'Gundermann' made in 2018 by Andreas Dresen is the biography of a musician. It can be categorized as a biographical and musical film but it is very different from what we usually see in these genres. 30 years have passed since the fall of communism and the reunification of Germany. Life in the former 'Democratic Republic' and the transition period following reunification have already been the subject of many films, but the topic seems inexhaustible and new perspectives are constantly being added. This is the case with this biography of Gerhard Gundermann, one of the most popular East German singers of the 1990s. A complex and original personality, Gundermann, who died suddenly at the age of only 43 in 1998, pursued his career as a musician in parallel with his work as an excavator operator in a surface coal mine. He was a popular singer even before the fall of communism and had become one of the original voices expressing the problems of transition, the hopes, the difficulties and the disappointments of the generation that had reached maturity in the decade of change. Musician, proletarian, and ... informant of the STASI secret police, as the reporters from the press of the time would reveal. The screenplay written by Laila Stieler describes the contradictions of the artist's biography, an example of the complexity of the processes that East Germany and the people who lived in this state went through.
In recent months, I have seen several films made in Eastern Europe (Romania, Russia) that had as their subject the way in which informants were recruited by the secret services which were the main tools for terrorizing the population and repressing dissidents. The hero of this film, Gerhard Gundermann was a somewhat of a special case. His enlistment in STASI was not the result of extreme pressure or blackmail, nor was opportunism the reason. The film presents him as an idealist and a rebel, who believed in the ideals of communism, and wanted to apply them for the benefit of people and society. But the system was so corrupt that it did not even assimilate Gundermann as an informant or as a party member but for a few years. However, this relatively short period was enough to compromise him morally and for his 'reports' about co-workers or fellow musicians to influence their lives, may destroy some. Later came the attempt to forget, the 'amnesia', the attempt to recover morally, the impossible forgiveness from those who sufered. Examining Gundermann's case, director Andreas Dresen questions the moral bases of an entire system in which all citizens had files of victims at STASI, but a significant part of them also had files of collaborators. How was it possible for a large part of the population of East Germany to collaborate with those who oppressed them? A question similar to the one that can be asked about the collaboration with the Nazi regime a few decades before. It seems shocking how easily most of those who are confronted with the news about Gundermann's collaboration accept it as a fact, as an attitude that even if it cannot be forgiven can be understood, forgotten and buried in silence. But can we, today, judge retrospectively that era and those who lived it?
The biopic by Andreas Dresen enjoys the exceptional performance of Alexander Scheer, who manages to bring to the screen the personality of Gundermann in all its complexity, and to get closer to his physical appearance and original music. The only aspect that did not succeed perfectly for the director and the actor are these related to time switching. The narrative jumps permanently between three periods (around 1976, the 80s, and 1992) which makes sense in the gradual construction of the character, but the physical appearance of the hero is always almost the same, and we need a few seconds each time to assimilate from the visual context or from dialogues in what period of time the scene takes place. Fortunately, the sets and props authentically describe the three moments in time, and the orientation is not very difficult. The rest of the cast does its job more than satisfactorily, with discreet and natural interpretations. A special mention deserves Anna Unterberger for the role of Conny, Gerhard Gundermann's wife, describing the woman behind in a non-trivial love affair, with many moments of doubt and crisis. Music plays an important role, about a third of the two-hour screening time is occupied by Gundermann's songs, which Alexander Scheer performs perfectly, and I hope other viewers will have the chance - as I did - to watch a copy of the movie that contains the original soundtrack and the lyrics of the songs in subtitles. Follow the words, because they punctuate, complement and broaden the understanding of the character, a troubadour and an anti-hero of a complex era.