Judge Christopher Kulik loved Sunny's solos, if not the film itself.
An east side story.
Thanks to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, we're now able to view films made on the "other side" of the Brandenburg Gate before 1990. Currently, the college has the only DEFA film library in the country, housing dozens of films made inside the DDR, or the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. As a result, Solo Sunny marked my introduction to East German film. It's an agreeable, offbeat comedy-drama which provides a fascinating view at a long-gone Socialist state, as well as an intriguing portrait of a free-spirited woman.
The title character (Renate Krossner) is a twenty-something free spirit who sings every week for an underground band called "The Tornadoes." However, her off-stage life is rather off-the-wall: pigeons breed on her windowsill, she doesn't wash laundry but buys new items, and her living habits have become a "nuisance" to the neighbors. Sunny is a very clean and smart girl; she just doesn't want to be ordinary. Perhaps this is why she starts a "no strings attached" relationship with Ralph (Alexander Lang), a handsome but pompous saxophone player.
Another reason she shacks up this guy is because she is trying to hide from Harry (Dieter Montag), a good-hearted but un-cool admirer who is madly in love with her. Still, she also uses Ralph as an excuse to leave the Tornadoes and sing on her own. Her independence will be challenged over the course of the film, especially when it comes to her career and genuine love. The journey will also challenge the viewer—testing his/her patience—as the film moves slowly to its unpredicted climax.
An obvious labor of love for its star and directors, Solo Sunny was a homeland smash when originally released. It received many awards, become a DDR classic, and served as the final bow from director Konrad Wolf. As for myself, a strange feeling came over me after I viewed it, as if I was supposed to come away loving it. Unfortunately, I found it only barely memorable. There are many great moments and ingredients, yet it all didn't add up for me at the end…which is a shame, considering Krossner's final moment is truly powerful. I didn't feel cheated afterward, just a bit let down.
The film's major liability is the odd relationship between Sunny and Ralph. There are scenes between them which were quite unnecessary, and he's such an unlikeable jerk that it taints the film's impact. Not that Solo Sunny is supposed to be viewed as a romantic comedy (it's not), there is simply no reason in the world for so much screen time devoted to this union without rules. The final scene between them is terrific, and it takes over an hour to get to that point, and only then are we (finally) emotionally invested in Sunny and her situation.
Thankfully, the lovely music, surreal backdrop, and Krossner's lead performance compensate immensely to the rather sluggish proceedings. While dubbing is evident, the pulsating songs and Gunther Fischer's score brings the film to life. Considering how bleak East Berlin looks in the late '70s, the music provides a perfect antidote to a socialist state which was, as we now know, crumbling all too quickly. Sunny's life parallels the country's downfall in many ways, a striking aspect because she is almost at the center of the rising opposition against the "ordinary" Party existence. Bottom line is I can see what Kohlhaase and Wolf were saying with Solo Sunny, but its impact is somewhat muted. Regardless, this is a fine introduction to DDR cinema, particularly for those who are newcomers to foreign films.
First Run Features has been serving as the only distribution outlet for the DEFA Film library. In that case, I don't blame them entirely for the noticeably aged appearance of Solo Sunny's full frame print. Dirt, grain, and debris are present in every shot, not to mention dull colors and lighting. On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 2.0 German track is refreshingly solid, and the bonus features contain more meat than you might think. True, First Run offers merely a featurette and cast/crew biographies, but the former is a satisfactory retrospective (presumably made originally for the German DVD release in 2002), boasting interviews with Kohlhaase and other production members.
I don't hesitate to recommend Solo Sunny. Just keep your expectations in check. First Run and the film are found not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• "Looking for Konrad Wolf and Solo Sunny"
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