Westler: East of the Wall

I acquired this on a rare impulse in 2015 via Ebay.com after deciding that I really did want to see it again some 20 years after I’d first watched it. To do so with the internet and its tools now available to help me put in context the locations in East Berlin that were utilized in the film’s largely silent middle section, for instance, held a tantalizing appeal of improving on the original viewing.

Upon rewatching it all these years later, I found I liked it, although it’s definitely not a polished affair—low-budget but not at all amateurish, as I noted in my one-line review. The aforementioned middle section’s silence was much more striking this time around, however, as it underscored just how restrictive East Berlin was at the time, necessitating the surreptitious filming of those scenes (thus without mics). It certainly gives the whole show-the-visiting-American-the-East scenario an appropriately disturbing and surreal quality that further enhances the strange and seemingly fated encounter of Felix and Thomas which unexpectedly results…and the curious, almost childlike simplicity of the afternoon the three share.

Engelbert Rehm’s music during most of the film is pretty dreadful early-synth-days’ renderings of what sound like corny Communist-approved pop music of the 1950s and 1960s—but perhaps that was intentional. It certainly captures an interesting aspect of the disjointed East Berlin realities of the day, whether on purpose or not. But it’s Rehm’s main musical theme for the film that has haunted my aural memory all this time: a fairly simplistic but persistent half-lilting tune atop a classic 1980esque Krautpop rhythm track but one that shifts back and forth between a cloud-flawed sunny sky scene and one of night and/or shadow and the uncertainties (both good and bad) that lurk within. And it all sounds like George Benson’s excellent live recording of “On Broadway” as it might have sounded if done by Bronski Beat or maybe Pet Shop Boys.

As for the plot, the acting, etc.—well, it’s not great, but it’s not actually bad, either. I found myself noticing more about the context and its implications throughout—including the opening, which takes place in Los Angeles and includes an unexpectedly effective and entrancing long pan across the classic nighttime LA view during a character’s musings about modern culture and world history—than about the quality of the story or the performances. In that sense, it actually seemed terribly real to me—and I don’t do that suspension-of-disbelief disconnect easily, so I suppose that says a fair amount to the film’s credit.

One last nod to the sound/music design of this film: the moment when the Westerners enter the East, and when the filmed audio is truncated, there’s a bit of backwards-played synth music that in itself rather encapsulates the sort of backwards time travel into illogic that would have been part of that experience at the time.

“Very queeny!”

“Wait till you see the king!”