Jadup and Boel

English Title: Jadup and Boel

Original Title: Jadup und Boel

Country of Origin: Germany

Studio: Deutsche Film (DEFA)

Director: Rainer Simon

Screenplay: Paul Kanut Schäfer, Rainer Simon

Cinematographer: Roland Dressel

Editor: Helga Gentz

Runtime: 103 minutes

Genre: Gegenwartsfilm, Drama

Language: German

Starring/Cast: Kurt Böwe, Michael Gwisdek, Timo Jakob, Heide Kipp, Katrin Knappe, Franciszek Pieczka, Käthe Reichel, Gudrun Ritter

Year: 1980

Volume: German

Synopsis:

Jadup and Boel is set in a small East German town in the late 1970s, depicted as corrupt and decaying.  The middle-aged mayor (Kurt Böwe) is reminded by chance of a young girl (Knappe) he had known in the time immediately after Germany’s surrender in 1945, who was raped in circumstances that had never been clarified. He feels guilty for not having helped her and tries to investigate, but meets only with frustration. Through his remembrances, he sees that he has become too set in his ways, acquiring a new perspective on life and a better relationship with his own son (Jakob). The film is structured via a series of subjective flashbacks from the present to 1945.


Critique:

Jadup and Boel is perhaps Rainer Simon’s most important film and, notably, the last film to be banned in East Germany. Simon had intended it as an intervention into public political debates, yet its delayed release prevented this effect. It is adapted from the novel Jadup (1975) that paints a devastating picture of life in the GDR provinces, far from the positive image desired by the authorities. Although Simon repeatedly made the cuts requested by the censors, the film was finally shelved for nearly eight years.

 

The flashback structure of the film is not in the novel, and was added to the script. Flashback scenes are marked by the use of added colour (yellow and blue) at the edge of the lens. The image of the past that emerges is cryptic and fragmentary, largely due to the sheer brevity of the flashbacks. Two different actors play Jadup: Kurt Böwe for the middle-aged man in the present, and his son Christian Böwe for the younger man in 1945. Simon also added a mythological dimension to the film by having it begin in the basement of Mayor Jadup’s house and end in a church tower, thus implying a literal journey from darkness into light; he also inserted scenes with Jadup’s son Max on a river ferry suggesting the river Styx. Along with the story of the main character, his wife and son, and the girl Boel and her mother, there are also subplots about a local historian (Willi Unger) and a visiting antiques collector (Herr Gwissen) who pursues an ‘investigation’ of the town parallel to Jadup’s.

 

Simon began his career in the late 1960s making documentary fiction films, a genre also practiced by DEFA director Lothar Warneke and Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi. This genre – influenced by neorealism and cinéma vérité – sought to remain close to the surface of everyday life, using non-professional actors, episodic narratives and documentary inserts. Although Jadup and Boel is more poetically stylized than such films, its aesthetic is still one of understated realism. This is particularly evident in the performances of the main actors, especially Kurt Böwe, whose gruff but likeable persona earned him the nickname ‘Columbo of the East.’  Jadup was also influenced by the Polish ‘cinema of moral concern,’ which included directors Andrzej Wajda as well as Zanussi. (The presence of Polish actor Franciszek Pieczka in Jadup also points to this influence). Like them, Simon saw himself as an ethical investigator of the everyday life of his country, of the moral decisions made by individuals in socialist society. It was precisely this ‘reduction of the revolution to morals’ instead of Marxist historical processes to which the GDR’s last Film Minister, Horst Pehnert, objected. This moral interest gives the film’s narrative a parabolic quality often found in the best DEFA films. The parabolic aspect is heightened by the allegorical name of the antiques collector Mr. Gwissen, whose name in German resembles the word for ‘conscience.’  The hero Jadup is, like the heroes of many other Simon films, a rebellious outsider figure who refuses to fit in or toe the line. Simon called his film a work of ‘honest self-questioning,’ which shows its moral engagement with the society around it.  Rather than being a dissident film, this is a film that seeks to reform everyday socialism through moral reflection. 

Author of this review: Larson Powell