Saturday, July 9, 2011

Germany, Year Zero

Rossellini, 1947, 73m

The concluding sequence of this film is one of the most harrowing, tragic and perfect things in cinema. Rossellini remarked that this was the only thing in the film that occupied and interested him. A boy around twelve years, driven to desperation by the pressures of hunger and want, poisons his ailing father in an earlier part. Now, driven hither and thither, by unnameable sorrow and remorse, he leaps to his death from the top of a war devastated, bomb hollowed ruin. Just before, he is seen wandering among the ruins of Berlin, now kicking a football as he meets a group of children, now going up and down the staircases surrounded by piles of rubble, lost in thoughts, far beyond the reach of tears. He looks down to find his family calling out to him. He is momentarily dizzy and scared by the height but the tunnel of emotion sucks him deeper, and, in incremental steps, he is led to the edge of his doom or salvation. To quote from Rosenbaum:

It is especially in this closing section—anticipating Robert Bresson’s Mouchette in its depiction of a child oscillating between the contradictory reflexes and demands of childhood and adulthood, where suicide itself becomes the culmination of a child’s game—that Rossellini’s film achieves its devastating lucidity.....  his playing with a piece of rubble as if it were a gun, are integrated into Edmund’s behavior, which includes some desultory stabs at hopscotch and similar kinds of play.

Even though this is a powerful film about life among the smoldering ashes and a documentary which can hardly be equaled, it is in essence a human tragedy of epic compression. Edmund is a twelve year old Hamlet, and the movie is almost as little to do with it's historical milieu, as Hamlet is about Denmark. We see Edmund aging in the last fifteen minutes as he is overpowered by unfamiliar feelings. The child suicide is an apt metaphor for the profanity of fascism. It is a weird, gut wrenching sequence, exquisitely composed.

An earlier review is here.

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