Das Versprechen (The Promise) (1995)
Director: Margarethe von Trotta.
Starring: Meret Becker (Sophie I), Corinna Harfouch (Sophie II), Anian Zollner (Konrad I), August Zirner (Konrad II), Susanne Ugé (Barbara I), Eva Mattes (Barbara II), Pierre Besson (Harald I), Hans Kremer (Harald II), Dieter Mann (Konrad's Father), Simone von Zglinicki (Konrad's mother), Ruth Glöss (Konrad's grandmother), Christian Herschmann (Alexander, 12 years), Joerg Meister (Alexander, 20 years), Jean-Yves Gautier (Gérard), Ulrike Krumbiegel (Elisabeth).
1961, a couple get separated from each other when trying to escape from East to West Berlin; Konrad is left behind and has to go to enormous lengths to sneak brief visits with Sophie
"In August, 1961 the world was already divided. But no one ever dreamed of this long border reaching its full height. Moscow had the copyright for the concept and execution. West German firms delivered the barbed wire."
Willy Brand speaks out: "An unjust regime has committed a new injustice."
"The West protested. Threatened. Lamented. The wall grew. All arteries between the two halves of the city were severed. And to the people on both sides the few hundred meters between East and West became the longest strip of land in the world. So began one of the strangest experiments in history. A people once mad enough to want to rule the world slowly became two peoples. And soon only the Wall kept up the illusion that all that divided the German people was a wall."
East Berlin, fall of 1961. The teen-agers rock and roll to a live band playing and singing the American hit song Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets. A young man comes into the big room and his presence is a signal that it's time to go for some of the young people. They rush to a man-hole cover, remove it and three of them go down into the sewer system. Sophie yells at Konrad to hurry up and come with them. Konrad runs over toward Sophie, but trips and falls on the street. And now he hears a truck coming their way. He says he will go at another time. So Sophie goes and Konrad hides. A truckload of East German soldiers comes by. They don't see the hidden Konrad.
Two parents come over to look at the man-hole cover. They are upset because they believe Konrad and the others left East Germany for West Germany. Konrad shows up and father kisses him, but then he slaps him asking him didn't he even think of his parents?
At times the refugees have to wade threw the sewage. Konrad's father walks him over to a telephone booth. Mother is worried that father will turn the son in. Father says that it's better that they go to the authorities, before the authorities come to them.
The four refugees come up on a street in West Berlin. They go to the home of Sophie's aunt.
Sophie's aunt comes home and finds her niece and three other young people sleeping on her living room furniture. The aunt is shocked to see Sophie. She goes over and awakens her niece who explains that they escaped from East Berlin. The two fellows with her are Max and Wolfgang and the young lady is Monika. And Konrad is going to come later.
The authorities inform Konrad that the punishment for an illegal border crossing is five years in prison. The main interrogator asks Konrad if he knows that the West is planning a war against us? Konrad doesn't say a thing. The interrogator says Konrad's father told them that Konrad was trying to stop the three from going to West Berlin. Konrad remains silent.
Back at home Konrad wonders if the four made it to West Berlin. A young woman tells Konrad that if they had been caught, they would know about it by now. They must be free. That soothes Konrad's worries, except for the one worry that he might not see Sophie again.
Sophie now works for her aunt preparing the fashion shows, which her aunt hosts. Sophie's step father from East Germany has come to take her back home. The aunt tells him that Sophie doesn't want to go back. The step father blames the aunt for this, but auntie says that he's the one who drove Sophie out of East Germany. She has him wait in her office until she finishes with the fashion show.
The step father talks with Sophie. She doesn't like her step father because she believes that the man killed her biological father.
The police come to speak with Sophie's mother. They tell her to out off all contact with her daughter. Mother says they can't ask her to do that. The policeman says that Sophie has joined the class enemy. Mother says that Sophie is just a child and she went over to West Berlin to see her aunt.
Sophie asks her aunt to write to mother and tells her Sophie says she still loves her mother. Auntie regrets to say that now her letters can't reach East Berlin anymore.
Both Sophie and Konrad are sad separated from each other.
The border guards for East Germany are being trained to yell: "Stop or I'll shoot." Then they run up to a dummy perched on a wall as if the dummy were trying to scale the wall and twice stab the dummy in the back with their bayonets. One guard won't say the "or I'll shoot" part of the phrase and he is accused of being against peace. The soldier is pulled out of the ranks. The officer in charge tells the men not to think of the runners as your brothers, but think of them as criminals deserting their country.
A van goes back and forth along the Berlin Wall with a loudspeaker saying how bad West Germany is. The West Germans have a van that talks back to the East German van.
Konrad has to serve as one of the border guards. He sees a West German lwoman over on the West German side of the wall. His father says that Konrad should be glad they assigned him to the border. In fact, he has to do this if he wants to get into college. Konrad is still bitter about his own father turning him into the authorities. Father says he only turned in his friends, not Konrad. Konrad says yeah, and: "I'm at the Wall aiming at people who don't want to be walled in."
On tower guard duty, Konrad sees his fellow border guard, Uwe, sleeping. Konrad gets down from the tower and runs along the Wall. Someone says halt and Konrad spins around. Uwe tells him that he will have to report this incident, but Konrad says then he will have to report Uwe for sleeping on his watch. Uwe now calms down. He tells Konrad that he thought he was trying to go over the wall himself.
Sophie watches television about how people from East Germany dig tunnels under the Berlin Wall. The moderator says that the program is not to be seen as asking for others to engage in risky behavior. The tunnels often fail because people turn the diggers in or the walls of the tunnel collapse on the diggers.
Sophie and her fellow escapees talk about Sophie missing Konrad. One of her fellow East Germans asks Sophie to explain why Konrad is now a guard at the Wall. Wolfgang appears to be in love with Sophie, but she still wants Max.
Konrad is working with Max and his group that helps East Germans get out of East Germany. He is told he will be given only a day's notice before he goes. And there are to be no good-byes to anyone.
Konrad sees a group of potential escapees grabbed, forced in cars and taken away.
Wolfgang says they arrested four of the five escapees. Konrad didn't show up. And it's lucky he didn't show up. Sophie cries over the incident. Meanwhile, Konrad sits up in his bed in the barracks thinking about missing Sophie.
Summer 1968. Astrophysical Institute, Potsdam, the capital city of the German federal state of Brandenburg that directly borders the German capital Berlin. Konrad has done some good scientific work for the Institute and a senior colleague wants to take him to Prague so he can present the paper. The problem is that Konrad has no papers to allow him to travel. The senior fellow says to fix it up with the bureaucracy because he's not even going to Prague if he can't take Konrad.
Konrad is hoping he can see Sophie somehow. He is going to get a letter out to her.
Konrad waits in a square in Prague. Sophie waits at a different square. They are both anxious and nervous to see each other. Sophie asks someone for help and she finally finds Konrad. They run to each other and embrace.
At a restaurant Sophie protests that she organized his escape, but when the time came, he didn't even show up. Konrad says he bets that Wolfgang told her that and he's perturbed that she would believe Wolfgang. They both have recriminations toward one another because they remained separated for so long. Then Konrad says that this is the start of a new era. Sophie smiles and kisses his hands. Then they go up to the hotel room. They literally run up the stairs, only stopping to kiss each other periodically. They have sex. (very brief nudity)
Konrad is late for his presentation, so his professor Ewald Lorenz had to start the talk. Konrad appears and takes over the presentation. Later the professor sees Konrad with Sophie. The professor and Sophie introduces themselves to each other. They sit down at a restaurant table in the hotel. The professor warns Sophie that his friend is about to ruin his career, because the professor isn't the only one who has noticed Konrad's absences. Sophie says that she is going to live in Prague with Konrad as he writes his doctoral thesis here. The professor is a bit shocked and asks Sophie if she would really leave the West for Konrad? Sophie says that the professor hiself turned down a chance to live in the West and, instead, stayed in the East. The professor says he turned his offer to go to Munich down because his colleagues were old Nazis that he already knew. He couldn't work with them.
The professor may be agreeable to this arrangement with Konrad and Sophie, but what about the colleague the professor came with? He watches the three people at the table and does not look happy.
Sophie and Konrad go out dancing with a Prague colleague, who is excited about Konrad working on his dissertation in Prague.
August 21, 1968. Sophie is awakened by the shaking of the hotel. She goes over to look out the window and she and Konrad see Soviet tanks rolling into Prague. And now life in hectic and chaotic in Prague with many people trying to leave Prague. Sophie tells Konrad that she is going outside. Konrad tries to stop her, but she forces her way past the guards. She then gets arrested for this and is placed in a paddy wagon.
There are scenes from Prague that appeared on television at the time of the Soviet invasion of Prague. Konrad's sister Barbara cries knowing that Sophie and Konrad are in Prague. Barbara and her boyfriend take part in a small protest with three other people concerning what happened in Prague. The East German secret police grab the protestors from off the street.
The colleague that doesn't like Konrad asks the young man if he wants to sign a solidarity oath with the Soviet Union. He says that Lorenz signed the document. Konrad says he cannot sign it. Later Konrad speaks with Lorenz and Lorenz just tells Konrad that he doesn't have the strength not to sign the document. Konrad still says that Lorenz signing the document was a crime. The professor agrees but says he's still a part of this messed-up country. He says he's proud of Konrad for not signing.
Sophie is let out of prison until midnight, but she is tailed by the police. Sophie immediately goes to see Konrad. She tells him that she is having his baby. They hug each other. They start to talk about Sophie coming to East Germany to live. He warns her to speak softly. She thinks he's being paranoid, but he goes with her to the window and shows her the police waiting outside in a parked car. He then asks if she's sure she wants their baby to grow up in a place like this? He then says he's going to a convention in Stockholm. He asks whose plan is better?
Konrad and his mother see father in the hospital. Father says to let Konrad go because he wants to see his new baby, but mother tells Konrad that if he goes now, father will surely die. Barbara is still in jail and she won't even be able to say good-bye to him. Konrad goes to father, who tells him to follow his heart and go take care of his baby.
The colleague that doesn't like Konrad tells him that the Swedes have said that Konrad is ill and cannot come to Sweden. The colleague says he will present Konrad's paper to the conference, but only with Konrad's permission. Konrad says nothing. He is devastated by the news.
Sophie is miserable too and cries. She says that this is the third time that she has been turned back. She says: "I can't wait anymore, and I don't want to." She says even her baby feels her anxiety over this. She writes Konrad to tell him not to write her anymore. "We each have to live our own lives."
Twelve years later. Barbara is a minister at her church and she talks about forming a peace movement. But the men in the audience keep bringing up objections to what she's saying. One wonders if the guys are not planted in the audience by the secret police. One guy is so objectionable that Konrad tries to strike the man, but one of the peaceniks stops Konrad. Later, Barbara tells her brother that those men are paid to attend her church.
Konrad and his colleagues go to a conference. He goes to see someone at his apartment. The man, Gerard Robleau, knows Sophie and helps set up this meeting. Gerard says that he wrote that this was the first time that an East German group has come to West Berlin for and IAU convention
Sophie and the boy come into the apartment. The boy Alexander just shakes hands with his father and then goes with Gerard. Sophie and Konrad talk to each other. She asks him if he has any children and he nods yes. He then asks Sophie if he can take Alexander for a walk. Yes. They go for a walk.
Konrad cries after he leaves the apartment. The next day Konrad goes to see Sophie at her place of work. Afterwards, they go to a cafe and talk. They blame each other for being separated, but Konrad does say: "I've always loved you."
The Stasi have Konrad sign a statement that an interviewer of Konrad was mistaken in his reportage. The sweetener for the signature is the country allowing Konrad to see his son (but only in East Germany).
Alexander goes through security to see his father. Konrad is there waiting for him. Alexander now gets to meet Konrad's wife and their little girl, his sister Lena.
Alexander is back home and Sophie asks about his father's wife, Elizabeth. She asks if she is pretty? Alexander says she looks a lot like mother, but Konrad says mother is still the prettiest.
Alexander comes back, but this time it's just Konrad and Alexander together. He suggests that mother and he come to East Germany together so all three of them can be together at the same time.
West Berlin has a protest march against the Berlin wall. They honor the many dead who died at the wall trying to get to West Berlin and freedom. In East Berlin Konrad's brother-in-law ties himself to the window frames of one of the apartments looking out on the Berlin Wall. East German guards arrest him. Now Barbara visits her husband Harold in jail. Barbara asks him why did he have to make it look like a crucifixion? Maybe it was a little over the top. He says they offered him a great deal. He would be let out of prison and allowed to go to a democratic country, if his wife would just go with him.
Harold is forced to go to West Berlin. He screams in protest when two guards grab him. Harold tries to bet back into east Germany. He climbs over the first fence. Then the guards from the tower tell him not to move. He moves forward and is shot dead. Barbara, of course, is very sad about the loss of her husband.
Konrad's wife slaps Konrad for not telling her that he goes to Barbara's peace meetings. She says that this is just another example of Konrad always excluding her from his private life. Furthermore, ever since Alexander came, Konrad's head is not with his wife and Lena.
The next time Konrad tries to pick up Alexander, he can't because the East Germans deny his entry into their country.
Konrad goes to his secret police contact that is his go-between with the authorities. He tells the man to let him see his son. The guy evades the requests, so Konrad hits him in the face twice and the man goes down on the bowling alley.
November l989. Konrad works caring for an indoor-pool.
The Wall s open! Alexander goes to see his father while Sophie waits at the bridge. They walk back to the bridge together. Konrad sees Sophie and yells out to her. Sophie looks like she can't believe her eyes.
A nice love story set against the separation of West Berlin from East Berlin after WWII The two lovers have to face many challenges just to get brief chances to see each other. It's amazing how many obstacles are put in their way and, at times, it seems like the two people are never going to be reunited. It takes a long time before the Berlin Wall actually comes down reuniting West and East Germany.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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