Sunday, June 04, 2023

Margarethe 89 (short), from Cannes to FS

You can say GDR socialism was unifying, because it brought together the Catholic Church and punk rockers—against the oppressive Communist regime. In 1989, Margarethe’s lover, Heinrich, regularly played with his band in a dissident Church. Tragically, she could rarely attend, because she was confined to an East German mental hospital, for punitive rather than medical reasons. German-born French animator Lucas Malbrun revisits the final dark days of the GDR regime in the short film Magarethe 89, which premiered at Cannes’ Quizane des Cineastes 2023 (a.k.a. Directors Fortnight) and currently screens for free on Festivalscope’s consumer-facing site.

Even in the prison-like psychiatric hospital, there are inmate-patients willing to inform on their fellow prisoners. However, Margarethe is determined to be free, at least in her mind, but hopefully also in physical bodily terms too. At least Heinrich is at liberty to play with his band, but he too must attend weekly “check-ups,” if that is what they really are. Regardless, since it is 1989, viewers will know the regime’s days are numbered, but for some, the act of informing is a hard habit to break.

Malbrun’s nearly nineteen-minute animated short is almost as long as a lot of Golden Age television anthology episodes and it certainly tells a full story, but in a rather slyly obscure way. The film also recreates a vivid sense of the paranoia and economic depression of socialist East Germany. Even the style of his animation evokes of the GDR’s industrial proletarian aesthetic. It should also be noted Malbrun’s film is clearly intended for adults. It is serious in tone, reflecting a keen sense of Cold War history, but it probably has as much nudity (as measure as a ratio of clothed to naked scenes) as the original
Heavy Metal.

Although it is not for kids,
Margarethe should be watched by every adult who forgot or ignored the crimes committed by the Stasi. It is a great example of how animation can address serious issues in a sophisticated manner. Highly recommended, it streams for free as part of public Festivalscope’s Quinzane des Cineastes collection through June 11.