Carbide and Sorrel is a winning German comedy made in 1963 right before the East German Communist party clamped down on the film industry.
The film - set in 1945 - was one of the few that didn't get censored and it is probably because of the humor in the film which keeps everything light. But despite this there is an undeniably sober undertone as well as an individualistic, anti-authoritarian quality to the film.
The situation is humorous from the start. A bunch of out-of-work men want to rebuild a cigarette factory but the place is completely wrecked. They need carbide in order to use their welding equipment. All of them being smokers they decide to ask Kalle (Erwin Geschonneck) an optimistically naive fellow worker - who is in good shape [and a vegetarian] - if he could go to Wittenberge and bring back carbide.
Kalle doesn't have access to a vehicle so he walks to Wittenberge, which is a few hundred miles away. Once there he manages to get seven barrels of carbide but he has to find a way to get them all back to Dresden without being detected by Soviet authorities. Thus his journey begins.
Along the way he meets a cast of colorful characters including a young farm woman he falls in love with, an older farm woman who tries to seduce him, a teenager and an opera singer who try to trick him, soldiers who confiscate a couple barrels and a number of others who try to steal the carbide. He also spends many nights in barns and forests; and a couple in jail.
The film was directed by Frank Beyer a seasoned director for the DEFA studios and he has a deft hand at comedy and slapstick scenarios. But Beyer does not hide the fact that the film is set in a depressed post war Germany. Most of the people are poor and trying to deal with the hard hit economy. And the Soviets who rule part of the Eastern part of the country have a tight control that keeps everyone on their toes.
The film's humor is a bit dated not only because of the subject matter but it does not advance humor much beyond the silent era. Still it does have some good moments. Especially as Kalle's barrel totals dwindle the closer he gets to home.
The comedy was no doubt too close to the Communist world to take too big a commentary on the state of affairs. But Meyer keeps a steady political hand; just as he lampoons one Soviet character he introduces a gullible American. Perhaps that kept the East German censors from outright banning the film.
The film is presented in full frame 1.33:1. Shot in black and white the look is a bit soft and there is some slight ghosting effect that is noticeable during quick panning shots. The contrast is average. The look is not much above the look of period television - although it is shot on film.
Audio is in German mono and is good if not spotty in parts. Mainly it is dated with post synch sound which is a little off at times.
Extras are average. There is an interview with director Frank Beyer that lasts six minute. In it be mainly talks about how he got started making films. There is little discussion of this film. There is an eight minute short TV-type show called Das Stacheltier titled 'News from the West'. It stars Erwin Geschonneck who plays a barber who believes he has eaten some poisonous sausage. There are also eleven minutes of trailers for DEFA films none of which seem available yet. Then there is a good critical essay by Karen Kramer about the film. Also featured are filmographies, biographies and a photo gallery. Subtitles can be removed. The menu has an option of being featured in German or English and the menus are animated.
Carbide and Sorrel is a good German comedy set in post War Germany and made right as the East German's were cracking down on artistic expression. The DVD has average extras which give the film context. If anything this film feels like a discovery from from before the New German films that came a decade later. Highly Recommended.