Review German

Sealed Lips review: War drama tells story of a woman’s struggle in the present for her past and future

Release Date: 28 Nov 2018 / 01hr 40min

Cinestaan Rating

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Blessy Chettiar

The film revives interest in a chapter of European history dating back to the end of World War II when the former German Democratic Republic (or East Germany) was administered by Soviet forces.

It’s the 1940s, and young German communist Antonia Berger (Alexandra Maria Lara), accused of espionage, is in a labour camp somewhere in the Soviet Union.

Her friends, the docile Susanne (Karoline Eichhorn) and feisty Irma (Barbara Schnitzler), become her strength after Antonia’s husband is shot dead while trying to escape to see their daughter Lydia (Carlota von Falkenhayn) on her birthday.

The film revives interest in a chapter of European history during the closing stages of World War II when the former German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) was administered by Soviet forces.

Antonia and her friends are accused of spying and sentenced even as their country turns a blind eye to their plight.

The tables turn for the women in 1952 when they are released from the gulag and make the journey back to the GDR in search of a new life.

Politics and idealogical clashes trap the women, compelled to sign away all rights to speak about their painful past in the Soviet Union. Hesistant but helpless, sealed lips is the price they pay for freedom.

They attempt to build a new life back in their country, which itself is just a toddler finding its way in the world.

As Antonia tries to settle into her new life, she is faced every day with uncomfortable, even hurtful questions about a past she cannot speak of. It casts a shadow on her future with Dr Zeidler (Robert Stadlober), a friend. She must do something drastic to start over afresh.

Screenplay writer and director Bernd Böhlich picks a simple yet complicated individual story with a backdrop of politics, and treats it like a drama. His story is littered with minor characters whose dialogue helps to set the context for the film, thus saving it from turning into a history lesson difficult to catch up on.

On the downside, this attempt does not factor in the passage of time and the progress of the characters looks staged.

Some of the plot points are just too convenient. Their release and rehabilitation seems contrived, as you barely see their time in the gulag. They are given homes, positions in good jobs, and medical care, but you can’t sympathize with them. You wonder about the reasons for the GDR’s generosity every step of the way, leaving you with more questions than answers.

The production design and costumes are faithful to the changing time periods, giving a glimpse into technological advancements and fashion of the different times. We see one of the first few TV sets in the film. As most of the film is shot indoors, the outdoor scenes are quite refreshing. The sepia-tinged filter for Antonia’s suppressed life in the GDR adds to her melancholic expressions.

Sealed Lips explores the manipulation of people and truth in the light of political events. Despite its larger context, it is still a touching story of an individual torn between an unforgettable past and a possibly bleak future.

Sealed Lips, the closing film at the 49th International Film Festival of India, had its world premiere in Goa on 28 November 2018.

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