The lackadaisical hero of the older generations when they were still children, Till Eulenspiegel comes to the cinema at the Goethe Centre. Filmed in 1974, this rendition of Eulenspiegel is however not what one would expect, instead using allegory to comment on the then still-divided Germany.
Eulenspiegel, hero of a legendary folk tale from the early 16th century, appears apparently out of nowhere as a cunning vagabond and a wise jester, who speaks truth to the powerful during the German Peasants’ War. At the same time, he is one who enjoys life, and never plays it safe. This subversive comedy was made by East German studio DEFA long before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In an inn, Till Eulenspiegel and his tomfoolery incur the wrath of the innkeeper but finds favour with the robber baron Kunz, who takes him to his derelict castle and unceremoniously appoints him minister of any department where he may become necessary. Eulenspiegel’s qualifications do not come into play here, a fact used by some as an allegory for current politics. At the edge of the woods, the robber baron and his minister encounter a group of girls, one of whom is raped by Kunz. Eulenspiegel, rather more innocently, then seemingly falls in love with another girl. She calls herself “Rosine”, and will run into him several times further down the line. After a fight with Kunz, Eulenspiegel flees, pulling the wool over the eyes of the robber baron and his men while on the run.
This vagabond comedy was made in 1974/75 at a time where the end of the DDR was still far beyond people’s imagination. Although the film is based on a real historical situation of abused monarchical power, and all those who lived in its shadow, the cinema-goers of the time could well have interpreted many parts of the film as a satire of all authorities, their own included. The heroic protagonist is an anarchic clown and yet a political hero, whose restless wandering protects him from the ultimate control and oppression of the totalitarian system, one in which he finds no favour.
Comment on the subversive potential of JESTER TILL is noticeably absent from the writings of the era’s critics. Rather, they consider the film to be firmly burlesque and interpret many of the anecdotes as a mockery of an already long-defeated power. Yet the hero of the title, who tells us we must not fear God nor man, must surely be seen at all times and places as an utmost political figure.
DDR German film at the Goethe Centre
Date: Thursday 23 June 2015
Language: German with English subtitles
Venue: Goethe Centre/NaDS, Fidel Castro Street, Windhoek
Director: Rainer Simon, colour, 100 min., 1974