A dense, info-laden and handsomely produced docu, “Betrayal” charts the firsthand efforts of a former friend to get at the inner workings of enigmatic Sascha Anderson who, for 20 years, led a double life as a leading cultural figure in the East German dissident underground and as a high-ranking informer to the Stasi. Involving pic, which has been shown in Denmark and is slated for Swedish TV and Channel 4 airings in the fall, is a tasty morsel that raises more questions than it answers.
On-camera interviewer Bjorn Cederberg — a German-speaking Swede whose investigative reflections are spoken to excellent dramatic effect by British thesp John Hurt — met Sascha in 1983 in Prenzlauer Berg, the district of East Berlin where he and his dissident artist friends hung out, and believed that he knew him fairly well. So his shock mirrored that of Sascha’s immediate circle upon discovering that the man they all knew as “a fearless and magnetic figure in the illegal underground” was a compulsive liar and accomplished spy. Three chief informers emerge in secret police Stasi files: All of them are cover names for Anderson.
Cederberg speaks to Sascha’s former pals, ex-girlfriends, erstwhile contacts in the Stasi hierarchy (lensed only as shadows) and Sascha himself, trying to piece together Anderson’s peculiar and exceedingly active past.
Anderson apparently got his start as an informer by ingratiating himself into the script department of the Film Academy at DEFA-Studio (now Babelsberg) in the mid-1970s. A publisher by trade who agreed to appear in the film and was always aware of the camera, Anderson says, “In my view I never worked for the Stasi. According to their files, I worked for them. But that’s not my opinion.”
Close to one-fifth of East Germans ended up in Stasi files, whose extensiveness, per helmer, puts the Pentagon’s or the FBI’s holdings to shame. The camera tags along as Conny, a long-standing friend of Sascha’s, goes to read her files after introductory counseling by a social worker.
Filmmakers arranged a surprise on-camera confrontation between Conny and Sascha in Rome two years after the scandal broke. Sascha is briefly flustered, surprised that the docu crew was prepared to fork out the money for Conny’s plane ticket. “Documentaries are expensive these days,” says Conny. The awkward but incisive confrontation leaves no doubt that Anderson ratted on his friends for two decades yet fails to see the harm in his actions.
Tech credits are pro. A longer version of the story would be welcome.