Documenting the Divide Between East and West Berlin in The Scar


If, during a particularly dreary drive, you videotaped 80 uninterrupted minutes of roadside forests while the radio switched between trance music and political rants, you might end up with something like The Scar. Westberlin (West).

Bent on tracing the exact path of the 156-kilometer demarcation line that split East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989, Burkhard von Harder took a helicopter ride one gray January morning in 2009 over snow-clogged Berlin, and, visually, that’s the entire film: aerial shots of the highways, rivers, industrial lots, and residential neighborhoods along the perimeter of the former Berlin Wall.

Throughout, FM Einheit’s distorted electronic rock adds to the gloom, and every so often underground news broadcasts, government-intercepted phone calls, and debates between West German leader Willy Brandt and East German leader Walter Ulbricht squawk over the soundtrack.

Von Harder may have been influenced by Shoah, Claude Lanzmann’s nine-hour Holocaust doc (not least because he has a 16-hour sequel, another helicopter jaunt over the former dividing line through all of Germany, due out in 2014). Lanzmann favored long tracking shots of the empty camps while survivors told stories in voiceover. But that’s precisely what The Scar is lacking: storytelling, not to mention a sense of danger.

With the exception of one ominous phone call in which a GDR official passively threatens a man inquiring about a border shooting, most of the archival sound clips in The Scar registers like white noise. Von Harder ought to have placed his bold mission on the ground; seeing the actual streets where this prolonged oppression unfolded would help generate his intended dread.