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Wittstock, Wittstock

An exceptional record of passing time, "Wittstock, Wittstock" follows three women who are textile workers in East Germany as the Berlin Wall crumbles and their safe, predictable lives dissolve in the uncertainty of today's new Germany. The clear, no-frills B&W images of East German documaker Volker Koepp cut through stereotypes and statistics to give viewers a grasp of politics' effect on real folk. Pic flags in the last half hour, but with trimming it could fill a wide range of news and TV slots. Koepp and his fine cameraman, Christian Lehmann, started shooting their subjects as fresh working girls in 1974, leaving them as underemployed mothers and grandmothers in 1996. Wittstock, a medieval town outside Berlin, houses an important textile factory when the film begins. The three girls describe life outside the shop floor as boring: The boys get drunk and brawl at the disco. By 1983, the three subjects have been through marriages, divorces and kids. They work hard, get promoted and lead lives of quiet satisfaction.

But in 1990, after the Wall comes down, the state factory becomes a company called Fashion Ltd. and mass firings begin, particularly of women. Those who protest or demonstrate are the first to get sacked. Elizabeth and Renata get a year of unemployment benefits, while Edith and her husband reluctantly move to southern Germany to find work. Their fear of change is palpable.

Three years later, three-quarters of Wittstock’s women are jobless. Renata, who was once in charge of 450 people at the factory, is happy to find work as a hotel maid. Elizabeth, supported by her husband, is glad to work a few hours a week in a supermarket, which is now full of champagne and deli items. In 1996, we find her “retraining” as a cosmetics saleswoman, then as a computer operator.

But there are no jobs (unemployment has hit 90%), only retraining programs. The factory is now an empty parking lot.

Never laboring its points, docu offers a crystal-clear view of Germany’s ills. The women are likable, even quietly heroic in accepting the end of their careers. “That’s capitalism for you,” they shrug. “It has good points and bad.” In “Wittstock, Wittstock,” however, it’s hard to discern the good side.

Wittstock, Wittstock

GERMAN

Production: A Kruschke Film & Video production. (International sales: Progress Filmverleih, Berlin.) Produced by Herbert Kruschke. Directed, written by Volker Koepp.

Crew: Camera (B&W), Christian Lehmann; editor, Angelika Arnold; sound, Uve Hassig. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 21, 1997. Running time: 117 MIN.

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