J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wende Flicks: The Land Beyond the Rainbow

Arthur Koestler and his fellow apostates from Communism called the ideology “The God that Failed.” One can see how apt a term that was in Herwig Kipping’s The Land Beyond the Rainbow, a scathing critique of the secular religious fervor mandated by Stalinism. A selection of the 1992 Berlinale, Beyond remains a scorching critique of Communism, which screens next Tuesday as part of the Wende Flicks retrospective of post-Fall of the Wall films from the East German DEFA studio at New York’s Anthology Film Archives.

It is hardly a coincidence Beyond takes place during the eventful year of 1953. Of course, that was the year Stalin died. Three months later, Soviet troops invaded East Germany to suppress an outbreak of strikes and demonstrations. However, life appears peaceful in the fictional provincial collective of Stalina. Both Hans and Rainbowmaker have eyes for Marie, the film’s ethereal narrator. However, Rainbowmaker’s grandfather, a strict Party leader, brings the isolated community to grief.

From his cowl-looking cloak to his prayer-like invocations to the recently deceased Stalin, Rainbowmaker’s grandfather is an unambiguous figure of orthodox faith. He also appropriates whatever he pleases from the collective and purges members at will. However, his greatest specialty appears to be encouraging children to inform on their parents. Unlike more allegorical films produced behind the Iron Curtain, there is absolutely no question what he represents. In fact, Stalin’s apologists are probably watching Beyond in Hell for the rest of eternity.

Yet, the blistering Beyond cannot be dismissed as mere post-Wall score-settling, given the eerie rendering of the hyper-Communist community and Kipping’s occasional flights of surrealist fantasy. This is an angry film, but an artful one as well. It also features some surprisingly compelling turns from the then young trio of Stefanie Janke, Thomas Ewert, and Sebastian Reznicek, as Marie, Hans, and Rainbowmaker, the pre-pubescent love triangle.

There may truly be no more viscerally anti-Communist film than Beyond. However, Kipping’s in-your-face Christ-like imagery might put off some Christian audiences. Indeed, there are strong visuals throughout the film, the cumulative effect of which is a damning indictment of the DDR. Accordingly, anyone with a scrap of interest in the Communist and immediate post-Communist eras should make a special effort to see Beyond when it screens next Tuesday (11/2) as part of Wende Flicks at Anthology Film Archives.

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