Film Review – A Stasi Comedy

Palace Electric Canberra as part of the German Film Festival
115 minutes, rated R18+
German with English subtitles,
Until 18 June 2022
Also showing at Palace Cinemas nationally

Those who lived in East Germany between 1950 and 1990 will probably find the title A Stasi Comedy oxymoronic. As other films in this festival, such as the dramas The Last Execution and Dear Thomas show, there was nothing funny about a regime which demanded conformity and required people to betray friends and family members.

The film’s director, Leander Haussmann, has been quoted as saying, ‘After 30 years it should finally be allowed to laugh about the Stasi.’ And indeed it was 22 years after the fall of the Nazi regime before Mel Brooks made his classic spoof The Producers, featuring the outlandish musical number Springtime for Hitler.

As with The Producers and Taika Waititi’s 2019 Jojo Rabbit, the humour in this film comes from portraying some very nasty people as bumbling idiots.

Young Ludger Fuchs is recruited by the Stasi to infiltrate East Berlin’s counterculture scene and ends up sleeping with (and eventually marrying) his first target, Corinna, while leading a double life as a Stasi agent and underground poet. Things get complicated when he falls in love with the mysterious Nathalie.

Two early sequences take us from the present to the past. In modern-day Germany. Ludger retrieves his Stasi file and brings it home during a family gathering. Corinna is shocked to discover that the file contains a love letter to Ludger which she did not write. And back in the 1980s, we see a young Ludger waiting patiently for pedestrian lights to change so that he can cross a road; it turns out that the lights are being controlled by the Stasi to test Ludger’s obedience.

I enjoyed this film, though I suspect that the German-speaking couple next to me in the back row of the cinema got more out if it, as the subtitles were sometimes hard to read – especially on a light background.

One of the risks of films which satirise dark periods in modern history is that some people may not get the joke. There’s little risk of that happening here, especially with the over-the-top sequences featuring Ludger’s Stasi peers and bosses.

But this film reminds us that, as with the Stasi, contemporary horrors, such as mass shootings and Russian aggression against Ukraine, are driven by despots and desperate people seeking power and control over others. For this reason, I don’t expect A Stasi Comedy will be a hit in countries like North Korea or Russia.