Dessau Dancers (2014)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the Munich International Film Festival. For more information visit filmfest-muenchen.de/en and follow the Filmfest München on Twitter at @filmfestmunich.
When Beat Street, a film about the early 80s hip hop culture is officially released in the cinemas of the socialist German Democratic Republic (Eastern Germany), breakdance is first introduced and inspires teenagers to pick up this new trend. This includes Frank (Gordon Kämmerer), his best friend Alex (Oliver Konietzny), the like-minded breakdancer Michel (Sebastian Jaeger) as well as former Olympic gymnast Martina “Matti” (Sonja Gerhardt), the four protagonists of Jan Martin Scharf’s Dessau Dancers.
Dessau Dancers is a charming, nostalgic comedy about teenagers in the East…
The nostalgic comedy fictionalizes actual events happening in Eastern Germany and sets its story in the industrial town of Dessau in the year of 1985. Due to the fact that breakdancing originated in the United States, as “west” as a country could get, and represents capitalism and individualism, it challenges the GDR’s socialist government and stands in stark contrast to its concepts of egalitarianism, state control and subservience.
Frank and his friends meet on a regular basis to practice on the streets of Dessau and challenge competing groups of break dancers. Since the comrades of the “Commission of Entertainment” are worried about the reputation of the country and the police is unable to ban breakdancing and remove the youngsters from the streets completely, they decide to react fast in order to control the situation. The biggest problem of the public display is the representation of “Western” values such as the capitalistic dress code of brand clothing and the individualist expression. To prevent a Westernization of East German youth, the comrades decide to exploit the dance form to integrate it into their socialist system.
The well-written script by Ruth Toma consists of fun dialogues…it also does not neglect to give insight into the scheming and the power of the socialist system of the GDR and the limited possibilities to express oneself.
Shortly after the success of breakdancing, the Commission officially prohibits the public performances on the streets but offers Frank and his friends the opportunity to dance within the FDJ (Freie Deutsche Jugend - Free German Youth), a state organization for youth in Eastern Germany. With that the group of friends is allowed to keep dancing and even get paid to perform at special events. Slowly, Frank realizes the actual meaning of the newly founded group “Break Beaters” and realizes that they are in fact mere puppets in the strings of the system they despise.
Dessau Dancers is a charming, nostalgic comedy about teenagers in the East, a few years before the breakdown of the communist system, the upcoming Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the German Reunification in 1990. The upbeat soundtrack throws the audience right back to the 80s with both Western as well as Eastern German tunes. The well-written script by Ruth Toma consists of fun dialogues, the charming yet often horrible pronunciation of the English phrases, inside jokes and historical references. It also does not neglect to give insight into the scheming and the power of the socialist system of the GDR and the limited possibilities to express oneself.
Dessau Dancers is an interesting take on youth culture in Eastern Germany and the willingness to express oneself within the socialist system.