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The sixth film of Frank Beyer (Jacob The Liar), one of the most successful directors of the DEFA era, and the follow-up to his powerful concentration camp drama Naked Among Wolves, was the surprising road comedy set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, Carbide and Sorrel.
A group of nicotine-deprived workers resolves to rebuild a destroyed Dresden cigarette factory, but in order to do so they need carbide for welding torches. They enlist Kalle, a naïve yet resourceful co-worker, played brilliantly by the laconic Erwin Geschonneck. Finding the carbide proves simple enough but then the real challenge begins: how to move seven barrels of a rationed raw material from Wittenberg to Dresden with no means of transportation? Plagued by mishaps, the tenacious Kalle braves an odyssey by road and water, dodging dogs, mines, policemen, Red Army soldiers, the business ambitions of a sharp US officer and the attentions of a nymphomaniac widow in order to get back home with his precious cargo. Kalle's trials illustrate and comment upon the postwar condition of a devastated Germany, but grim as these events appear, the film treats them lightly with classic comedy, candor and wit. CARBIDE AND SORREL is one of the notable films made in a brief period of increased artistic freedom, between the building of the Wall and the censorship crackdown by the SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany). In the beginning many East German filmmakers, Beyer among them, viewed the erection of the Berlin Wall as potentially productive in one respect: they hoped it would produce a buffer enabling artists to address sociopolitical problems in the GDR candidly. Unfortunately, this artistic freedom was short lived when in 1965 the SED lashed back, confiscating the majority of the DEFA films produced that year and hiding them. CARBIDE AND SORREL was not among the confiscated films, having been completed before 1965, and perhaps given more leniency than the censors might have allowed in a non-comic genre. Now, it can be viewed as both an enjoyable period piece and an intriguing document of its era.
An uproarious odyssey full of hijinks and misadventure! --The Museum of Modern Art
Frank Beyer accomplishes the rather daring feat... of making a comedy about the very first months of reconstruction, a film which undauntedly keeps itself free of any kind of ideology. --Hans-Günther Pflaum-DEFA