Venice Film Festival (Jutta Hoffmann) Her Third follows the story of a young woman in her thirties who desperately attempts to find a soul-mate amongst a sea of men who do not quite meet her expectations. Along the way Margit also must endure the awkward societal norms of the state she lives in and as a result the young woman finds herself in some truly ridiculous situations.
An interesting film about mid-life crisis (arrived a bit earlier than expected) Her Third juggles with a number of clichéd themes about a lonely woman living in a society largely dominated by men. While most of the drama in this picture is visibly subdued, for understandable reasons given the political environment in which Her Third was created, occasionally there are some controversial themes that manage to pop up here and there. When we first meet the passionate about life but disorganized Margit she seems mostly content with her submissive role as a woman. In fact, shortly after she attempts to approach a man she believes might be a good husband Margit faces harsh disappointment and as a result she enters a convent where life follows a well-known routine.
But within the convent where the nuns appear to be leading a trouble-free existence life keeps presenting Margit with unsolvable tasks. Crushed by her inability to help herself (let alone other people as her sisters do) Margit goes back to the factory where she once worked. There she finally sees a man who might after all be the one she has been waiting for.
Now put aside the above description of this little seen East German film which I don't think surprises with much originality and there are precisely two reasons why one would want to seek this picture. Reason one: the performance which Jutta Hoffmann delivers as the emotionally battered and socially-inept woman who while struggling with her personal life outperforms in the steel factory is amazing. There is so much blatant socialistic propaganda in Her Third (and plenty of subversive acting to counter it) that it is truly a treat to see how Egon Gunther pulls all the "right" strings in order to produce a lovable tune.
Reason two: the actual storyline! There is so much in Her Third that East European directors managed to master to perfection that it feels like a subversive film-clinic!! From the outwardly benevolent romance Her Third offers to the smart "hooks" the script is layered with Egon Gunther delivers plenty of soft criticism revealing the absurdity of life in the former GDR: Margit waiting for her turn to receive low-quality furniture; Margit outperforming in the factory, Margit following the Party's ideals even when love has supposedly taken over her heart.
I do not quite know how the films that DEFA/First Run Features bring to the US market resonate with other viewers but I absolutely love the opportunity they provide to look back at a time that was so polarized, so absurd. Seeing the themes these films explore (which often are universal themes about love, family, longing, etc.) and that extra layer of suggestive acting they provide make them look like a puzzle which the viewer will eventually have to put together-it is fascinating!! And when the characters are as overpowering as Margit then these films become a real treat!!
Winner of the Best Film Award at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Her Third is also the winner of the Best Actress Award granted by the jury at the Venice International Film Festival.
How Does the Film Look?
Not good! Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 the print for this East German film is not on par with what I saw in Born in '45. Low bitrate suggests an analog master and what is even more distrusting I see plenty of dust specks and dirt all over the print. There are occasional scratches here and there as well and as a result the film often looks quite faded. Contrast is also not handled well and during some of the brighter scenes (the snow love scene in the mountain) there is some annoying flickering present. All in all this is a substantially weaker transfer than what I expected it to be.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a passable German DD track and optional English subtitles Her Third offers a manageable audio quality but that is pretty much it. The German producers have not performed any substantial restoration here and you should be able to easily tell why. The audio quality is mostly uneven (certain scenes are slightly louder than other) and even though dialog is easy to follow the overall quality is not impressive.
As it is the case with every DVD produced by First Run Features/DEFA there are some great extras here. First we have An interview With Writer Gunther Ricker which was shot in 2000 where he recalls the history of the film, the political conditions, the famous kiss between the two women-friends, etc. A fascinating view! Next, there is a short-documentary feature titled Sylvia (1983) about a young woman working in a microelectronics plant which offers plenty of the political propaganda the GDR state-controlled film industry was known for. Next, there is a very interesting essay titled A Woman and GDR Soceity (in text format) which as the title suggests draws some great parallels between what Egon Gunther's film explores and the political and social reality in GDR at the time. Also a fascinating read! Next, there is a photo gallery with selected stills from the film and last but not least there is a filmographies section in which the work of the cast and director is highlighted.
The extras which DEFA/First Run Features provide with these DVDs in my opinion are more than a solid reason to recommend them. It is true that picture quality for a few of DEFA's films isn't always on par with what we have come to expect form such reputable labels as Criterion but let's be realistic here-it is a small miracle that these East-German films are actually making it to the US. As far as I am concerned they could have very well been locked in one of those Cold-War inspired film "data-banks", supervised by a careless person who hardly even knows what's in his/her possession, and left rotting. Give credit to First Fun Features for being brave enough to resurrect East-German cinema on the US market.