The love rivalry between a young communist (the excellent Armin Mueller-Stahl) and a Nazi SA officer underpins this deeply rewarding Second World War-set story from East Germany.
Dir Frank Beyer
Scr Edith Gorrish, Walter Gorrish
With Annekathrin Bürger, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thein
Prod Co DEFA
With English subtitles
Inspired by a German folk song, the ‘royal children’ here are anti-fascist, working-class lovers Michael and Magdalena. When Michael is imprisoned and sent to a penal battalion on the eastern front, he re-encounters Jürgen, once his rival for Magdalena’s love. Frank Beyer was one of the greatest directors working at DEFA, East Germany’s state-owned studio. Together with cinematographer Günther Marczinkowsky they created a richly inventive style informed by the new Polish and Czech cinemas. Marczinkowsky’s black-and-white work is extraordinary, favouring high and low angles, taking pleasure in the creative possibilities of light playing on water and capturing the confused, terrifying brutality of the battlefield. The early 1960s were a brief golden age for East German cinema and this is one of its masterpieces.
Restored in 4K in 2018 by DEFA-Stiftung with funding provided by Die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory from the original camera negative preserverd at Bundersarchiv.