In 1973 Günther Nollau, the head of Germany's supreme court, informs Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the Interior Minister, that there is strong evidence that Günter Guillaume, Chancellor Willy Brandt's closest friend and personal adviser, is an East German spy. The two men decide between themselves not to inform Brandt, using twisted arguments that are merely rationalising that they are afraid of losing their own jobs. The German secret police observes Guillaume behind Brandt's back for over a year before finally making an arrest.
One of Guillaume's functions was to discreetly bring women to Brandt when he was travelling, sneaking them into hotel rooms or trains. After the arrest the interrogators are more interested in this aspect than in finding out what secrets he passed to the East. Despite all else Guillaume feels friendship towards Brandt and doesn't want to betray him, but rumours leak out and exaggerated reports of Brandt's affairs are published daily in German newspapers. Herbert Wehner, the fraction leader of the SPD, Brandt's party, negotiates in closed rooms to replace Brandt with Helmut Schmidt. Finally Brandt resigns to avoid further scandals which would harm his party.
That's a very short description of a very complex political affair. The film needs almost three hours to tell the tale. It performs the amazing task of putting us into Willy Brandt's head. I've known his name for years, but after watching this film I feel that I know him for the first time. He is so likeable, a man that anyone would like to sit and drink with. Michael Mendl has a reasonable likeness with the real Willy Brandt, but I can't say the same for the other actors. Many of the supporting characters are famous politicians, faces that are still well known in Germany today, so I feel disappointed that the actors in the film weren't picked more carefully. Ironically, the actor who plays Günter Guillaume is Matthias Brandt, Willy Brandt's son. I'm sure that his personal input was an advantage in the making of the film.
The film has reinforced my long-standing dislike of Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Though I'm sure he did nothing that was technically illegal, his political maneuvers were highly immoral. Despite the relatively small support for his party, the FDP, he fought tooth and claw to keep high political offices for over 20 years. Only a few years later, in October 1982, he orchestrated the collapse of Helmut Schmidt's government in his quest for power. A film about Genscher's life and career would be of great interest, but it can't be filmed while he's still alive; directors would be afraid to tell the truth.