The Berlin Affair

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The Berlin Affair
(Interno Berlinese)
The Berlin Affair film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Liliana Cavani
Produced by Yoram Globus
Menahem Golan
Screenplay by Liliana Cavani
Roberta Mazzoni
Based on Quicksand
by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki
Starring Gudrun Landgrebe
Kevin McNally
Mio Takaki
Music by Pino Donaggio
Cinematography Dante Spinotti
Edited by

Michael J. Duthie

Ruggero Mastroianni
Cannon Films
Italian international Film
Release date
October 1985 USA
6 November 1985 Italy
February 1986 West Germany (Berlin International Film Festival)
Running time
122 minutes [1]
Country Italy
West Germany

The Berlin Affair (Italian: Interno Berlinese) is a 1985 Italo-German film, directed by Liliana Cavani and starring Gudrun Landgrebe, Kevin McNally and Mio Takaki.[1] Set in Berlin, 1938, it sees the wife of a rising Nazi diplomat fall in love with Mitsuko Matsugae, the daughter of the Japanese ambassador and an artist. Her husband finds out, and moves to break up the affair. However he soon falls in love with Mitsuko himself, leading to the intervention of officials higher in the system. The film is based upon the novel Quicksand by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki.


Berlin 1938: Louise von Hollendorf is married to Heinz, a German senior diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She decides to take drawing lessons at the institute of Fine Arts. At the institute, Louise meets Mitsuko Matsugae, a young and alluring daughter of the Japanese Ambassador. Captivated by Mitsuko's beauty, Louise asks her to model for her sketching practice. Rumor spreads at the institute that the two women are romantically engaged. Rather than driving them apart the rumors bring the two friends closer together and soon they have a passionate affair. As Louise later confides to her former literature professor, "One moment we were laughing, the next, we were making love". They have their romantic encounters first at Louise's house and later at a seedy hotel. After spending more and more time together Louise falls in love with Mitsuko.

Her husband, Heinz, grows suspicious of the women's relationship. Heinz becomes not only jealous but also worried that his wife's indiscretions might harm his political ambitions. Heinz confronts Louise, who denies his allegation even in the face of clear evidence.

One day, Louise discovers that Mitsuko has had an affair with Joseph Benno, their half-Italian drawing instructor. Louise learns about Mitsuko and Joseph's plan to marry and that the two have spread the lesbian rumors to distract from their own socially unacceptable, mixed-race relationship. Disgusted and disillusioned, Louise breaks away from Mitsuko and returns to her husband, confessing the full extent of what has happened.

Meanwhile, the Nazi regime starts to eliminate dissidents under the cloak of a morality campaign. Wolf von Hollendorf, Heinz’s cousin and a high-ranking Gestapo officer, forces Louise and Heinz to participate in a plot, which uncovers General Werner von Heiden's homosexuality. Louise and Heinz are forced to set a trap for von Heiden at their house by inviting the older General and his lover, a young handsome pianist. At the visit, Wolf exposes von Heiden's relationship, ruining the general's career.

A month later, Mitsuko reappears in Louise’s life, faking being ill and pregnant. Louise does not believe Mitsuko, nevertheless they rekindle their affair with even greater intensity. Benno, who still has a relationship with Mitsuko, promises Louise that he will not interfere with Louise's and Mitsuko's relationship if Louise helps them in getting married. Louise reluctantly agrees. Benno then uses their written agreement to blackmail Heinz who, with Wolf's help, deports Benno.

Heinz is now determined to separate his wife from her Japanese lover. The two women plan to scare Heinz to accept their relationship by faking an attempted suicide. The plan takes an unexpected turn when Mitsuko seduces Heinz in a ménage à trois. Caught in a love triangle Louise, Mitsuko and Heinz grow more and more jealous of each other. Mitsuko, jealous and possessive, dominates Louise and Heinz. At a dinner, Mitsuko drugs the von Hollendorfs with sleeping pills to prevent them from having sex. Mitsuko uses the ruse to turn Heinz and Louise on each other. By now, their self-destructive relationship becomes publicly known to the Nazi regime as the exiled Benno publishes his account abroad. To avoid the scandal, Heinz is asked to resign and leaves Berlin. Wolf temporarily withdraws their passports. However, rather than leave each other, all three drink poison in a ceremonial rite.

Upon awakening, and to her bewilderment, Louise discovers that both Heinz and Mitsuko are dead, revealing that she was given a sedative instead of poison, and effectively being left behind and betrayed by both her lovers. She confides in her former professor one last time. He urges her to publish her story before he is arrested by the Gestapo.



The original title of the film, Interno Berlinese, can be translated as Inside Berlin or Interior Berliner. The story is based upon Jun'ichirō Tanizaki's novel Quicksand, or Manji, published serial from 1928-1930. Cavani was drawn to the novel because of its dramatic intensity and extreme economy, his capacity to bring us, as nearly breathless spectators, inside the meaning of seemingly insignificant details.[2] Manji was published as a serial novel in a literary magazine between 1928 and 1930. Sonoko, the first-person narrator, recounts her own story to a prominent writer as a long monologue that continues the novel itself.[2] It is the story of a passionate love affair with Mitsuko that eventually involves her husband and Watanuki, an impotent effeminate dandy. Mitsuki was actually the name of Tanizaki's third wife. She inspired several of his novels. Cavani brought the story forward in time and set the plot in Germany in 1938.

The Berlin Affair was the first film produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus in Italy for Cannon. It was shot in Rome at the Paolis Studios and Vienna from April to July 1985. Gudrun Landgrabe, one of the discoveries of the New German Cinema, had appeared in Robert van Ackeren's A Woman in Flames 1982, Edgar Reitz’s Heimat 1984, and István Szabó’s Colonel Redl 1985.[3] Kevin McNally, a British actor, plays the husband. Casting the role of Mitzuko was challenging. Cavani went to Tokyo looking for a model of beauty that could balance seductiveness with an iron will. She found it in the 24-year-old actress and pop singer Mio Takaki.[2]


It was entered into the 36th Berlin International Film Festival.[4] The Berlin Affair is available in Region 2 DVD. It has not been released on DVD in the U.S.A.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Marrone, The Gaze and the Labyrinth, p. 255
  2. ^ a b c Marrone, The Gaze and the Labyrinth, p. 237
  3. ^ Marrone, The Gaze and the Labyrinth, p. 238
  4. ^ "Berlinale: 1986 Programme". Retrieved 2011-01-15. 


  • Marrone, Gaetana (2000). The Gaze and the Labyrinth: The Cinema of Liliana Cavani. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00873-6. 

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