Do You Know Urban? (Kennen sie Urban?, Deutsche Demokratische Republik 1971)


The question runs through the film until the end, where is Urban (Manfred Karge)? Before that we watch as “Hoffi” Hoffman (Berndt Renné) and his friend Keube (Harald Wandel) look for the titular character or tell people about him. Several flashbacks fill in the acquaintance of “Hoffi” and Urban which started in a hospital.

Hoffi and Keube first appear walking along a beach with their suitcases. They are looking for a construction site where they believe Urban, an engineer, will be working. They do not find Urban but they do find jobs labouring on a large housing construction. Hoffi also meets Gila (Jenny Gröllmann) who is a student trainee. A relationship develops but then Gila returns to her home in Berlin.

Help by his workmates who sort out permission for Hoffi who is banned from Berlin because of an assault. The assault of an old man by Hoffi and a teenage group is shown in a flashback. They are dressed western style listening to westerns style popular music. And it is the music that sparks the argument and subsequent assault.

Arriving in Berlin Hoffi finds that Gila is pregnant. So his workmates continue their help in assuaging opposition by Gila’s parents and then finding an apartment for the young couple. There is a housing shortage in East Berlin and they convert a disused shop.

Shot largely on location, the film hews to the tradition of the ‘Berlin films’ of the 1950s and 1960s to depict a tolerant, cosmopolitan society.

a committed social worker, members of East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party also have a hand in making the prophecy expressed in the film’s working title, “even problem children can become people” come true.” (Retrospective Brochure).

Hoffi, Gila, Keube and Lenin

The male characters have interesting back stories. Urban has worked all round the world on engineering project. The countries are all in some sense socialist, I noted Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam. When we finally meet him it is on a railway station as his family wave him off to another project. Hoffi is a young tearaway but in the course of the film he acquires maturity and responsibility. Gila’s story is less developed and the flashbacks are focussed on the men. The actors present these characters convincingly and sympathetically.

This was the final film of four features directed by Ingrid Reschke; she died in the same year in a car accident, only 35 years. She was one of only a few women directors working on features. On the evidence of this film her death was a real loss for DEFA. The drama is engaging, there is recurring humour and the depiction of social life is completely convincing. The cinematography by Claus Neumann makes excellent use of the locations. Other members of the crew include several women; the story by Gisela Karua, assistant editor Marie-Luise Ullmann and editing by Barbara Simon.

The film had been digitally restored in 2018 and was screened from a DCP. The 96 minutes devoted to this story were engaging and informative in some ways of the working culture of the DDR.

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