Solo Sunny, 1980, Konrad Wolf, Wolfgang Kohlhaase (© Progress Film-Verleih/Foto: Dieter Lück)

Konrad Wolf

January 25 to February 6, 2013


Konrad Wolf was the measure of all things DEFA, the publicly owned film studio of East Germany – the most outstanding fiction filmmaker of the GDR and the country's star director both on a national and international scale. Wolf's cinema achieved something that the East German state only rarely came to terms to with: realism – in a variety of shades of grey; skeptical, meditative, intimate, trusting, desiring, and self-confident even when doubtful. An oeuvre of sidelong glances and uncertainty, but also, vehemently, of hope. He was concerned with searching, questioning, struggling: who can I become in my own time? Where is my place, my work, my tomorrow?
The protagonists of Lissy (1957) and Solo Sunny (1980), of Der geteilte Himmel (1964), Sonnensucher (1958/72) and Sterne (1959) are torn between reason and emotion. They drift through their times along borders that are sometimes razor-sharp and other times very vague. The artists portrayed in Goya (1971) and Der nackte Mann auf dem Sportplatz (1974), one hounded for his politics, the other not yet a part of everyday life, exist as splintered mirror-images of Wolf himself. His works show him as someone without a home, whose Heimat remains a utopia: a democratic German republic, not to be confused with the country of the same name. To reconcile that utopia with the real world: that was why Konrad Wolf existed, and why he made films. But the ever-changing leadership of the state could never match Wolf's aspirations, no matter how actively he tried to get involved. (He was, among other things, a member of the central committee of the SED.)  His death in 1982 preceded the end of the East German state.
Wolf was born in 1925 to a family destined to create history: his father, Friedrich, was a great writer of proletarian dramas whose best-known work, Professor Mamlock, was warmly adapted by his son for the movies in 1961, while Wolf's brother Markus was a director at the Ministry of State Security and a key figure of the inner workings and power structures of the GDR. Thus, Konrad Wolf stood between an iconic figure and one who was feared. The Wolf family emigrated from Germany to the USSR in 1933 and three years later became Soviet citizens. At 19, Wolf returned to Germany as a first lieutenant in the Red Army – his film Ich war neunzehn (1968) recounts this episode with great intensity. At the war's end, Wolf actually wanted to return to the Soviet Union, but one of his comrades and superiors urged him to stay, telling him he had a commitment to the country. Wolf took the urging to heart.