Kathryn Yankura '08
Not a Chick Flick: Understanding Sommer vorm Balkon in the Context of East German Cinema
I was first exposed to the cinema of former East Germany through Professor Cafferty's course East German Traditions, which I took my sophomore year at Bowdoin. One film explored in the course particularly had an impact on me - die Legende von Paul und Paula, directed by Heiner Carrow and written by Ulrich Plenzdorf. I was intrigued by the manner in which this film, in the Alltagstradition of East German cinema focused on the everyday life of its protagonist in order to facilitate a social critique. In my final paper for the course I explored how the film's main character, Paula, exposed the divide between the ideals of East Germany's socialist society and the realities of its working populace.
After I returned to Bowdoin from studying in Germany and Austria my junior year, Professor Cafferty remembered my interest in die Legende von Paul und Paula. Consequentially, she introduced me to the current work of German film director Andreas Dresen, who grew up in the former GDR and continues to produce highly successful films in the reunified country. I became hooked on Dresen's unique version of social realism, and I began an intense exploration of his work. I immediately noticed a stark similarity between Dresen's most recent film, Sommer vorm Balkon, and films from the East German Alltagstradition such as die Legende. Also while exploring the critical response to Sommer vorm Balkon in Germany and America, I discovered a crucial disparity in opinions. German critics mainly view the film as a socially and historically important response to German reunification. In contrast, American critics largely interpret the film as light, frivolous entertainment. Strongly disagreeing with the American critics, I centered my project on the argument that Sommer is a film best understood through its strong connection to East German Alltagsfilme. I established this connection by reading Sommer intertextually with three East German films - die Legende von Paul und Paula, der Dritte and Solo Sunny. Making this link enabled me to ultimately argue that Sommer also diverges from Alltagstradition and achieves a contemporary, transnational relevance through its depiction of widely understood human themes. In making this argument, I focused specifically on these four films' similar use of strong female protagonists.
Working on this project with the incredible help and support of Professor Cafferty perfectly culminated my Bowdoin career. My work brought together all of my ongoing interests in Gender and Women's Studies, film, and East German culture, in addition to strengthening my research and writing skills. In connection with my project, I was also privileged to attend The Future of German Studies Conference and Andreas Dresen Deutsche Filmtage film festival at the University of Georgia with Professor Cafferty in March. At the festival, I had the opportunity to personally meet and interview Dresen and to view many of his films and the East German films I was working on in 35 mm. This experience was by far one of the highlights of my academic experience at Bowdoin. Meeting Dresen provided me with important primary source material, as well as reminded me of the important contemporary relevance of my project. Also, completing such an in-depth study has given me a taste of what graduate level work would entail, and I feel well prepared and excited to carry these skills with me beyond Bowdoin.