© 2014 William Ahearn

Some things never change. This is a film that opposes the ban on abortion as set by paragraph 218 in the German penal code. There were numerous demonstrations and debates about paragraph 218 and this film shows the tragedy of backstreet abortion and the use of cyanide by some practitioners whether they are qualified or not.

Rarely seen in the West, this print was videotaped off of an East German TV station (DDR 2) and later transferred to DVD without subtitles although following the story isn’t difficult. In Weimar Cinema, 1919-1933: Day Dreams and Nightmares, published by the Museum of Modern Art, the plot is described:

“Hete and her lover, Paul, are both looking forward to the birth of their child. They are employed in the same Berlin firm, but following the crash of 1929 the couple and their coworkers are locked out after striking for higher wages. Paul and a friend steal food from the firm’s canteen and are arrested. Hete fears that she will no longer be able to nourish her growing baby, so with a heavy heart she decides to terminate her pregnancy.”

And it’s all down hill from there, leading to death and prison for Hete and her mother, respectively, according to the MOMA book, although the version I saw ends differently. Apparently, the East Germans decided to edit the film for an ending more consistant with Party dogma.

There is a decidedly leftist bent to some films in the era besides openly Soviet-owned production companies such as Prometheus and of course they didn’t often – if ever – agree on how to approach social issues. In Film and the German Left in the Weimar Republic, author Bruce Murray points out that the communists weren’t supportive of any films that deviated from the party platform, writing:

“Films like “Cyankali” were unacceptable because their victimized working-class protagonists struggled unsuccessfully against social oppression. Such films evoked sympathy for proletarian heroes and perhaps even contributed to a Marxist understanding of social totality, but they provided no clear-cut guidelines for social change.”

Whatever your politics, if this film becomes available, see it.

Directed by Hans Tintner from a screenplay by Tintner that was based on a play by Friedrich Wolf. Cinematography by Günther Krampf with music by Willy Schmidt-Gentner. Starring Grete Mosheim, Nico Turoff, Claus Clausen and Margarete Kupfer, among others.