In 1981 in the GDR Werner Teske was executed. An economics academic, he was recruited into the foreign intelligence arm of the Stasi, but later decided to attempt defection to the West. Found guilty of espionage and desertion after a one-day trial, he was the last person to receive the death penalty in Germany before it was abolished in 1987.
Director and writer Franziska Stünkel has taken the basic facts of Teske’s life as the basis for her latest feature, The Last Execution. She has deftly woven these in with the story of footballer Lutz Eigendorf who defected to the West and died under suspicious circumstances.
Stünkel has created a film that is moving, suspenseful, and intense. An intelligent screenplay forms the foundation of a masterful piece of cinematic work. At the heart is the emotional, psychological, and political, journey of one man, Dr Franz Walter. This sits within the framework of dirty espionage and its effects on, not just those targeted by it, but those who have to carry it out. And it also raises the question of what kind of State needs to carry out these nefarious activities in order to keep its citizens loyal.
Lars Eidinger gives a powerhouse performance as Walter. His vulnerability and inner conflict jump viscerally from the screen. Particularly powerful are the scenes between him and Luise Heyer as Corina Walter, his wife. Stünkel’s direction gives her actors plenty of room in which to occupy the screen space and take their time, all adding to authentic dramatic tension.
The entire cast is outstanding, including Devid Striesow, Christian Redl, and Hedi Kriegeskotte. Every characer, no matter how briefly on screen, adds to the depth and authenticity of the work.
Production design by Anke Osterloh has made the most of the GDR settings: brown, brown, and more brown! Many of the locations used were actual Stasi buildings and old East German sites.
The Last Execution is not an easy watch. Nor is it meant to be. It is both an historic re-examination, and a very contemporary deconstruction of the role of the State in private lives. And despite the somewhat depressing subject-matter, it is also a gripping and exciting piece of cinema.
The Last Execution screens as part of the German Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend and Prospect.
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