First Run Features // 1964 // 109 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // June 15th, 2010
"At least they can't divide the heavens."
"No, the heavens are the first to be divided."
Rita (Renate Blume) and Manfred (Eberhard Esche) are young lovers in East Berlin in the early '60s. Manfred is a chemist who's just gotten his degree, and Rita is about to go to the university to become a teacher. The summer before she starts, she works at a railroad car plant.
At the plant, Rita learns about Socialism from an older colleague, who figures out a way to increase production, which irritates some of the other workers who will now have to work harder.
Manfred develops a chemical formula, but finds he cannot market it in East Berlin. He becomes frustrated, and he and Rita find themselves at odds. She is hopeful for the future of the country, but he sees himself trapped. Soon, he makes a decision that will impact both their lives.
A rather affecting but ultimately ponderous propaganda film, Divided Heaven is well-made, well-shot, well-acted, and well-directed. I'm sure that if I were seeing this in Germany in 1964, I'd have a stronger reaction to it; as it is, I appreciate this film, but I can't really say I enjoyed it.
There's a cool poetic quality here, and the film looks very much like its American independent counterparts. Told in flashback, it begins with Rita passing out in the street, then thinking back to her time with Manfred. We frequently get voice-overs that comment less on the action than on the feelings of people in the country at that time. The black-and-white cinematography is excellent, particularly the exterior shots, and small scenes -- a group of workers at a bar, the lovers enjoying a fair or dancing at a party in a mirrored room -- are moving and memorable.
Unfortunately, the story bogs down. Rita and Manfred are interesting enough, but too often, they are either mouthing endearments or polemics. The film drags after the hour mark, its pro-Socialist State message hammered away indelicately. Despite some lovely scenes, it's hard to get too involved with the couple's problems, and by the end, we see that we're supposed to be less concerned about the characters as people than as players in the divided country. There's an assumption, though, that the audience is already familiar with the larger canvas, and for those of us who are not, the film is a bit difficult to follow.
The disc from First Run looks great. The picture is full frame, but its quite strong, the black and white image clear and solid. Audio is the original German mono track, and it's fine.
There are no supplements other than some text bios of the principle actors, the writer, and the director, which is a shame. For people like myself who are not that well-versed in the politics of post-WW2 Germany, a couple of featurettes or a commentary would have been helpful.
A well-made film that will appeal to those with an interest in Germany in the '60s; others might find it slow going.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (German)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Text Bios