Frank Beyer, a German director who fell in and out of favor with Communist East German leaders before his 1975 drama “Jakob the Liar” became the first and only East Germany film ever to be nominated for a foreign language film Academy Award, died on Oct. 1 in Berlin after a long illness. He was 74.
One of the Stalinist nation’s most famous and controversial filmmakers, who worked for the East German state film monopoly DEFA, Beyer’s roller-coaster career came to an abrupt halt after his 1966 film “Spur der Steine” (Traces of Stones) about a group of mildly disenchanted construction workers was banned by Communist party leaders — because of its “hostility towards the party and state.”
Beyer was also banished from DEFA for making the pic, which starred Manfred Krug as a beer-drinking construction worker making dark wisecracks about the living and working conditions in East Germany, even though it was based on a novel by Erik Neutsch and reflected a growing disenchantment about conditions in East Germany. Beyer spent the next eight years on smaller stages in theater and television trying to revive his career before his greatest triumph, “Jakob der Luegner,” based on a novel by Jurek Becker about a Jewish prisoner who tries to spread hope through the Warsaw ghetto by making up stories about Germany’s military defeats. It won a Silver Bear award at the 1975 Berlin Film Festival. The film was remade in English in 1999 by Peter Kassovitz. Armin Mueller-Stahl, a native of East Germany, appeared in both versions.
“Traces of Stones” was later released in the fall of 1989 just weeks before the Berlin Wall fell, by Communist East German leaders trying to show they were open to reform. The film that made Krug and Beyer famous in West Germany now appears frequently on various German public television networks. After German reunification in 1990, Beyer wrote an autobiography “When the Wind Changes.” He said that he had perhaps “the greatest successes and the worst defeats” of an East German filmmaker of his generation. He won the German Film Prize for life achievement in 1991.
— Erik Kirschbaum