Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume. Four Lolas! It gets even better. "Best Female Supporting Role", "Best Male Leading Role", "Best Screenplay", "Best Director": The shower of awards for "Dear Thomas" seems to never end. He also gets the ninth Lola: "Best Film of the Year".
While the producers Michael Souvignier and Till Derenbach accept the last trophy, just googled. How many Lolas did “The Lives of Others” actually get at that time? Seven. There aren't such exceptional films in this country every year.
Dear Thomas, the biopic of East German (and West German) dissident and poet Thomas Brasch, is the high point of Zeitsprung Pictures' quarter-century of existence. It is the film with which the Cologne company finally stepped out of the shadow of its major competitor for film sovereignty over German history: Nico Hofmann's Berlin Ufa.
It is a right-wing topos “that in the mainstream media, German history consists only of the twelve years of National Socialism”. That was not true for the first decades of the Federal Republic, hardly anyone wanted to know anything from thirty-three to forty-five, even more: not in general about German history (which one could only be ashamed of, right?).
Nor does it apply to the post-reunification period, which was a prerequisite for this country to begin to develop a common narrative of history (even if it hasn't gotten that far).
The competition for historical interpretation sovereignty began 20 years ago, the Ufa with the "Tunnel", a GDR escape via underground passage. Two years later, Zeitsprung announced its claim with "The Miracle of Lengede", the two-part series about the mining accident. The "Event" TV movie was born.
The never-ending quarry of stories of the twelve Nazi years was subsequently further hewn (by Ufa with “Dresden”, “Our Mothers, Our Fathers” or “Not All Were Murderers”, by Zeitsprung with “The Diary of Anne Frank”, “The Liebe des Hans Albers” or “Landauer – The President”) – but the door to non-Nazi stuff had opened.
Ufa and Zeitsprung were the avant-garde of a reconquista; one could not leave the story of this country to the people who put Germany above all else, nor to those who would like to dissolve it. Reflecting on one's own history is one of the obligatory tasks of nation building; Germany, frightened by its crimes, left it to Hollywood for a long time, so Tom Cruise was able to put on Stauffenberg's eye patch.
And so the people of Cologne dared to do "Beate Uhse" and the Berliners to "Sturmflut", some to "Mackie Messer" and others to "Deutschland 83", the Souvigniers in "Goldjungs" to the Herstatt bankruptcy and the Hofmanns to the Charité. The chronological spectrum of the television storytelling now spans a good century, from the "Oktoberfest 1900" to the "White House on the Rhine" (now on ARD, a posh hotel between the world wars) and the thriller series "Kleo" (which is currently in its second season got approved) to the Wirecard story in “King of Stonks”.
Not everything is inspired, not everything has the desirable opulence. But it's good for the country. Nations cannot live in a vacuum of the past in the long run; they need history(s), both good and bad.
One could almost assume that Ufa and Zeitsprung have a list entitled “Key German Events from 1900 to the Present” that is being worked through bit by bit. A contemporary history factory, so to speak.
"Unfortunately I can't find the list," grins Souvignier, and: "I'm looking in an old Leitz folder," Derenbach assists. In other words, there is no such list. A lot is coincidence. Once, during a Bundesliga game, Souvignier saw a Bayern banner thanking a Kurt Landauer. Souvignier didn't know any Landau, didn't know anything about FC Bayern's Jewish roots, but found a story suitable for film when doing research.
What is “ready for film” is ultimately decided by the rating. As with "Lengede", it can be eleven million viewers, which is no longer the case every day in times of media fragmentation. The TV stations still don't like historical miniseries very much because they are more expensive than anything else that broadcasts.
But they can bring prestige, like Souvignier's Contergan film "A Single Tablet" about the sleeping pill that causes deformities, which hung in the court loop for a year because of objections from the pharmaceutical company, but with its final broadcast it made a significant contribution to the monthly compensation payments to victims have been doubled.
The hope of making a difference in society is accompanied by a considerable risk in every major project. The advance payments are enormous, up to six or seven figures. You're constantly juggling 20, 25 stories in different stages in Cologne.
Zeitsprung has to cover the initial costs from its own resources, and that's more difficult for a medium-sized company than for Ufa, which belongs to the media giant Bertelsmann. Once, ten years ago, three major productions had to be postponed, the initial costs were incurred and the banks turned off the money supply. Zeitsprung Entertainment went bankrupt, but quickly got back on its feet as Zeitsprung Pictures.
The story potential of this country is inexhaustible. But an expensive film needs a hero, whether it actually existed or whether one has to be constructed dramaturgically. This is required by the rules of generating attention, and so it is not uncommon for the film biographers to be on the mat with real “heroes”.
As with the department store blackmailer Dagobert, whose game of cat and mouse with the police is currently being filmed by Zeitsprung as "I'm Dagobert" - Zeitsprung had secured the rights before the competition could pull out their checkbooks. In the race you win once and lose the next time. If you are lucky, it is a public figure who does not have any exclusive rights, as in the case of "Barschel" or the young Boris Becker epic "The Rebel".
Thomas Brasch was not a hero, but someone who felt at home nowhere, neither in front of nor behind the wall. Stasi types evoked the same anxiety in him as the New York artist agent with the fat wallet.
“Dear Thomas” is a film that goes as far as one can go in unraveling the heroic role model. Brasch was one of the great torn people of divided Germany, and Andreas Kleinert's film brings everything together in the most wonderful way, the biographical and the atmospheric, his art and his muses, the pop star and the resister. This is clearly visible to every viewer.
Apparently not only for the selection committee of the Berlinale in 2021. If you talk to Souvignier and Derenbach, you can still sense their disappointment at their non-consideration. There were three strong German films in the competition, that's true - "Fabian", "I'm your human", "Herr Bachmann and his class" - but such a constellation has never prevented Cannes from having its competition with four or even five French to stuff films.
Especially since there is hardly a film that suits the city better, it is already one of the classic Berlin portraits, and the place in the side series “Forum”, which was half-heartedly offered to it, was more of an insult.
“Dear Thomas” joins the (already too) long list of misjudgments at the Berlinale, such as the rejection of “The Untouchable” or “The Lives of Others”. Maybe something will come of the big Wernher Von Braun project in time...