Netzwerk (Ralf Kirsten, East Germany, 1969)

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I think it might be a spy thriller. Usually you can get a pretty good idea of a storyline without understanding the dialogue, but in this case the language barrier was insurmountable for me. It’s an East German flick, starkly photographed in black & white.

It starts off at a petro-chemical works. As a brief aside, take a look at the Wartburg barely seen at the bottom of the title shot (it didn’t seem worth a separate picture). Its lines seem relatively modern and stylish by late ‘sixties standards, not the ugly rattlebox East European cars are supposed to be at all. Of course they then didn’t change the design for twenty years.

Anyway, our hero the very familiar Alfred Müller, is a bigwig at the plant. He usually plays authority types, but here he’s younger and more vigorous than I’m accustomed to seeing him. Take a look at him doing his best ‘my name is Michael Schumacher and you have just blown off in my lift’ face (try it, it breaks the ice at parties). The phrase ‘doesn’t suffer fools gladly’ springs to mind.

Elsewhere, in some kind of hospital, there’s a middle-aged guy of Middle Eastern appearance. His nurse is a young Ursula Werner. Yes, you read that right, his nurse is Ursula Werner! She’s one of those starchy but really pretty and if-she’s-not smiling-she’s-positively-beaming ones too. If it’s wish-fulfillment fantasy you’re after then you’ve found your film.

Talking of wish-fulfillment fantasy, over in the university lecture hall drawing equations on the blackboard, hiding behind thick-rimmed spectacles but with an unmistakable jawline, is none other than Jutta Wachowiak as a university lecturer. Mmm, imagine Jutta Wachowiak saying something so important you actually wrote it down! She seems to be married to protagonist Müller (both characters are in the credits as ‘Doctor’) so this appearance isn’t purely gratuitous.

The setting and characters remind me of Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain (1966), which is the main reason I guessed it was a spy film. There are other hints too, such as people sitting around in fields at midnight presumably waiting to intercept possible parachute drops. I’ve become somewhat addicted to East German films in recent years, and enjoyed this one about as much as I can enjoy any film without any shootings, nudity or car chases, and without understanding a single word of the dialogue.

Rating:   ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 4/5

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La Valise (Georges Lautner, France, 1973)

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Mireille Darc was almost as familiar a sight to late-night British TV viewers of the ‘eighties as she was to French cinema audiences of the ‘seventies, thanks to a preference of the minor channels for filling the late-night schedules with sexy comedies and lightweight thrillers usually, but not always, starring herself and Alain Delon. Sometimes she took her clothes off, usually not very many, and always in the best possible taste. She was the epitome of a particular sort of third-hand dark-at-the-roots blonde sophistication, coupled with a hint of girlish naïveté. Only the French could pull off a mixture like that.

In The Suitcase she plays Françoise, a conjuror’s assistant who somehow gets mixed up in a plot to smuggle a French agent out of Libya in the diplomatic bag, more specifically the unwieldly trunk of the title. This being a time of perpetual conflict in the Middle East many difficulties arise, and not just the fact that he’s one hell of a bloke to fit in a suitcase, even a big one like that.

Françoise has a secret weapon: she can make absolutely anyone fall in love with her. Effortlessly. Not just the obvious ones like the agent and his buddy, but random strangers in the middle of deserts. The ending is almost transcendent: she wins over the bad guy by smiling at him. A simple smile, without lip-gloss, confident with just a hint of vulnerability. It’s not the lure of the bedroom, more a promise from the school playground; not “Let’s make love” but “Will you be my friend?”. Completely irresistible. It’s an interesting concept to mull over afterwards: French tart as Ambassadress of World Peace. You never know, it might just work! Actually it might just have happened already!

As a whole this film is short of action and rather dated to be of much interest today. The opening scenes where a Western gunfight turns out to be playing out on a TV set whose aerial is being kicked over by the French agent on the roof seems unfunny and not a bit crass, but maybe it was fresh enough to make good comedy back then. No more than a diversion then, except for devotees of Mademoiselle Darc of course.

Clip: Mireille Darc nude at the window (12.0MB)

Rating:   ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 2/5

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