Die Fälschung (Circle of Deceit) (1981) 




Director:     Volker Schlöndorff.

Starring:      Bruno Ganz (Georg Laschen), Hanna Schygulla (Arianna Nassar), Jean Carmet (Rudnik), Jerzy Skolimowski (Hoffmann), Gila von Weitershausen (Greta Laschen), Peter Martin Urtel (Berger), John Munro (John), Fouad Naim (Excellence Joseph), Josette Khalil (Mrs. Joseph),   Khaled El Sayed (Progressive Officer), Sarah Salem (Sister Brigitte), Tafic Najem (Cab Driver), Magnia Fakhoury (Aicha), Jack Diagilaitis (Swedish Journalist), Ghassan Mattar (Ahmed).

a German journalist has a marital crisis while Christians and Palestinians fight in Beirut


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Since April 13, 1975 there has been continuous war in Lebanon.  This is a work of fiction about one man's personal experience amidst the struggle.  --  Volker Schlöndorff

West Germany.  It is raining so much that the area is flooded.  Georg Laschen, a journalist, is coming home from a journalist trip to Lebanon.  His wife, Greta Laschen, a part-time photographer, their daughter, son and the dog walk along a causeway above the water.  Laschen remains in the car thinking about his life.  He thinks that he is a man living a lie. 

Flashback.  Greta is irritated with Georg.  He is going off to Lebanon to cover a war.  She asks him:  "Why is there always a war where you go?"  Then they argue about whether she should stay home with the children or take a job photographing a subject in Hamburg.  They then have sex.  Greta asks:  "When are you ever here?"  Georg leaves.  Composing a letter to Greta he suggests that they live apart.  That might actually bring us closer, or so he thinks.  On the plane Georg sits across the aisle from Hoffmann, his photographer.  Hoffman asks:  "Who cares about Arabs anyway?" 

Lebanon, 1980.  In Beirut he stays at the Grand Hotel.  He composes a letter contradicting the first letter.  It says:  "Forget what I said . . . My problem with you is really my problem with myself."  Walking around Beirut he observes that it is quiet, but at the same time he expects an explosion at any moment.  Ann-Margaret is on the television station.   Hoffmann introduces Georg to an older journalist named Berger.  Georg and Hoffmann want to know "Where is the death line?"  It's virtually right outside the window.  They are in a no man's land between the two sides.  It's the Christians versus the Palestinians and refugees from the south.  There is a large explosion about three blocks away.  The fighting takes place almost always at night.  Georg sees a burned-out bus.  Shots are fired and a vendor on the street is killed.  Georg has to start ducking for cover. 

Georg again meets the German widow Mrs. Nassar.  They are glad to see each other.   He tells her about the vendor being shot.  She says the motto around here is:  "Never stand still in Beirut."  The latest news is that the Syrians are turning against the Palestinians.  The journalists want to send the news to Hamburg.  Mrs. Nassar invites Georg over to her place.  He must arrive before sunset and leave in the morning. 

It's hard to tell who's who in Beirut as far as the fighting forces goes.  Armed men in black hoods force Georg onto the back of a truck.  Hoffman is already on the truck.  When the black hooded men learn they are journalists, they let them go.  The fighters then start asking Hoffman to take their pictures. 

Children play war.  One forlorn girl stands nearby looking on.  Georg thinks about his wife taking his picture while playing soccer with the fellows.  In Beirut there are fires and shootings all over the place.  Now it's really dark.  Georg starts to make a run to Mrs. Nassar's house.  By the time he arrives his white suit is extremely dirty.  The widow greets Georg at the door and introduces him to her sister-in-law.   She mentions to him that she wants a child.  She also mentions that she had to put in a dozen window panes last month.  Everyone goes to the cellar as the explosions draw nearer to the house, but Georg and Arianna remain in the living room.  Soon they are making out.  They scoot themselves across the floor to the bedroom and then close the door. 

Back at the hotel the next morning Hoffmann introduces his partner to the beautiful half-nude Telex girl.  Georg congratulates him on his good choice. 

Georg and Hoffman take a drive out to the Christian area.  There the guards search them.  They are visiting an old feudal family that has ruled the area for 500 years.  They talk to the family spokesman.  He talks about getting rid of the communists and the Palestinians.  Georg asks him:  "Is that why you attacked a bus and killed 20 passengers."  This make their host very angry.  His point of view is that the journalist has been listening to way too much of the propaganda of the other side.  Georg pipes up again:  "Isn't it madness to destroy this country with a civil war?" 

Back at the hotel one of Georg's contacts is trying to sell him original photos of very gruesome events.  The contact describes the photos as "Dirty pictures to view in clean places."  A Scandinavian butts in and offers the highest price for the pictures and gets them.  Georg tells the rival journalist:  "Congratulations."  

Georg starts to write his report.  But he is dissatisfied with what he is doing.  He says to himself:  "All I do is entertain."  And he's entertaining people with the sufferings of the victims of a real war.  Hoffmann is not bothered at all by the situation.  His approach is that this is just a way for them to feed their families.  They go out to see a bunch of burned bodies.  Georg thinks of the war with its deaths by the thousands.  Georg returns to see Arianna.  They kiss.  She asks him to go with her the next day to a town where she is going to look for a child to adopt.  He says yes.  He adds that pretty soon he has to make the time to meet with Palestinian leader Arafat.  They drive to an orphanage.  Arianna gets to adopt a baby, the only one that the sisters were allowed to let her have.  (While her husband was alive, she faced the rule of no adoptions allowed for mixed marriages, Christian and Muslim.)   Arianna has them drive over to Haifa Hospital.  While a doctor is checking the baby, a number of wounded Palestinians are brought in.  A Palestinian tells Georg to be sure and write about what he sees.  Speaking about the Christians he says: "They're massacring our women and children."  The doctor tells Arianna that the child's reactions are not normal and that the child may not develop normally. 

Back at Arianna's place, she tells Georg that she wants to be alone with the baby for a few days.  As he is about to leave she asks:  "When will I see you again?"  He replies:  "Whenever you want."  Back at the hotel the talk is all about the massacre.  It's all over at Karantina.  The Phalangists stormed it.  Now there's no more camp.  Hoffman sees Georg and asks him where has he been.  The photographer feels he has missed a lot of photos trying to find him.  The news on the television reports that there were some 20,000 people in the camp.  All were expelled overnight.  The camp residents were refugees from the south and Palestinians.  Estimates of the number of dead range between 300 and 2,000.  One of the journalists remarks:  "It is dreadful that the Christians can do such things."  Another says that Christianity is just a thin veneer for these people.   Berger says that the Phalangists will definitely win the civil war. 

At 6 a.m. Georg and Hoffmann head out with another group of fighters.  There is fighting resulting in burning houses, looting and dead owners.  A young boy shows the journalists a whole family "sleeping" (euphemism for killed).  Hofmann takes pictures of the bodies and other bodies outside the apartment complex.  The fighters take 5 people captive.  The fellow in charge has the father and older son killed.  Georg tried to stop the killing, but it was of no use.  He is very upset with the commander.  Two men pour gasoline on the dead bodies on the road and burn them. 

Georg goes to visit his girlfriend again.  She repeats that she wants to be alone.  But since he asks to see the child, she lets him in.  She confesses to Georg that she has another guy she likes about as much as she likes him, but he's not going to be leaving Lebanon in a short while.  "You come for just a few days."

Georg goes back to the hotel.  The guys there are watching a belly dancer and having a high old time.  Hofman starts verbally sparring with Georg, who becomes so irritated that he jumps on Hofmann when he turns his back on him.  The others break the two apart.  Most of the journalists are leaving.  Georg apologizes to Hofmann for what happened the previous evening.  But then he tells Hofmann that he has decided to stay in Beirut.  Hofmann is mad all over again and tells him:  "This girl is making a real fool of you."  Georg goes back into the hotel.  He writes Greta another letter saying that they should separate, but that he will discuss it with her when he gets back.  He then tries to mail the letter, but nothing is going out.  At night he makes his way back over to Arianna's place.  But this time he sees her hugging and kissing an Arab fellow.  Georg ducks behind the man's car so he won't be seen.  When the fellow leaves, he jumps down behind a wall.  When she goes into her house, he starts walking back to the hotel telling himself that he is an idiot and she is a whore.

As he walks and talks to himself he runs into some heavy fighting.  The fighters on the street push him into a "safe" building.  But as he settles in, explosions break big holes in the wall and send wall remnants flying everywhere.  A Palestinian man jumps on top of Georg and Georg kills him with his knife.  Georg then returns to the hotel with a very bloody shirt.  He gets in the shower with his clothes on and starts washing them.  He then peels his clothes off for some more washing. 

Georg returns to Germany and his journalist colleagues.  He receives great praise.  The editor says that Georg and Hofmann were the only eye witness journalists who saw things from the start to the finish.  But Georg is still bothered about covering misery and bloodshed for entertainment purposes.  He leaves in disgust.  Hofmann yells at him:  "Just in time to put your name on my stuff." 

Back to the present.  Georg sits in the car in the rain at his house.  His wife sees the car, but continues walking with her kids and the family dog on the causeway.  With him in the car is the letter he never got a chance to mail to Greta. 


Good movie.  You should read the historical background before watching the movie, since, even though the film was shot on location in Lebanon, the author/director was more concerned with journalistic questions than those of history and politics.  In the director's comments he mentions that the major theme is the ever repeating war journalist cycle and how little progress has been made from war to war.  He talks about the dilemma of the press always being the same.  How do we cover the war without pandering too much to  the public's desire for pictures and reports of suffering and blood and guts for their own entertainment?  Are we doing outstanding, objective reporting or simply pandering to the audience?  One bad thing about the movie was the inability to tell if different groups of fighters were Christians or Muslims. Bruno Ganz as Georg Laschen did a very good job. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


The Christians had control of the Lebanese government. 

1969  --   Muslims and left-wing secular groups combine to form the Front for Progressive Parties and National Forces  (which later evolved into the Lebanese National Movement) in order to gain more representation in the country for the Muslims. 

As pressure mounted both sides started to form militias which soon outnumbered those of the Lebanese Army.  And the Lebanese Army started getting weaker and weaker as more and more Muslims deserted the Army.  The militias included:

    1)  Christian militias  --  supported by Romania, Bulgaria, West Germany, Belgium and Israel.  The most powerful of these militias was the Phalangists. 

    2)  Shi'a militias  --  composed mostly of the poor from the refugee camps in Shi'a-inhabited southern Lebanon.  From them came the Hezbollah group.  Backing from Iran and Syria. 

    3)  Sunni militias  --  receive support from Libya and Iraq.  Their main organization was the al-Murabitun. They ten went with the PLO. 

    4)  The Druze  --  support came from the small Druze sect.  The Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) served as  their militia   It changed it allies with the times, first with the Soviet Union, then Israel, then Syria. 

    5)  The Palestinians  --  Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was an collection of many organizations under the leadership of Yassir Arafat.  Early support from the Sunnis and the Druze. 


1969  --  in the Cairo Agreement (brokered by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser), the Lebanese were forced to allow the PLO to conduct military operations against Israel within Lebanon itself.

1974  --  the PLO nearly broke up because of the perception of some groups that Arafat was being too soft on Israel. 

1974-1975  --  the organization Musa Sadr's Amal Movement suddenly arose. 

1975-1990  --  the Lebanese Civil War.  This was a fight between Lebanese Christians and Lebanese Muslims.  The civil war was complicated by the involvement of other countries on one side or the other, such as Syria, Israel, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the United States and Russia.

1976 (January 18)  --  Christian forces kill about 1,000 people in the Karantina Massacre. Karantina is a slum district Beruit then inhabit mostly by Kurds, Armenians, and some Lebanese and Palestinian Muslims.  The 1,000 mostly Muslim victims were either gunned down or killed with knives.

1976  --  there is a short break in the fighting.  But soon fighting begins again and centers in south Lebanon, which was first occupied by the PLO, then by Israel.

1977  --  the Christian Phalange helps found the Lebanese Forces.

1978 (March 15) --   Israel invades southern Lebanon.  Lebanon suffers about 2,000 dead and the evacuation of 100,000 Lebanese. 

early 1980s  --  a hardline faction of the Shi'a Musa Sadr's Amal Movement breaks away, joins with Shi'a groups fighting Israel and forms the Hezbollah guerrillas (which became the most powerful militia in Lebanon).

1982 (June 6)  --  Israel invades up to 25 miles into Lebanon. 

1986  --  the Lebanese Forces came under the leadership of Samir Geagea. 

1989  --  the Taif Agreement. 

Israel held on to a security zone in southern Lebanon as a buffer against attacks on northern Israel.

2000  --  the Israeli Army withdraws. 

Syria steps in to fill the power vacuum. 

2005  --  Syria withdraws its troops from Lebanon.  The country was forced out by the Lebanese protest against them and diplomatic intervention from France and the United Nations following the assassination of Rafik Hariri. 


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