To Know or Not To Know – To The Stars: A review
Updated: Feb 13, 2022
To the Stars (Zu Den Sternen) is a German short film directed by Nicolai Tegeler and written by Dirk Josczok. The film is an exceptional psychological revenge thriller based on the German Democratic Republic’s Stasi and their ensuing troubles that loom over personal relationships to this day.
Though the film is not overtly political, it is ALL about politics and how authoritarianism works to seep through the lives of individuals in society. To the Stars is the tale of two friends separated: the celebrity singer Marco Hoffman and the isolated music shopkeeper Volker Hinze. It is decades after the fall of the GDR and Hoffman finds himself at the peak of his popularity, singing on a national TV show. On the other side of town, in a small dungy music shop, Volker watches him on an old television set. Turning off the TV, the camera shows the reflection of Volker’s face, signifying the haunting image as a foreshadowing element of what is to come between the two old band-mates.
Through a letter written to Hoffman by Volker, the pair meet at Volker’s shop, where the drama unfolds. Volker accuses Hoffman of being “IM Sänger”, “the collaborator singer” to the Stasi, working as an informant to tell on Volker’s plan of escape which helped the regime capture, and imprison him for 1789 days.
We never know if this is true or not, if Hoffman was “IM Sänger”, but what we do find out is that Volker needs closure and he’s willing to go to extreme lengths to either get a confession, or get revenge. After the ending of the film, facts are revealed about the post-Stasi age and the open access for individual to their documents in the authoritarian archives. The film does a wonderful job of bringing this quagmire to life on the screen. To know or not to know is the question at stake here. Ironically, Volker’s knowing that he’s been spied upon by a friend seems to be a great source of torment to him, and not being certain who that friend is (names of informant not mentioned in documents) seems to a bigger source of psychological diminishment.
The setting of the eery music shop, with dim lighting, broken down yet full of character and beautiful guitars—it is a fitful representation of its owner. Whereas Hoffman reached new heights in fame amidst bright lights, Volker faded away in obscurity, prison, and alcohol—a man of talent and rhythm, disturbed by fate and demons, both from within and the outside world. Florian Martens is a great casting choice for this character. He takes us through an emotional journey with a daunting performance as the lonesome, disturbed Volker.
Günter Barton’s performance as Hoffman is just where it needs to be. He looks at ease and comfortable on the performance stage, partly due to his background in the music industry as the first and second baritone for the Berlin Comedian Harmonists back in the 90’s. His acting is superb as he never quite gives away what the character’s really thinking, pushing the suspense within the narrative forward. Barton’s worthy of praise for the sense of ambiguity he instills in his mimics that are hard to achieve, at times solemn and honest, and at other times questionable and vague. He makes it hard to believe he is “IM Sänger”.
Ultimately, To the Stars is a sad film. The saddest thing about it: the story of broken friendships. Friendships we’ve all experienced that have come shattering down, not necessarily because one’s bad and the other’s a saint, but that friendships, like people, tend to have an expiry date, and once they go bad it’s best for all parties to forgive and forget. Otherwise, as we see it loom over this film, old resentments never really get old, and its poison can become more bitter and deadly overtime as we cling on.
The writer of To the Stars, Dirk Josczok deserves to be known more for the world he’s put on paper is a world full of nuance and mystery—exploring the infinity of human psychology at its darkest depths and actions. The thought of finding out what is hidden inside of one’s file within a secretive authoritarian state can be a haunting idea with grave circumstances. Tegeler’s smooth directorial approach empowers the film with the space for audiences to decipher and engage with such subtext. The film was exactly what it needed to be to get this story out there on the silver screen—wonderful, smart, and packed with a punch.