In the GDR, many anti-fascist films were produced, but comparatively few films dealt with the First World War. THE WOMAN AND THE STRANGER (DIE FRAU UND DER FREMDE) is a psychological chamber piece based on a story by Leonhard Frank. Two German prisoners of war behind the Russian lines, Karl and Richard, become friends. Richard tells Karl about his wife, Anna. When Karl manages to escape to Germany, he searches for Anna and pretends to be her husband. Anna knows that he isn’t, but falls in love with this stranger who seems to know everything about her. When the war ends, Richard also returns. Rainer Simon focuses on “the never entirely transparent interplay of lies and truth, illusion and reality, the problems that arise with the swapping of identities and the loss of identity.” THE WOMAN AND THE STRANGER was the only DEFA film to win the top prize in a Western film festival. In 1985, it won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale. However, the film remained largely unknown among the public. Due to copyright infringements, it could only be shown in the GDR, where it was shown in the cinemas for a short time. The film has only been available again since 2008.

“It is definitely an anti-war film, as the story only has meaning for me in this context. If the story was told without the war, it would simply be a love triangle, in which Karl and Anna play an undignified game. What’s more, it would be completely unbelievable. The war, which fosters the exceptional reactions of the three main characters, is always part of the story, but it does not manifest itself in gruesome detail.”
(Rainer Simon, Berlinale 1985).

An elaborate television project, created as an international co-production and undertaken with the intention of making the First World War tangible for a wide audience using the possibilities of a modern mainstream television production. The film was based on the diary entries of people in different countries, who tell of their experiences from different perspectives. Two reports make up each 52-minute episode; the number 14 stands for the first year of the war as well as the total number of reports. The texts are illustrated with documentary footage, adapted in image format and with background noises to meet the supposed expectations of viewers, along with maps of the army movements, voiceovers and staged scenes. Nevertheless, the result was too complex for some stations, which only broadcast parts or shorter versions of the project outside prime time.

“Personal accounts needed be translated into moving images. This is accomplished by a voiceover accompanying historical footage on the screen (much of this footage can be seen for the first time; the film research led to impressive results). But also with staged scenes. These are the problem. We see actors sitting around a dining table, whispering in the classroom, running through a cornfield. Sometimes they pause and speak into the camera – ‘their’ diary entry. This seems peculiar, unnatural, contrived. Overall, the attempt to turn feelings that have been preserved in diaries into narrative sequences leads to a kind of summarisation that virtually demands the impossible from the actors. For instance, the artist Käthe Kollwitz has just been caught up in her son’s war enthusiasm for a few moments when she already receives the news of his death, and her soft features freeze.”
(Martin Ebel, Tages-Anzeiger, Zurich 5.6.2014)

Author: Stefan Drößler
Director of the Film Museum in Munich

Translation by
TITELBILD Subtitling and Translation GmbH

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31 January 1985

Director: Rainer Simon
Screenplay: Rainer Simon, based on the story „Karl und Anna“ by Leonhard Frank (1926)
Camera: Roland Dressel
Music: Reiner Bredemeyer

Joachim Lätsch (Karl), Peter Zimmermann (Richard), Kathrin Waligura (Anna), Christine Schorn (Trude), Siegfried Höchst (Horst), Katrin Kappe (Marie), Ulrich Mühe (Revolutionär)

Production: DEFA-Studio für Spielfilme
Format: 35mm, Normalformat 1:1,33, Orwocolor
Length: 98 min

DVD: Absolut Medien (subtitles: English, French, Spanish), Goethe-Institut (subtitles: English, French, Spanish)

35mm: Deutsche Kinemathek (no subtitles)