email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on LinkedIn share on reddit pin on Pinterest

BERLINALE 2022 Panorama

Review: Bettina


- BERLINALE 2022: In his documentary, Lutz Pehnert takes on Bettina Wegner, the woman who sang louder than she spoke

Review: Bettina

Singer-songwriter (and librarian!) Bettina Wegner is hardly a household name, especially internationally, although even Joan Baez performed one of her songs. Yet that’s precisely what makes Lutz Pehnert’s little documentary Bettina [+see also:
interview: Lutz Pehnert
film profile
, shown in the Berlinale’s Panorama Dokumente strand, work. One actually gets a sense of having discovered something special for once, or rather someone: a woman who, as is stated here, just wanted to sing love songs. And then a few other things came about.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

It sounds great, that sentence, but it’s utter rubbish – now in her 70s, Wegner has clearly been an activist from the very start, more interested in politics and social justice than the usual “he-loves-me… he-loves-me-not” conundrums. Not that she doesn’t go personal here; quite the opposite, in fact. “I thought the world would implode, but it didn’t,” she says, heartbreakingly, recounting a love affair that ended abruptly when she got pregnant. Later, when she sings about what it would feel like to be a man, enjoying his freedoms because “when love brings a baby, why should I care?”, it becomes obvious that her lyrics didn’t just materialise out of thin air.

Discovering all of these songs is a delight: some of them are jaw-dropping in their emotional accuracy; others, well, point out that nice kids don’t eat bogeys. But that’s what makes Pehnert’s protagonist so special – she has been through a lot, and then some, but the woman is funny.

It’s interesting because, based on some older material presented here, it wasn’t always the case – the soft-spoken, younger Bettina can’t even look her interviewers in the eyes, or needs to reassure her nervous audience that she “tends to sing louder than she speaks”. Maybe it’s something that age grants you if you play your cards right: that sense of being comfortable with yourself and all of your past mistakes, as Wegner is certainly able to admit it when she was wrong. Or when she has bet on the wrong man.

Visually, the film plays it safe – there is an interview with the musician and archival footage, and that’s about it. The only outside-the-box moment comes courtesy of the time when Wegner was taken to court for protesting against the brutal end of the Prague Spring, with the transcription of the interrogation making it onto the screen. It’s also a very local story – a very Berlin story, actually – as she was forced to move to West Germany in the 1980s and has felt “uprooted” ever since.

Then again, it ceases to matter after a while. You get to listen to a girl who “grappled with philosophical questions from an early age”, an artist, a woman who married someone because she loved him, while he thought that this way, they would get a flat. One who went from claiming you should “never cry when you get hurt” to admitting that, in fact, she does cry sometimes, although she tells herself not to. Also, Wegner’s love songs never actually had a happy ending to begin with, she says. It’s just that nobody was really paying attention.

Bettina was produced by Germany’s solo:film and RBB.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

Privacy Policy