Gerda: Portrait of German Sex Symbol Gerda Munsinger

Toronto Film Fest, Sep 12, 1992–Shot and shown in 16 mms, Gerda, Brenda Longfellow’s feature debut is an ambitious, but unsatisfactory attempt to shed light on the life and times of Gerda Munsinger, a German sex symbol in the mold of Marlene Dietrich, whose affair with Canadian Minister Sevigny became the center of “sex and security” scandal in 1966.

Amateurish production, incoherent view of central character, and unsuccessful blend of styles will restrict the film to the fest circuit.

Gerda Munsinger, a German emigrant to Canada in the late l940s, was associated with Communist East German security forces, which implicated her in possible spy activities. Pic consists of reenactments of Gerda’s party-girl antics, her struggle to acquire a good life, as well as flashbacks of her traumatic rape in WWII by Russian soldiers at the age of 13.

A feminist streak, viewing Gerda as a strong, independent woman, runs through the film. But Longfellow cannot make up her mind whether Gerda is a victim of a partriachal political system or a good-time girl who knew how to use her looks to better her position. Moreover, the intriguing political context–the Cold War, the tension caused by Cuban Missile crisis, the Bomarc Missile/NORAD crisis in Canada, the split of John Diefenbaker’s government–remains external to the narrative and heroine.

Helmer Longfellow, a film teacher at York University who has made some shorts, lacks the skills to make a film that is at once a creative dramatization and mock documentary of a potentially fascinating woman who attempted to survive in the pre-feminist sixties in her own way.

Docu uses interesting archival newsreel footage from the time; one of the highlights is a satire from “This Hour Has Seven Days.” But the fusion of documentary and fiction strategies, tongue-in-cheek satire and more realistic archival footage, doesn’t really blend.

Due to film’s superficial and unclear concept, at the end, Gerda, who now lives in Germany, remains an obscure figure.