Sunday, 1 September 2013

Der Rote Kakadu (4½ Stars)

The name of this film means "The Red Cockatoo". This is the name of a jazz club which first opened in Dresden in the early 1950's and still exists today under the name "Kakadu", simply "Cockatoo".

The film begins on April 12th 1961, the day that Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, proving the superiority of Russian technology and the Socialist system.The radio reports boasted that the Soviet rocket flew 10 times as high as the highest American planes, so it was a day of rejoicing, even in East Germany.

Siggi is a teenage boy in Dresden. He lives with his Aunt Hedy, an opera singer, and he wants to go to university in Leipzig to study art. While waiting for a university place he is doing manual labour in his aunt's theatre. On April 12th he is sitting in the park sketching, when he hears young people dancing to American rock'n'roll music. The police break up the meeting, but he talks to a young married couple, Wolle and Luise, who tell him to meet them in Der Rote Kakadu. This is a place where western music is tolerated. The house band plays covers of 1950's rock'n'roll songs.

Siggi falls in love with Luise immediately, but doesn't tell her because he respects her marriage to Wolle. It's a troubled marriage. Luise writes poetry, but Wolle has no interest in what she writes. He frequently has sex with other women. Siggi feels protective of Luise and tries to do whatever he can to support her, even helping her to get her poetry printed.

Of course, stories like this can't end well. The musicians and customers of Der Rote Kakadu are arrested as enemies of the state. They can only stay out of prison if they promise to spy for the German secret police, the Stasi.

This is a film that has unfortunately never been released in English. It gives fascinating insight into the early years of East Germany, before the Berlin Wall was built. The young people in 1961 weren't for or against Communism. They weren't interested in politics, they just wanted to have fun. If you can understand German I strongly recommend this film.

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