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SPECIAL SCREENINGS

East Germany's 'Forbidden Films' Continues

March 22, 1993|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Goethe Institute's "The Forbidden Films" series--six East German films from the mid-'60s that were banned until reunification--continues Tuesday with Kurt Maetzig's "I Am a Rabbit" at 6 p.m. and again at 8:45 p.m. Extremely well-written by Manfred Bieler, "I Am a Rabbit" was directed by Maetzig, one of the GDR's most famous and justly celebrated directors. It stars Maria Morzeck as a vivacious and pretty East Berlin waitress, who good-naturedly fends off the many male patrons who pursue her.

At first we have the impression that we're in for a comedy, but the film swiftly deepens as we learn that her older brother has been sent to prison for "openly provocative behavior against the State"--never is his sister able to find out just what this consisted of. She consequently has been denied entrance to college.

Maetzig and Bieler pull off a terrifically risky plot twist: They have the waitress fall in love with the very judge (Alfred Muller)--she does not recognize him at first--who has sent her brother to prison. The impact this vulnerable yet poised and resilient young woman and the slightly paunchy and pompous judge have upon each other is resounding and reverberates with stinging implications for the undue harshness and outright injustice of East Germany's legal system.

"I Am a Rabbit" is comprehensive yet intimate; deadly serious yet witty, and often comical, and in the scope of its accomplishment brings to mind Volker Schlondorff's "A Free Woman" and "The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum."

Frank Beyer's "Mark of the Stones," which Beyer and Karl George Egel adapted from Erik Neutsch's novel, is arguably the masterpiece of the series--and the only one that recalls American movies. It screens Thursday at 6 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. It is sparked by the magnetic presence of Manfred Krug, who recalls both the great German star Hans Albers and John Wayne in his easy, good-natured masculinity and sheer naturalness.

In essence the film takes a classic Hollywood triangle--two men in love with the same woman--and sets it down in a situation that allows for unstinting criticism of the corruption, hypocrisy and inefficiency crippling East German industry.

Krug is the husky, hard-working, hard-living head of a labor crew working on a huge construction project, circa 1960. He falls hard for the Ida Lupino-ish engineer (Krystyna Stypulkowska) assigned to the project--even though she becomes pregnant by a skinny, intense Communist Party secretary (Eberhard Esche) overseeing the entire undertaking. The lives of the three protagonists become intertwined not only with one another but with the escalating problems encumbering the project. The tension between the personal and the political fairly crackles, and this long film--150 minutes--is never for a second less than stirring and absorbing.

Information: (213) 525-3388.

*

Silent Film Fan's Delight: Lewis Milestone's "The Garden of Eden" (1928), which screens Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Silent Movie, 611 N. Fairfax, is as obscure as his anti-war classic "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930) is famous.

Frothy and sophisticated, the film starts out like something from Erich von Stroheim, with those two all-time screen decadents, Lowell Sherman, as an aristocratic Budapest playboy, and Maude George, as a nightclub operator-procuress, menacing the virtue of her new chorine Corinne Griffith, who escapes to Monte Carlo with the cabaret's seamstress Louise Dresser, a once-rich baroness. Ensconced in the luxe Hotel Eden--hence, the film's title--the lovely Griffith swiftly attracts a rich suitor (Charles Ray) but she's in dire danger of running out of money before he pops the question. This Hans Kraly adaptation of Avery Hopwood's romantic stage farce has further complications in store for the couple.

"The Garden of Eden" is a silent film buff's delight. It's far from flawless but its pristine print shows off its superb black-and-white cinematography and gorgeous production design--George's nightclub, for example, is an Art Deco triumph.

It's not in either Stroheim or Lubitsch's league but it is fun, despite a seriously miscast Ray, who had hit the peak of his popularity around 1920 specializing in country bumpkins and whose fleshy, boyish looks didn't age well. (Gilbert Roland would have been perfect in the part.)

Information: (213) 653-2389.

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