variety of stories. When the Wall came down, many of these people were caught. The men walked free, and the woman went to jail, many of them for up to six years."

"The Other Woman" is an incredibly engaging film. The prison scenes with Sukowa and Barbara Auer, who plays the wife, are intense verbal sparring matches. What transpires between them is an emotional and dangerous chess game. Expertly written with touches of Best & Oldest's characteristic humor, the film is accented with the black humor of real lives ruined by political predicaments and greed. The painful confrontations between the two duped women lead to painful revelations, rage and, finally, self-discovery." From the despicable husband, who is played with grace and human insight by Stefan Kurt, we hear the cowardly refrain: "It was my job, I had to do it."

Sound familiar?

Made for German television, "The Other Woman" deserves to have an American release because of the way it details this bizarre chapter in post-war German history. More than that, it is a metaphor for the difficulty of reconciliation between East and West Germany. What the Berlin Wall meant on a human level is absolutely vivid in this very insightful and tragic tale of two German women caught in a web of lies. It takes courage and verve for them to re-examine their pasts and move toward the future with moral dignity.

After the screening, a gang of Best & Oldest friends went out to a bar on West 56th Street to toast their friend, who was conspicuously absent. It was a case of nerves that kept her from attending the second New York screening of the film despite the enthusiastic response the film received at its first screening Wednesday night. Smartmom got Best & Oldest on her cell phone and the table of friends shouted words of congratulations and hurrahs.

Smartmom hopes, in the days to come, to see Best & Oldest face to face to share her impressions, have a glass of wine, and shower her with admiration and pride.


At 8:41 PM, Blogger red eft said...

Sure hope it comes to Upstate!

At 6:15 PM, Blogger jonesy said...

damn, The Other Woman I guess now needs to be filed under" things I'll never get to see because I'm culturally sheltered in North GA". Funny thing is, I moved to the ATL area to have the option of culture. Maybe I need to check the roster on the Atlanta Film Fest. Any inkling to if it could/would be shown in my area?

At 11:01 PM, Blogger Third Street said...

According to my friend, it's unclear whether it will get distributed in the U.S. I'll keep you posted.


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