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New German Cinema: Alternative Visions and Utopian Designs


September 25 (Monday) 9 pm

The Murderers are Among Us (Die Mörder sind unter uns)

Directed by Wolfgang Staudte
East Germany 1946, 16mm, b/w, 87 min.
With Hildegarde Knef, Ernst Wilhelm Borchert, Arno Paulsen
German with English subtitles

The first feature film to issue from a shell-shocked nation, The Murderers Are Among Us gained recognition for its expressionistic shadows, which evoked Weimar Germany’s "haunted screen," and for its documentary verisimilitude, which echoed neorealism’s exploration of postwar spaces. Set in Berlin, former capital of the German Reich but now reduced to mounds of rubble, the film focuses on the struggles of the city’s desperate and cynical survivors. In portraying a country shattered by bombs and shackled with guilt, Staudte delivers a powerful indictment of an unreconciled past.

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October 2 (Monday) 9 pm

Machorka-Muff

Directed by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet
West Germany 1962, 16mm, 18 min.
With Erich Kuby, Renate Lang
German with English subtitles

Straub-Huillet’s adaptation of Heinrich Böll’s biting satire Bonn Diary presents the reflections of a reactivated officer who is summoned to the West German capital by the Ministry of Defense to establish an Academy for Military Memories. Straub considered his film to be an intervention against German rearmament in the Adenauer era: "Machorka-Muff is the story of a rape, the rape of a country on which an army has been imposed, a country which would have been happier without one."

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Young Törless (Der junge Törless)

Directed by Volker Schlöndorff
West Germany/France 1966, b/w, 16mm, 87 min.
With Matthieu Carrière, Bernd Tischer, Marian Seidowski
German with English subtitles

Schlöndorff’s debut feature turned against the fatal constellations of the Adenauer era: its impersonal and mindless film productions, its evasions of political problems, and its vacations from history. Reverting to the distant past of Robert Musil’s famous novella of 1906, it offered a less obvious contribution to the definitive postwar German project of "coming to terms with the past" through its penetrating study of young cadets in an Austrian military academy—a preview of coming fascist attractions. Young Törless has gone down in film history as a seminal work that announced a new German cinema of international stature.

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October 9 (Monday) 7 pm

The American Soldier (Der amerikanische Soldat)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany 1970, 16mm, b/w, 80 min.
With Karl Scheydt, Elga Sorbas, Margarethe von Trotta
German with English subtitles

A full-scale, mood-thick homage to the world of Humphrey Bogart and great action directors like Raoul Walsh and Sam Fuller, Fassbinder’s film centers on a gunman named Ricky, a charismatic figure in soft hat and white suit. Recently returned from a Vietnamized America, Ricky carries out his assigned murders with neither knowledge nor emotion. The amazing final shoot-out is probably the most startling of Fassbinder’s patented off-beat endings.

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October 9 (Monday) 9 pm

Precautions Against Fanatics (Massnahmen gegen Fanatiker)

Directed by Werner Herzog
West Germany 1968, 16mm, b/w, 11 min.
German with English subtitles

An outraged old man declares himself the protector of race horses and fights against fanatic trainers.

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October 9 (Monday) 9 pm

Signs of Life (Lebenszeichen)

Directed by Werner Herzog
West Germany 1967, 16mm, b/w, 90 min.
With Peter Brogle, Wolfgang Reichmann, Athina Zacharopolous
German with English subtitles

Herzog’s first feature, which marked a turning point in the renaissance of German cinema, is an original mixture of Quixote-madness and case history. The central character is a wounded German soldier sent to sit out the war in an isolated Mediterranean garrison. Unhinged by the torpid circularity of island life, he is driven mad by the incredible vision of a valley filled with thousands of small, whirring windmills and stages an insane, one-man revolt.

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October 16 (Monday) 9:15 pm

The Merchant of Four Season (Der Händler der vier Jahreszeiten)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany 1971, 35mm, color, 89 min.
With Hans Hirschmüller, Irm Hermann, and Hanna Schygulla
German with English subtitles

The first Fassbinder film to garner broad praise in Germany, this film tableau, saturated with color, centers on a repugnant family based on Fassbinder’s own, with events plucked directly from his familial life. The director’s sympathies lie firmly with Hans, his protagonist, a spirit yearning for unattainable freedom amidst unexceptional people in a lonely city. "This is a melodrama," Fassbinder claimed. "That always sounds like a dirty word, but I don’t think it is. It’s a socially critical melo-drama, to put it simply."

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October 17 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany 1973, 35mm, color, 94 min.
With Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem, Barbara Valentin
German with English subtitles

To say this film is a family melodrama would be an understatement. This is melodrama with a capital M, and a beautiful homage to the great German-American director Douglas Sirk, particularly to his film All that Heaven Allows. Fassbinder brilliantly articulates class and sexual politics by showing how once the prejudices surrounding a controversial couple begin to lessen, their relationship starts to unravel. His famous interior long shots are perfectly integrated and the colors masterfully contrasted with the reality they adorn.

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October 23 (Monday) 9:30 pm

The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, or Every Man for Himself and God Against all (Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle)

Directed by Werner Herzog
West Germany 1974, 16mm, color, 110 min.
With Bruno S., Walter Ladengast, Brigitte Mira
German with English subtitles

Reminiscent of Truffaut’s The Wild Child in theme but decidedly darker in its conclusions, Herzog’s film opens in Nuremberg in 1828, where a grown man is found catatonic in the town square. He is Kaspar Hauser, the ultimate Herzogian outsider: without speech, reason, or memory, and without human contact since childhood. Initially treated as a curiosity, he is gradually educated in the ways of Western civilization. But his initiation into the mysteries of language, logic, and religion only drives him to despair. The film’s visual style (odd angles, awkward compositions, unusual lighting) conveys Kaspar’s perceptual disorientation, an estrangement heightened by the inspired casting of Bruno S.—a former schizophrenic who spent many years in institutions.

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October 24 (Tuesday) 9:30 pm

AGuirre, the Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes)

Directed by Werner Herzog
West Germany 1972, 35mm, color, 95 min.
With Klaus Kinski, Ruy Guerra, Del Negro
German with English subtitles

Filming in South America, Herzog recreated the exploits of sixteenth-century Spanish explorer Aguirre (Kinski) who, with his retinue, searched for El Dorado over mountains, through jungles, and down a great river. The film is at once documentary-like and deliriously lyrical: although it identifies with Aguirre’s obsessed and unbalanced state of mind, it keeps a critical and ironic distance on the whole adventure. Kinski’s performance in the title role is nothing short of phenomenal.

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October 30 ( Monday) 9 pm

Alice in the Cities (Alice in den Städten)

Directed by Wim Wenders
West Germany 1974, 16mm, b/w, 110 min.
With Rüdiger Vogler, Yella Rottländer, Lisa Kreuzer
German with English subtitles

In this tender, melancholy road movie, a Polaroid-snapping German photo-journalist (Vogler) travels across the United States and becomes burdened by an obstinate nine-year-old girl, Alice (Rottländer), abandoned by her German mother (Kreuzer). The search for Alice’s family takes the two gradually back to Europe, where, almost wordlessly, they grow closer. A quiet warmth takes effect as Alice and her taciturn companion travel about, including a stop at a Chuck Berry concert. This modest film, which foreshadows Paris, Texas, is perhaps Wenders’s most perfect work, and the most overtly humanist.

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