Andreas Dresen

by Julian Preece (Volume editor) Nick Hodgin (Volume editor)
Monographs XVI, 260 Pages


Andreas Dresen is a leading European filmmaker whose œuvre now spans three decades and includes some of the most acclaimed German films of recent times, such as Halbe Treppe (Grill Point, 2002), Sommer vorm Balkon (Summer in Berlin, 2005) and Halt auf freier Strecke (Stopped on Track, 2011). The essays collected in this volume by leading scholars from the USA, UK and Ireland place him in the tradition of auteur cinema while emphasising his roots in the pre-1990 film industry of DEFA in the GDR. Dresen works with an established team of performers, technicians and scriptwriters, uses improvisation and non-professional actors, and makes music and song an integral component of many of his films. He is a scholar-filmmaker who pushes at the boundaries of his chosen modes and genres (documentary, neo-realism, films about films or literary adaptation); he is socially committed, casting a Brechtian eye on interpersonal encounters in neoliberal environments; and he is always interested to tell universal stories from the localities he knows best, the working-class milieus of Germany’s east.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Selected Filmography, 1991–2017
  • Introduction (Julian Preece)
  • ‘Every time a film gets made, an amazing miracle has occurred’: Interview with Andreas Dresen (Julian Preece / Andreas Dresen)
  • Der falsche Kino-Osten / The Wrong Eastern Cinema (Andreas Dresen)
  • Den Alltag des Verrats zu zeigen wäre eine schmerzhafte Selbsterkundung
  • To show the every-day routine of betrayal would be a painful exercise in self-discovery
  • Die Chance, eine gesamtdeutsche Filmkultur zu schaffen, wurde vertan
  • We missed out on creating a pan-German film scene
  • Self-Reflexivity and Films within Films: From Stilles Land (1992) to Whisky mit Vodka (2009) via Halbe Treppe (2002) and Sommer vorm Balkon (2005) (Julian Preece)
  • Alternative GDR History in Raus aus der Haut (1997) (Reinhild Steingröver)
  • Shaping the Nation and the New Capital on the Eve of the Millennium: Nachtgestalten (1999) (Stephen Brockmann)
  • Exploring the East German Past and the DEFA Film Legacy in Die Polizistin (2000) (Rosemary Stott)
  • Coming to Terms with the Present: Andreas Dresen’s Wichmann Films (2003/2012) (Helen Hughes)
  • Women at Work: Reflections on Social Identity and the Private Self in Die Polizistin (2000), Willenbrock (2005) and Steigerlied (2013) (Jean E. Conacher)
  • The ‘male gaze’
  • Die Polizistin
  • Willenbrock
  • Steigerlied
  • Conclusion
  • Connecting with the Real: Death, Dying and Displacement in Andreas Dresen’s Halt auf freier Strecke (2011) and Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012) (Brigid Haines)
  • An unlikely pairing
  • Towards a new cinematic language of dying
  • Natural death displaced: Amour
  • ‘Capturing death’ on screen: Halt auf freier Strecke
  • Conclusion
  • Visions of the Wende in Adaptations of Contemporary Fiction by Jurek Becker, Christoph Hein and Clemens Meyer (Julian Preece)
  • Lost at Home: Als wir träumten (2015), Liminal Space and GDR Cinema Tradition (Mary-Elizabeth O’brien)
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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The idea for this volume was born at the inaugural conference of the German Screen Studies Network ‘The Return of the Real’ held in July 2013 at King’s College London, hosted by Martin Brady and Erica Carter. In November 2014 Andreas Dresen was a guest of Swansea’s Centre for Contemporary German Culture. We would like to thank the German Embassy for its financial contribution to the costs of this visit through the Think German Wales Network.

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Selected Filmography, 1991–2017

As we refer throughout to the original German titles of Andreas Dresen’s films, English readers should check translations here. This filmography lists only those films discussed or cited by contributors to this volume. For a full list of films, from his first surviving short (Unser täglich Brot / Our daily bread, 1979, 7 min.) to Whisky mit Vodka (2009), see David Lode, Abenteuer Wirklichkeit: Die Filme von Andreas Dresen (Marburg: Schüren, 2009), esp. ‘Filmographie’, pp. 240–47. The names of major technicians, scriptwriters and actors are included to show the ensemble character of much of Dresen’s work. The major films are readily available in subtitled format on DVD. At the time of writing Timm Thaler has not yet been released.

The first five short films are included on the Stilles Land / Silent Country DVD.

Was jeder muss … / What every man must do … (1988, 20 min.), documentary about military service. Collaborators: Andreas Höfer, Rita Reinhardt, Laila Stieler.

Nachts schlafen die Ratten / At Night the Rats Go to Sleep (1988, 10 min.), adapted from Wolfgang Borchert’s short story. Collaborators: Andreas Höfer, Rita Reinhardt, Laila Stieler.

Jenseits von Klein Wanzleben / Far from Klein Wanzleben (1989, 41 min.), documentary about GDR development workers in Zimbabwe. Collaborators: Andreas Höfer.

Zug in die Ferne / Train into the Distance (1989/90, 20 min.), an ‘exercise’ about waiting and expectation set at a GDR railway station through which trains pass without stopping en route to the West. Collaborators: Andreas Höfer, Rita Reinhardt, Laila Stieler. Actors: Horst Westphal. Awards: Signatories of the Oberhausen Manifesto Prize. ← xi | xii →

So schnell es geht nach Istanbul (As Quick as You Can to Istanbul, 1991, 45 min.), adapted from a short story by Jurek Becker about a cross-border Berlin romance. Collaborators: Andreas Höfer, Rita Reinhardt, Laila Stieler. Screened at the Berlinale. Awards: Grand Prix XV. Rencontres Internationales Henri Langlois Poitiers.

Stilles Land (Silent Country, 1992, 98 min.). A young director arrives in a provincial GDR theatre in the autumn of 1989 to stage a production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Collaborators: Andreas Höfer, Rita Reinhardt, Laila Stieler. Actors: Kurt Böwe, Thorsten Merten, Horst Westphal. Awards: German Critics’ Prize.

Krauses Kneipe (The Krauses’ Pub, 1993, 30 min., made for TV), documentary about a rural pub and its owners in the village of Grube near Potsdam. Collaborators: Andres Höfer, Jörg Hauschild, Peter Hartwig.

Kuckuckskinder (Cuckoo Children, 1994, 90 min., made for TV), documentary about a residential home for adolescents and young people. Collaborators: Andreas Höfer, Jörg Hauschild.

Das andere Leben des Herrn Kreins (The Other Life of Mr Krein, 1994, 52 min., made for TV), post-Wende confrontation between a writer and secret police officer, screenplay by Ulrich Plenzdorf. Collaborators: Peter Hartwig, Andreas Höfer, Rita Reinhardt, Cooky Ziesche.

Mein unbekannter Ehemann (My Unknown Husband, 1994, 86 min., made for TV), a drama about a fictitious marriage between a German woman and an African man. Collaborators: Andreas Höfer, Laila Stieler. Awards: Max Ophüls Film Festival Prize for Young Filmmaker.

Raus aus der Haut (Changing Skins, 1997, 90 min., made for TV), two East German sixth-formers take their headmaster hostage in emulation of the Red Army Faction kidnapping of industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer in West Germany. Collaborators: Peter Hartwig, Andreas Höfer, Rita ← xii | xiii → Reinhardt, Cooky Ziesche. Actors: Susanne Bormann, Otto Mellies, Christel Peters. Awards: ‘Lucas’ for Best Film for Young People, Film Festival Frankfurt am Main.

Nachtgestalten (Night Shapes, 1999, 103 min.), three parallel stories unfurl over the course of a night on the Berlin streets. Collaborators: Peter Hartwig, Andreas Höfer, Peter Rommel, Cooky Ziesche. Actors: Myriam Abbas, Oliver Bäßler, Susanne Bormann, Michael Gwisdek, Dominique Horwitz, Hosrts Krause, Christel Peters, Axel Prahl. Awards: Silver Bear (Berlinale) for best actor to Michael Gwisdek, German Film Prize (runner up), plus many others. Dresen’s first major critical success.

Die Polizistin (The Policewoman, 2000, 97 min., made for TV), ex-post office worker Anne Küster begins her new career in the all-male environment of a Rostock police station, adapted from Annagret Held, Meine Nachtgestalten / My Night Shapes. Collaborators: Michael Hammon, Peter Hartwig, Laila Stieler. Actors: Horst Krause, Christel Peters, Axel Prahl, Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Ursula Werner. Awards: German Television Prize for Best Director.

Halbe Treppe (Grill Point, 2002, 111 min.), entirely improvised bittersweet comedy on the marital travails of two couples in a provincial town on the German-Polish border. Collaborators: Michael Hammon, Peter Hartwig, Jörg Hauschild, Peter Rommel, Cooky Ziesche. Actors: Steffi Kühnert, Thorsten Merten, Axel Prahl, Gabriela Maria Schmeide. Music by The Seventeen Hippies. Awards: Silver Bear (Berlinale), plus many others. Creatively a breakthrough film and commercially Dresen’s most successful film to date.

Herr Wichmann von der CDU (Vote for Henryk, 2003, 78 min.), documentary following an enthusiastic young Christan Democrat candidate contesting the 2002 federal election in a Brandenburg constituency dominated by the Social Democrats (SPD). Collaborators: Jörg Hauschild, Andreas Höfer. ← xiii | xiv →

Willenbrock (2005, 107 min.), adapted from the novel by Christoph Hein on the existential crisis of a middle-aged second-hand car salesman. Collaborators: Jörg Hauschild, Andreas Höfer, Laila Stieler, Cooky Ziesche. Actors: Inka Friedrich, Axel Prahl. Awards: German Film Critics’ Prize for best male actor to Axel Prahl.

Sommer vorm Balkon (Summer in Berlin, 2005, 110 min.), a comedy following the fortunes of two youngish women looking for happiness in love and fulfilment in work over the course of a summer spent in the city. Collaborators: Peter Hartwig, Jörg Hauschild, Andreas Höfer, Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Peter Rommel, Cooky Ziesche. Actors: Inka Friedrich, Christel Peters, Andreas Schmidt, Nadja Uhl. Awards: Ernst Lubitsch Prize among several others. Dresen’s most successful film at the box office.

Wolke 9 (Cloud 9, 2008, 98 min.), a classic triangular love story except that the three protagonists are aged sixty-five and over. Full frontal nudity. Collaborators: Michael Hammon, Jörg Hauschild, Peter Rommel, Laila Stieler, Cooky Ziesche. Actors: Steffi Kühnert, Horst Rehberg, Ursula Werner, Horst Westphal. Jury Prize ‘Coup de Coeurs’ at Cannes Film Festival / ‘Un certain regard’, German Film Prize for best director and best actress (Ursula Werner), plus many others.

Whisky mit Vodka (Whisky with Vodka, 2009, 110 min.), a film about making a film and the shallowness of the contemporary film industry. Collaborators: Peter Hartwig, Andreas Höfer, Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Peter Rommel, Cooky Ziesche. Actors: Sylvester Groth, Corinna Harfouch, Henry Hübchen, The Seventeen Hippies. Awards: Best Director at Film Festival of Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic).

20 x Brandenburg. Menschen – Orte – Geschichten (20 x Brandenburg: People – Places – Stories, 2010), twenty 15-minute documentaries shot in the state of Brandenburg, curated by Dresen, including his own Halle 101.

Halt auf freier Strecke (Stopped on Track, 2011, 109 min.), family drama which follows the last few months in the life of a forty-four year old father ← xiv | xv → and husband, from diagnosis with an inoperable brain tumour to death. Collaborators: Michael Hammon, Jörg Hauschild, Peter Rommel, Cooky Ziesche. Actors: Steffi Kühnert, Otto Mellies, Thorsten Merten, Milan Peschel, Ursula Werner. Awards: Co-winner ‘Un certain regard’, Cannes Film Festival, German Film Prize (best film, best lead actor for Milan Peschel), best supporting actor for Otto Mellies, best director). Arguably Dresen’s masterpiece.

Herr Wichmann aus der dritten Reihe (Henryk from the Back Row, 2012, 93 min.), a documentary on a year in the life of Henryk Wichmann, now member of the Brandenburg state parliament. Collaborators: Michael Hammon, Jörg Hauschild, Andreas Höfer.

Steigerlied (Miners’ Song, 2013), 15-minute documentary, contribution on the state of Brandenburg to 16 × Deutschland series commissioned by ARD (German state broadcaster).

Als wir träumten (As We Were Dreaming, 2015), adapted from the novel by Clemens Meyer about male adolescents in Leipzig listening to techno, joy-riding, and binging on beer and heroin at the time of the Wende. Collaborators: Michael Hammon, Jörg Hauschild, Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Peter Rommel. Entered in the Berlinale.

Timm Thaler (2017), adapted from the novel by James Krüss about a boy who sold his laugh in return for winning every bet he ever makes. Actors: Arved Friese, Steffi Kühnert, Milan Peschel, Axel Prahl, Andreas Schmidt, Nadja Uhl.

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Andreas Dresen makes a comment in the interview printed in this volume about his most successful film so far Sommer vorm Balkon which could apply to just about all his work:


XVI, 260
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (January)
politics and cinema auteur cinema DEFA film contemporary German cinema
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. XVI, 260 pp., 23 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Julian Preece (Volume editor) Nick Hodgin (Volume editor)

Julian Preece is Professor of German at Swansea University and author and editor of numerous books on twentieth- and twenty-first-century German literature. He is the director of the Swansea Centre for Contemporary German Culture. Nick Hodgin is Lecturer in German at the University of Sheffield and has published widely on East German culture, especially film. His new projects include a cultural history of the GDR, essays on East German architecture and on documentary film culture of the Cold War.


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