WWhen a young man waits at a deserted intersection, a steppe runner rolls across the street in the brightest sun, the designation of the “Western” genre is evident for such a cinematic scene. In Leander Haußmann’s Stasikomödie, this recall of archetypal images is just as skewed as the title of the movie. Instead of a comedy about Stasi’s machinations, Haussmann portrayed more of a love story. State security in the German Democratic Republic serves only as a crude tool to plunge the young man into a heart-warming adventure at a deserted crossroads.
At first you can see where this ends: Jörg Shutov walks through Berlin as a much older version of that young man; Now a famous author, he is retrospectively considered an opposition figure in the German Democratic Republic and has asked to have his Stasi files checked. At home in the grand apartment of the old building, the whole family is already waiting in a nostalgic mood with balls of Haloren and Spreewald gherkins to celebrate the reveal of the files.
In place of evidence of past exploration activities, a letter fell from a cardboard clip as evidence of a long-forgotten affair. The wife is jealous, the adult children are embarrassed, the husband is taken out of the apartment. A flashback follows, as an insatiable cameo of old color films falls, back to the crossroads where the life of Ludger Fox, as the young man was called, is changed forever.
Waiting at Lenenplatz in Berlin is a test, because the crossing is under the control of the Stasi. Anyone who remains standing despite the Eternal Red Stage is a recruitable subject. Thus ends up Ludger Fuchs (David Cross as embodiment of clumsy naivety) in front of a hard-hearted Stasi officer (Henry Hübchen with cognac blush on his cheeks and yellowing teeth due to nicotine addiction), who assigns him a job infiltrating a decadent art scene in Prenzlauer Berg.
For Fox, this means primarily: parties in a gay bar, impromptu drug cocktails with killer eggplant and datura, and women who want to live as their muse. Since he always sits at the typewriter a lot, people quickly mistake him for a writer, and at some point his reports also take the path in the direction of complex prose.
Mielke in August with a wig
Anyone who doubts a very funny metaphor is already digging deep. Politically and humorously, the ideas that this film arranges rather than stages remain fairly consistent. Discussions about open relationships would have fit just as well, if not better, in the late 1960s hippie western engagement when the inspiring woman exclaims, “You didn’t understand, neither Sartre nor Beauvoir.” Stasi powers up to get his promotion there, Hübchen laughs at his bewildered face: “Do you think Keeler is only there for questioning?” The clowning reached its climax when Bernd Stegmann played Stasi’s minister Erich Mielke in a masquerade party when the Augustus strongman wearing a wig and gold bodice hoisted him on a wooden horse. The fashion scene is also a super reference for the director’s own work, as the history ball is inspired by the East German TV series “Saxony Glory and Bryusen Gloria”, in which Haussmann had his first acting role in 1987.
Now one could shrug their shoulders and dismiss the whole thing as another German comedy of superficial humor if it weren’t for the Stasi theme that Haussmann promised in the title, and like the demon incantation, the question of how uncritical one can possibly deal with historical truth of mutual spying on large parts of a society that no longer exists.
Against this backdrop, the director’s hesitation about what the film actually wants to say gets a different note from that of incompetence. The spy comedy Kundschafter des Friedens (2017) recently showed that films about former East German agents can be made without any nostalgia.
However, Haussmann does not trust the type he has chosen, and uses it in another, but does not develop an integrated group that can be associated with a relationship between the two types.
Instead of telling the spy story, he tells the old fairy tale about a boy who meets a girl and then meets another girl and then somehow has to choose between these great women. The fact that neither one nor the other shows much of the character not because of the actresses, but to the characters in this film, is exaggerated to the point of cartoons. The only exception to this is Ludger Fuchs, whose character undergoes a parody transition from spy posing as an artist to artist posing as a spy.
Some critics have already criticized the fact that Haussmann kindly dealt with his problems with “NVA” (2005), a comedy about life in the National People’s Army of the German Democratic Republic. In the third part of the East German trilogy, Haußmann remains true to the tone he set in this film and in “Sonnenallee” (1999). What’s new, however, is that the atmosphere at the end actually slips into something like a fairytale and a fantastic.
Suddenly a Stasi employee becomes devout from the ringing of church bells, another flies in the Berlin night sky with an angel’s tail after a gas explosion, and the choir of “Goodnight, Friends” sings of Reinhard Mei to herald the fall of the Wall. One wishes, if things were to go this way, then there would be more courage of this kind and perhaps the courage to break the fairy tale with its dark nuances. But the fairy tale is sufficient in itself, if not for the topic.