Hot Docs Review: Dragan Wende – West Berlin [Dir: Lena Müller/Dragan von Petrovic, 90 minutes, Germany/Serbia, 2012]

The following review is written by our friend and fellow documentary lover Joe from Mechanical Forest Sound, check out his blog for Hot Doc reviews, exceptional live recording and probably a helluva lot more thought out writings

Every historical change creates winners and losers. The collapse of the Iron Curtain is generally considered as a positive historical moment, but there are those who prefer things the way they used to be. Some people adjust to historical changes, and others semi-willingly become living anachronisms, to whom “West Berlin” is still a walled city and “Yugoslavia” an undivided country.

From his childhood home in Yugoslavia, Vuk Makismovi? always thought that his uncle (the titular Dragan Wende) lived a life of romantic intrigue in the clubs and restaurants of West Berlin’s famous Ku’damm. When, as an adult, Makismovi? makes the trek to Berlin he finds things are more banal then he imagined. The nightlife has gone downhill since the wall collapsed, and Uncle Dragan now works as a hustler and security guard outside a bordello, living in a cramped apartment with a piano that Liza Minnelli might have played once. Still, Makismovi? followd his uncle around, watches him work and meets his friends while trying to get to the core of all the stories of the glamourous (and occasionally shady) decades gone by.

The problem here is that Uncle Dragan isn’t nearly as interesting as Makismovi? wishes he was — and Makismovi? himself, who spends a fair amount of time on camera, isn’t particularly compelling either. Although there might be an interesting documentary to be made reflecting on the high times on Ku’damm during the Cold War, this isn’t it.

Some occasional newsreel-style historical segments are intrusive (and a little cheesy) and don’t help matters. There are a few moments where things come to life a bit, especially when Grandpa Mile (Uncle Dragan’s father) comes to Berlin to collect a pension for building a city he feels no affection for. Another anachronism, he pines for the days of Tito and a united Yugoslavia while castigating the younger generations for being lazy. But overall, this drags along to the point it wears out its welcome. The film-makers commented that the cut being shown here was still something of a work-in-progress, so some trimming might improve things a bit. But as it stands, Dragan Wende – West Berlin‘s not recommended.

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