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Dear Thomas (Lieber Thomas)

Biopic of East German writer and filmmaker Thomas Brach reveals a deeply subversive artist who finds comfort on neither side of the Wall - from the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Thomas Bracht (Albrecht Schuch) is an outsider wherever he goes. The ominous enfant terrible. He thrives on controversy, enjoys marginalisation and confrontation. He doesn’t fit in the Communist block, in the capitalist world, inside the theatre, behind the camera, with his parents and not even with his own partner and offspring. He only finds comfort in writing, the venting outlet for his incessant sense of non-belonging.

His most famous poem punctuates the film, illustrating such sentiment: “I don’t want to lose what I have, but / I don’t want to stay where I am, but / I don’t want to leave the one I love, but I don’t want to see / who I know anymore, but / where I live, I don’t want to die there, but / where I die I don’t want to go: / I want to stay where I’ve never been!”

Our story begins in East Berlin, when Thomas confronts his professors are university, constantly flirting with expulsion. His first play is banned. He is also a very vocal critic of the DDR, and the prospect of arrest does not intimidate him. He indeed does land in jail after his disgruntled father reports him to the Stasi. He is released on parole and continues to write, despite little prospect of having his controversial work being published, in a regime where censorship prevailed.

He eventually defects to the West, becoming a successful playwright and filmmaker, invited twice to Cannes. Once in the capitalist world, he becomes a sympathiser of socialism. In a dream, his father questions him: “why not return to communist world, where socialism has been successfully implemented?”. He indeed returns to East Berlin. He witnesses the collapse of the Wall and swathes on people migrating to the West, refusing to budge. He dies on the Eastern side of a unified Berlin in 2001, still longing for socialism.

This grainy, black-and-white biopic feels timeless. You would be forgiven for thinking it was filmed 20 years ago in 35mm, immediately after Thomas’s death. Heartthrob Albrecht does a very good job at portraying a formidable, arrogant, sexist and yet sexy and fascinating artist. He is a nasty son, a dysfunctional husband, a sadistic playwright and a hesitant filmmaker. He is also a double murderer, in what’s perhaps the movie’s most powerful scene (I am still not sure whether that’s factual or allegorical).

Dear Thomas, however, overstays its welcome at 150 minutes. Some of the dream sequences are awkward and redundant (such as Thomas and his mother shooting at the police from his apartment window). I wish instead there was more focus on his actual work (such as the content of his plays and films). A biopic should urge viewers to become familiar with the subject’s oeuvre. Dear Thomas fails to do just that.

Dear Thomas showed in Competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, and it won the Best Film prize. It shows again in 2023 in the Special Screenings section of the event.

By Victor Fraga - 25-11-2021

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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