The Movie: One more East German film at the Goethe Institute, ‘The Tango Player’ (or ‘Der Tangospieler’), a 1989 film released after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before the reunification of the two Germanys. I thought that it was an extremely boring film but, at the same time, an excellent portrayal of the central character and his dilemma in re-entering East German life in 1968 after a 21 month prison term for a ‘political crime’. So, I have to blame it on the director, I guess.
Professor Darrow is, by all accounts, a successful history professor at a university in Leipzig, who also happens to be a good pianist. He is asked to help out at a student cabaret when the regular pianist becomes ill, and is unfortunate to be arrested as two Stasi members in the audience believe that at least one of the pieces is subversive. No one seems to believe that he knew nothing about the text of the songs, that he was only der Tangospieler.
He comes out of prison, loses his girlfriend, his father’s respect, his job, etc. He decides he will no longer play the piano or teach history – he tries to get a job as a truck driver, but no one will hire a former professor/political prisoner as a truck driver. So he is jobless in a Communist society which worships employment. His potential new girl friend tells him to disappear, to straighten out his life, get rid of his bitterness, and then come back if he wants to.
But he is so bitter. And, to make it worse, during the time he was in prison, 1966-1967, society opened up somewhat and everyone agrees that he never would be sentenced for the same ‘crime’ (even if you discount his lack of knowledge) in 1968, when protesters are enjoying Prague Spring, and everyone is so optimistic about the future. So he feels doubly set upon.
Leipzig was clearly a provincial city during this period. Darrow runs into his lawyer and into the judge who sentenced him several times after his release. Initially, trying to hold down his feelings of revenge, he eventually succumbs and attacks the judge in a park, increasing his problems with the system and deepening his increasing psychiatric problems. He is threatened with prosecution unless he returns to society, so he takes a job as a waiter on a North Sea resort, and soon realizes that this is not the life for him, so he is going to have to compromise with society.
A good psychological study of a true victim, whose position as a victim makes him sensitive, perhaps overly so, to the faults of the society in which he has spent his entire adult life.
The Lectures. First, Orly Rahminian gave a fascinating power point lecture at the Library of Congress of the “Image of the Jew in Iranian Society”. Rahminian is a graduate student at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Middle Eastern Studies. The lecture topic is her thesis topic, and she has been spending time as a fellow of the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Her research demonstrates that anti-Semitism is a long time feature of Iranian (and of Moslem and especially Shiite Moslem) society, where Jews were considered, as a religious matter, unclean, and contact with them was very limited. It was only during the years of the Shah, the Pahlavi regime, that anti-Semitism seemed to have receded into the past, only to re-emerge with the 1979 revolution. What was interesting to me was how similar the images of the Jew in Persian society are to images in European history. Was it because they were looking at similar Jewish populations (which would raise some uncomfortable questions), was it because there was contact between Moslems and Christians so that they were feeding on each other (which raises other questions), or was it because both religions were breakaways from Judaism giving adherents of both the necessity to demonize Judaism in order to legitimize themselves.
The second lecture, also at the LOC, was by Daniel Pinto, a Brazilian diplomat and student of the Jewish presence in Brazil. Talking about the early movement of Portuguese Jews to new world Portuguese colony Brazil (where there was no Inquisition), the entry of the Inquisition and the resulting hiding of Jewish practices, the immigration of Jews over the centuries from the middle east and Europe and their important role, continuing until today, in Brazilian society, a society that has lacked any strong history of anti-semitic activity.
Food. Another dinner at new Acacia Bistro on Connecticut Avenue, where the food is good but the menu, a combination of small plates and entree dishes, meat tapas and cheese tapas, is so confusing. A lunch at the Iron Gate in where I normally have the excellent tuna or salmon, but decided instead to get a salad with chicken, and quickly realized I made a mistake. And last night, at the Asia Spice in Chinatown, where I had a Japanese meal – sashimi donburi, which had 8 large pieces of raw fish (tuna, salmon, yellowjack, and something I couldn’t identify) over a bowl of warm rice with a nice sweet sauce and not too much of it, a delicious deep green seaweed, and grated dalkon radish. And it was excellent.