Saturday, 14 February 2015

Deckname Luna (4 Stars)

In 2006 a film was made called "The Lives of Others", about the way in which the German secret police, the Stasi, observed the citizens of East Germany. It won an Oscar as the best foreign language film in 2007, and as a result it became one of the best known German films in recent years. Six years later in 2012 the television film "Deckname Luna" (in English "Code Name Luna") was made. It's also about the Stasi and the way it operated. The Stasi agent in "The Lives of Others" was played by Ulrich Mühe, and the East German spy in "Deckname Luna" is played by his daughter, Anna Maria Mühe.

The film begins in April 1961 with the space flight of Yuri Gagarin. This was the first major step in the discovery of outer space, and it was an enormous propaganda victory for Russia. This was proof that Communist technology was better. Now the race was on to land a person on the Moon. Despite all the rhetoric in the West, it was expected that Russia would get there first.

That's the historical background to the story. The fictional characters in the film are woven into the true events that followed. Lotte Reinhardt lives in Peenemünde in East Germany. She's the granddaughter of Professor Arthur Noswitz, a scientist working on rocket fuel, who lives in Augsburg, West Germany. She dreams of becoming the first woman on the Moon. She thinks of herself as a loyal socialist, but when the Berlin Wall is built in August 1961 she joins a protest group. After being arrested and released with a warning she manages to flee to West Germany by stowing away on a ship. Her twin brother Kurt is arrested for aiding her. Lotte goes to live with her grandfather and her Aunt Martha in Augsburg.

Lotte has no peace in West Germany. Stasi agents are operating in her city. They promise her that if she spies on her grandfather they will release her brother. Her grandfather's work is vital to the space program. The main reason that America was unable to travel to the Moon was that the fuel was too heavy. The company Bayrische Trieb Technik (BTT) in Augsburg was working on the invention of new, lighter fuel. That part of the film is true: the fuel used for the Moon flights was invented in Germany.

Lotte is encouraged to apply for a job working in her grandfather's office as an interpreter. This gives her access to his secret notes, which she passes on to the Stasi. Things develop further when she marries a young scientist working in her grandfather's team. She continues to work as a spy behind her husband's back.

Anna Maria Mühe, a perfect German beauty

This film contains a lot more action than "The Lives of Others". It also paints a darker picture of East-West relationships. The Stasi is able to kidnap people on the streets of West Germany and drive them over the border into East Germany. Nobody has privacy. There are always Stasi agents hiding in the dark with cameras. And the film also touches on a well-known subject: the Stasi used to spy on their own members. Nobody was exempt from being watched during the days of the Cold War.

My only real criticism of the film is that it contains an unnecessary sub-plot about secrets behind Lotte's family background. The film lasts four hours, and 30 minutes could have been shaved off by removing it.

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