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The Beauty of Post-WW2 German Cinema (1946-1951)

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The Beauty of Post-WW2 German Cinema (1946-1951)

#1

Post by St. Gloede » August 6th, 2020, 11:19 pm

It is often said that great art comes from a place of suffering, pain and hardship - and while far from a general truth, what happened in the years directly following the fall of Berlin, Germany, and the ruins/death surrounding the country as a whole is quite incredible.

The inspiration for this thread was sparked my seeing The Original Sin, by Helmut Kautner, a bizarre comedy about a vivid dream of the creation of man and earth set in entirely artificial surroundings - complete with picking stars from threads, kicking clouds and angels who's wings are mere plastic/metal. The visual style is breathtaking, and for a film opening with suicide attempts - and following through with some bizarre and dubious morals/messaging this playful, beautiful and clever film reminded me of just how much creativity and reflection German cinema saw from 1946-1951.

Unfortunately it has been years since I saw the latter films I want to point to - perhaps others have seem them recently - or will now through the German challenge: viewtopic.php?f=9&t=5008&view=unread#unread- but before I get to them I want to leave a few screenshots of The Original Sin, or the more direct translation, The Apple Fell:

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What really strikes me is the variety of this period.

You have the stark and strong films attempting to make sense of what happened and confront it in one way or another - the most famous obviously being The Murderers Are Among Us (1946). Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (1947) also hits it with incredible melancholy, but as far as I am concerned Wolfgang Staudte's Rotation (1949), which traces the events from before the nazis came to power until after the fall, the idea of repetition/rotation and the horror of a father seeing his son become a nazi does really hits the hardest:

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There are of course others again, that takes the same human interest, but angle it towards a social picture as a whole. The vignette film, scene, interestingly/comically from the perspective of a car in In jenen Tagen (1947), once again by Kautner, shows us Germany and a long line of different individuals before, during and after WW2 as it tries to essentially cope with what has happened.

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Then we have the films that take the human angle, that of realism, and while many may jump to the Italian "Germany Year Zero", or perhaps the slightly more traditional Paths in Twilight (1948), both concerning themselves with youth and homelessness, it was the stark and deeply humanist second feature of Peter Pewas that truly blew me away:Street Acquaintances (1947). The films looks at prostitution, desperation and unlikely friendships in a film that makes you feel the horror of the time (and to think it was commissioned solely to explain the horrors of STDs).

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There is also the complete look at the human psyche of the nazi regine, and while I know the forum favourite The Axe of Wandsbek (1951) is likely to come up, as it Peter Lorre's Der Verlorene (1951). However, I don't think any film has more clear allegorical power, and unyielding dissection than Der Untertan / The Kaiser's Lackey (1951) - once again by Wolfgang Staudte. This slick, black comedy can almost be seen as a horror film - and what a central performance! It will bring chills down your spine, along with nervous, uneasy and even pitiful laughter.

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It is also worth noting that this was the beginning of the fantastic German fantasy film, including the stunningly beautiful colour film Das kalte Herz (1950). It is quite bleak and harsh, but it still feels out of place with the doom of the above, it is simply an experience you deserve.

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My two favourites however are Berliner Ballade (1948) and Liebe '47 (1949). Both take on the existential questions of the time, but elevates them with elements of surrealism and/or awe. The former with a surprising degree of comedy, the latter with quite lofty ambitions. I really wish I could say more about these films, but I'll leave you with images:

Berliner Ballade
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Liebe '47
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#2

Post by RBG » August 7th, 2020, 1:40 am

thx gleode, i'm watching der apfel tonight :party:
icm + ltbxd

NO GODS NO MASTERS

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#3

Post by St. Gloede » August 7th, 2020, 9:38 am

RBG wrote:
August 7th, 2020, 1:40 am
thx gleode, i'm watching der apfel tonight :party:
Enjoy! (Though like I mentioned re: odd morality at the end - how the "two women" situation is resolved is ... erm ... questionable - would love to hear your view on that).

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#4

Post by RBG » August 7th, 2020, 11:33 pm

well obviously the whole premise is a male hetero wish fulfillment fantasy and thus sexist (not unlike the adam and eve story itself); i couldn't imagine what not 2 but 3 beautiful women would see in this guy but put that aside and i really enjoyed watching. the naive effects were endlessly charming. put me in mind of that powell and pressberger but even more elaborate. kautner had a great and imaginative talent to pull this off so well

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also casting yourself as God is THE move. will check out Das kalte Herz as it is simply an experience I deserve. the director is listed as paul verhoeven tehe
icm + ltbxd

NO GODS NO MASTERS

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#5

Post by RogerTheMovieManiac88 » August 8th, 2020, 6:11 am

Such a gorgeous thread for a fascinating and challenging period in German cinema, Gloede. The screenshots are so very tantalising and eye-catching.

I remember the imaginings and the witty, playful qualities of the Käutner with great fondness. Definitely a fun and likeable fantasy.

The only other film that I have seen out of those you highlight here is Stemmle's utterly remarkable and intoxicating 'Berliner Ballade'; the bombed-out cityscape with it dreams, fantasies and realities is explored so deftly and intriguingly through the perspective of this everyman, his memories, and his interactions. A disorientating, satirical, touching, uncertain, and yet in some ways tender and hopeful look at this city and identity of people through interaction and experience. A somewhat strange and off kilter and yet very beautiful film! Lovely to see a mention of it here.

Can I suggest Rudolf Jugert as a director who might tie-in here and take forward these post-war themes? I saw several of his films last month, with 'Film ohne Titel' and 'Nachts auf den Straßen' both impressing me greatly.

Thanks for assembling this thread. It was a joy to see the screenshots!
That's all, folks!

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#6

Post by St. Gloede » August 8th, 2020, 10:54 am

RBG wrote:
August 7th, 2020, 11:33 pm
well obviously the whole premise is a male hetero wish fulfillment fantasy and thus sexist (not unlike the adam and eve story itself); i couldn't imagine what not 2 but 3 beautiful women would see in this guy but put that aside and i really enjoyed watching. the naive effects were endlessly charming. put me in mind of that powell and pressberger but even more elaborate. kautner had a great and imaginative talent to pull this off so well

also casting yourself as God is THE move. will check out Das kalte Herz as it is simply an experience I deserve. the director is listed as paul verhoeven tehe
Agreed, and oh my Kautner ... I did not actually realize that was him ... :woot: Yes, THE move!

I am such a sucker for early fairy tales/fantasy with a Gothic twist - especially if in technicolor. They just look fantastic. (Seen Ptushko's Stone Flower?), and yes, definitely an experience I think you'll enjoy.

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#7

Post by St. Gloede » August 8th, 2020, 10:57 am

RogerTheMovieManiac88 wrote:
August 8th, 2020, 6:11 am
Such a gorgeous thread for a fascinating and challenging period in German cinema, Gloede. The screenshots are so very tantalising and eye-catching.

I remember the imaginings and the witty, playful qualities of the Käutner with great fondness. Definitely a fun and likeable fantasy.

The only other film that I have seen out of those you highlight here is Stemmle's utterly remarkable and intoxicating 'Berliner Ballade'; the bombed-out cityscape with it dreams, fantasies and realities is explored so deftly and intriguingly through the perspective of this everyman, his memories, and his interactions. A disorientating, satirical, touching, uncertain, and yet in some ways tender and hopeful look at this city and identity of people through interaction and experience. A somewhat strange and off kilter and yet very beautiful film! Lovely to see a mention of it here.

Can I suggest Rudolf Jugert as a director who might tie-in here and take forward these post-war themes? I saw several of his films last month, with 'Film ohne Titel' and 'Nachts auf den Straßen' both impressing me greatly.

Thanks for assembling this thread. It was a joy to see the screenshots!
Thank you so much Roger, and what a beautiful write-up on Berliner Ballade!

I will jump on that Rudolf Jugert recommendation ASAP. I already have Nachts auf den Straßen, making this extra easy - will report back afterwards - and if I like/love it I'll continue on to Film ohne Titel.

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#8

Post by St. Gloede » August 9th, 2020, 10:02 pm

RogerTheMovieManiac88 wrote:
August 8th, 2020, 6:11 am
Can I suggest Rudolf Jugert as a director who might tie-in here and take forward these post-war themes? I saw several of his films last month, with 'Film ohne Titel' and 'Nachts auf den Straßen' both impressing me greatly.
This was an absolutely wonderful recommendation.

Film Without a Name represents just what is so special to me with so many of the post-WW2 era. It opens with the very idea, present in-full as artists, a director, a writer and a lead actor try to think of what kind of story they can still make, what people want to see, to some extent what they personally want to express (though all is shown to be empty artifice). Instead, they get thrown into a "real" story, which, even as they attempt to make their own spin on, keeps returning to reality. What I also found interesting here is that the meta elements are not overdone - they are a framing device, a way to dissect, comment, reflect, interpret and make jokes - but it is first and foremost the story - a somewhat simple romance of a man of standing and his maid - and a role reversal - plays out.

The actual cinematic nature was quite moderated (interestingly with the exception of when the director attempted to put his spin on the story), it is story first - which is very interesting for a film that plays with form and narrative. Each key character also felt like he or she had been given a clear personality, and was presented with great charisma. It is utterly fascinating that it was Jugert's debut, and interesting that the script was written by Käutner (who is also credited with artistic supervision). A wonderful film, and a new favourite.

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Nachts auf den Straßen / The Mistress was an very good German noir, though it did not hit me as hard. Unlike Film Without a Name I think this film could have used more creative angles, more play with shadows, etc. but still really well done, with a slowbrooding build-up and obvious (but for the longest time never confirmed/dismissed) hints.

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#9

Post by RogerTheMovieManiac88 » August 10th, 2020, 1:37 am

Lovely to read that you enjoyed the Jugerts, Gloede. I admired the creativity and playfulness of the first film a whole lot and the '52 noir proved fascinating and rewarding as well. Ever so glad to see a positive reaction to two films I was pleased to see last month!
That's all, folks!

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#10

Post by St. Gloede » August 21st, 2020, 9:43 pm

Wozzeck (1947, Georg C. Klaren)
I just finished Wozzeck, the first adaptation of Woyzeck, and it really represents what is so interesting and special about German cinema just after WW2. It has a visual atmosphere reminiscent of the silent era, where you can, through the cinematography, feel the descent into madness, and experience the increasingly (well, honestly, consistently) unsettling world of our protagonist.

The only thing contemporary film I can think of comparing it to is really Hangover Square, but only to the extent that the visuals are a gateway to the madness of our protagonist - the expression here goes in a very different direction, i.e. where Hangover Square bring noir aesthetics to 19th century England, Wozzech takes us into a horror landscape of far more stripped back dimensions. In some ways Wozzeck could genuinely feel like an atmospheric arthouse film from the 80s or 90s - the kind of stripped back nightmarish expression toying with bleak existentialism just wasn't a staple of 40s cinema.

We are introduced to Wozzeck as he is shaving his superior officer. We can see him drifting off, the knife somewhat out of place, his reaction to the officer's words, the knife straightening, slowly gliding in a straighter and straighter position, playing with the skin, ready to slice his throat at any given moment. This scene sends chills down your spine - and sets the mood for the entire film.

The only downside here is the exposition, i.e. the real opening, showing Wozzeck's body in a science lad, and a battle of ideas between the dr. who is happy to be able to cut up his new body, and charging an offense against this view of disposable humanity, leading into a charge of freeing the people of oppression - and the premise that Wozzeck was pushed to commit the acts he did by the society he lived in. This is too blunt, too clear and forcefully obvious in steering our mind and connecting it to the issue of class. Luckily this framing plays a minimal role in the film itself, which is simply gorgeous.

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