Berlin-Stettin -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

VIENNA -- Arriving with perfect timing to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's demise, "Berlin-Stettin" is a fine cinematic essay-autobiography from veteran documentarian Volker Koepp. Even audiences unfamiliar with Koepp's pedigree as a leading chronicler of ordinary East German working lives will appreciate this accessible, informative and warmly humanistic journey across the miles and the decades.

Ideal for documentary-oriented festivals, it will find its most receptive audiences among older viewers especially Koepp's compatriots. But the film also boasts considerable educational value for the more patient and intellectually curious representatives of the post-unification generation. At 110 minutes, it's a good fit for small-screen play.

As a summary of its director's career, generously illustrated with clips from key works, "Berlin-Stettin" is a sober, more politically-engaged Anglo-Saxon cousin of Agnes Varda's bouncily bohemian "The Beaches of Agnes." Whereas Varda was front-and-center throughout her memory-lane amble, Koepp is content to serve as an unseen narrator. He's a wise, erudite guide through the underpopulated farming terrain that stretches from his coastal birthplace -- Stettin, now Szcecin in Poland -- to Berlin, where he grew up in the 1950s and currently resides.

Starting in the capital, he strikes north through Uckermark, the east German region which is so crucial to so many of his memories and his films. The most famous Uckermarker, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is conspicuous by her absence. Koepp is more interested in "ordinary" men and women, many of whom he'd previously interviewed on film in the '70s and '80s.

Editor Beatrice Babin fluently cuts back and forth between their older and younger selves, including the memorably impish Karin, a firebrand welder in the East German days of bustling factories who's lost little vigor in retirement.

Essentially a reflective tribute to such folk and the land they love -- even after the West, as they put it, "came to them" -- "Berlin-Stettin" accords them sufficient space, dignity and respect so that they comes across as idiosyncratic individuals as well as living testaments to their turbulent times.

As shot in stately, measured fashion by highly experienced cinematographers Thomas Plenert and Christian Lehmann, this is non-fiction filmmaking of the old school, hardly ground-breaking in terms of form, but notably rich in content.

Venue: Viennale (Vienna International Film Festival)