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Savant Short Review:

The Legend of
Paul and Paula

The Legend of Paul and Paula
First Run Features
1974 / Color / 1:66 flat letterbox / 106 min. / Die Legende von Paul und Paula
Starring Angelica Domröse, Winfried Glatzeder, Heidemarie Wenzel, Fred Delmare
Cinematography Jürgen Brauer
Production Designer Harry Leupold
Film Editor Evelyn Carow
Original Music Peter Gotthardt
Written by Heiner Carow and Ulrich Plenzdorf
Directed by Heiner Carow

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

As with the earlier Hot Summer, The Murderers are Among Us and Der Schweigende Stern, released here as First Spaceship on Venus, The Legend of Paul and Paula is an East German film made at the DEFA studios. An intense tale of love before, in and outside of marriage, it's a sexy romance about people with realistic problems in a real-looking East Germany.


Paul (Winfried Glatzeder) and Paula (Angelica Domröse) both got married too hastily, and to the wrong people. He picked up a girl at the carnival (Heidemarie Wenzel) who thought he would become a successful doctor, but their marriage faltered after one child, his stint in the army, and her infidelity. She shacked up with a carnival roustabout, who she finally threw out after she came home with their second child to find him seducing another girl. Meeting at a club, Paul and Paula carry on a clandestine affair that's an open secret. Tragedy strikes, and Paula becomes set on abandoning her dream for a secure future with an available but over-the hill tire dealer (Fred Delmare); whereas the less flexible Paul starts to fall apart under the threat of losing her.

A huge hit in East Germany when new, The Legend of Paul and Paula is known as a Love Story in a socialist state, and was made in a relatively liberal climate roughly between 1971 and 1976, when artists weren't as discouraged from expressing unorthodox viewpoints.

Featuring excellent acting and a particularly moving performance from Angelica Domröse as the unmarried mother trying to make it in the socialist system, the story is about living under less-than-rosy circumstances. Paula throws herself at 'blondie', a hunky carnie, long before she's wise enough to know how unhappy such a relationship can turn out. In her old apartment with her two cute kids, she has to haul coal up from the basement by hand, and then scuttle out to her government supermarket job, checking long lines of groceries and servicing the rough characters who come to the recycling window with their old bottles. The sensible thing is to hook up with the tire man, an entrepreneur who's far too old for her but wants a family. (There's a nice detail when this guy fights off a demanding customer on the phone, saying he's never heard of radial tires. In a communist country, consumers have to fight for the decent merchandise.)

Paul grabbed the sexiest girl in the shooting gallery, only to find out she wasn't the faithful type (were not supposed to be concerned that he seems to have misrepresented himself to her, with the almost-a-doctor business). He takes abuse from both her and her family, and then strikes out on his own, at exactly the same time that Paula decides to forget rationality, to find her happiness as well. They're a perfect match, but in an impossible situation.

East Germans must have been captivated by the contrast between the couple's dreams - visions of flower barges floating on the river - and their reality, meeting in a dirty garage when time permits and being perpetually unhappy. Paul tends to become grim and resigned; Paula rebels against negativity and redoubles her efforts. At a low point, she greets him with a pitiful luau, almost like the one in It's a Wonderful Life. It does the trick. She's so elated at their first lovemaking, that she forgets to put her workdress on over her slip at the recycling window. She's so full of life, that when she sings a ribald song at the grocery lines, the whole supermarket chimes in.

With bits of fantasy and pleasantness, The Legend of Paul and Paula is at first rather moralistic - enter love and life like it's a pleasure fair, and you'll be sorry. The working-class couple haven't much in the way of pride (especially when Paul humiliates himself by camping out on Paula's doorstep) but they want a happy life, love and kids. If it doesn't work out as hoped (the show isn't compared to Love Story for nuthin') it's not like they didn't try, and life does indeed Go On.

The Legend of Paul and Paula is directed in a simple style that only changes for the brief fantasy sequence. Scenes of old housing being demolished, presumably for new collectivist buildings, are used now and then to dramatic effect. A rock band called the Puhdys is heard in the discotheque scenes where the desperate Paula seeks her man. Emotional and sexy (there's some nudity along the way), you can see how this feature would have been a big hit on the other side of the Berlin Wall.

First Run Features' DVD of The Legend of Paul and Paula is a good presentation of a title unheard of here in the states. There should be a big opportunity for decades' worth of European movies never distributed here, and seeing something like this is a privilege. The image is reasonable, but has a marked compressed look, which may be from conversion from PAL (or another format) to NTSC, but looks more like the bit rate could have been a bit higher. Color is good and the print is in very good shape, with only one brief scene near the beginning a tad unstable. The Legend of Paul and Paula is for the DVD buyer looking for romance unfamiliar new surroundings, or for those adventurous to be interested in a good film from 'behind the Iron Curtain'.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Legend of Paul and Paula rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Good-
Sound: Good
Supplements: Still selection, biography and filmography for director Heiner Carow; text essay on the film
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 2, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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