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September 22 - November 24, 2003

The New German Cinema (Revisited)

The New German Cinema, one of the most influential to emerge in the late 1960s amd early 1970s, embraced several contrasting ideological positions and included arguably the most heterogeneous array of filmmakers at work in Western Europe. Their success was owed in no small part to the economic miracle that had remade West Germany in the 1950s, to the thriving network of film festivals and cinemas that gained international attention for new filmmakers, and to a supportive group of public broadcasters. In retrospect, the movement’s history oddly parallels the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and the shifting political configurations it represented. With the emergence of a vital new generation of German directors, this older movement can perhaps now be more fully understood and its enduring significance measured. This series provides just such an opportunity for reexamination by tracing a number of this cinema’s exemplars, beginning with several early precursors.


September 22 (Monday) 7 pm

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

Directed by Wolfgang Staudte
East Germany, 1946, 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 after the war, 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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September 29 (Monday) 7 pm

Machorka-Muff

Directed by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet
West Germany, 1962, b/w, 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.”

Young Törless (Der junge Törless)

Directed by Volker Schlöndorff
West Germany/France, 1966, b/w, 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 is considered a seminal work that announced a new German cinema of international stature.

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October 6 (Monday) 7 pm

Precautions Against Fanatics (Massnahmen gegen Fanatiker)

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

 

In this early, short effort by Werner Herzog, an outraged old man declares himself the protector of race horses and fights against fanatic trainers.

Signs of Life (Lebenszeichen)

Directed by Werner Herzog
West Germany, 1967, 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-like 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 4 (Saturday) 7 pm
October 8 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The American Soldier (Der amerikanische Soldat)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1970, 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 American action directors like Raoul Walsh and Sam Fuller, Fassbinder’s film centers on a hired gunman named Ricky, a charismatic figure in a rakish hat and white suit. Recently returned from a Vietnamized America, Ricky carries out the murders he has been assigned with a startling lack of interest and emotion, all the while trying to reconnect with his old neighborhood and his family. The amazing final shoot-out is probably the most startling of Fassbinder’s patented off-beat endings.

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October 4 (Saturday) 9 pm

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

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

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 and its attendant social commentary. The story had already been foreshadowed in Fassbinder’s The American Soldier, in which a maid tells the sad story that transpires here: of an older German woman who meets and marries a Moroccan guest worker twenty years her junior. Fassbinder brilliantly articulates class and sexual politics by showing how once the prejudices surrounding the 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 grim reality they adorn.

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October 10 (Friday) 9 pm
October 13 (Monday) 7 pm

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

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

The first Fassbinder film to garner broad praise in Germany and acclaim abroad, this color-saturated family drama with social overtones is set during the “economic miracle” years of the 1950s. The film’s protagonist has returned from a stint in the French Foreign Legion and has just been fired from his job in the police force for consorting with a streetwalker. His bourgeois family is horrified when he begins to peddle fruits and vegetables from a pushcart, and his socially conscious girlfriend leaves him. Settling for a loveless marriage with a manipulative wife, he sinks into increasing depression until the ultimate Fassbinderian resolution. An amalgam of high melodrama, street-smart action, and black comedy, the film remains a moral tale of unusual potency.

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October 11 (Saturday) 7 pm
November 17 (Monday) 7 pm

The Marriage of Maria Braun (Die Ehe der Maria Braun)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1978, color, 120 min.
With Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Löwitsch, Ivan Desny
German with English subtitles

A parable of post-World War II Germany, Fassbinder's film recounts the transformation of an impoverished war bride (Schygulla) into a mercenary business woman. The best known of Fassbinder's trilogy of historical films about the Federal Republic's "economic miracle" of the 1950s and one of the major productions of the New German Cinema, The Marriage of Maria Braun is equally a melodrama of the highest order - Fassbinder's successful realization of his desire to create for Germany the equivalent of a classic Hollywood movie. Maria's failures at fidelity become a metaphor for the false optimism of the society that surrounds her: we hear Adenauer in the background succumb to weakness as his pledge never to rearm the nation falls victim to the irresistible allure of power.

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October 20 (Monday) 7 pm

The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser (aka Every Man for Himself and God against All) (Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle)

Directed by Werner Herzog
West Germany 1974, 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 22 (Wednesday) 9:30 pm

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes)

Directed by Werner Herzog
West Germany 1972, 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 from the whole adventure. Kinski's performance in the title role is nothing short of phenomenal.

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October 27 (Monday) 7 pm

Wrong Movement (Falsche Bewegung)

Directed by Wim Wenders
West Germany, 1974, color, 103 min.
With Rüdiger Vogler, Hanna Schygulla, Ivan Desny
German with English subtitles

From a screenplay by Peter Handke that was inspired by Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Wenders created this second film in his ground-breaking "road trilogy" series (which included Alice in the Cities and Kings of the Road). Wilhelm, a young and discontented writer, sets out from home to roam the country for adventure and inspiration. Along the way he meets an old singer, an actress, a suicidal industrialist, a poet, and a mute adolescent juggler (Nastassja Kinski in her screen debut), through whom he feeds his embryonic vocation as a writer and attempts to reconcile with the specters of Germany's past.

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October 29 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The Left-Handed Woman (Die Linkshändige Frau)

Directed by Peter Handke
West Germany, 1977, color, 119 min.
With Bruno Ganz, Edith Clever, Gérard Depardieu
German with English subtitles

A woman living in the Paris suburbs struggles with a loveless marriage and apathy toward her family and friends as she spends her days quietly wandering about her house. Austrian playwright and novelist Peter Handke contributed screenplays to a number of films by director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick). Here (in a film that Wenders produced), he provides both the scenario (adapting his novel of the same name) and direction for this meditative examination of domestic ennui.

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November 3 (Monday) 7 pm

The American Friend (Der amerikanische Freund)

Directed by Wim Wenders
West Germany 1977, color, 123 min.
With Bruno Ganz, Dennis Hopper, Lisa Kreuzer
German and English with English subtitles

International intrigue, art and homicide, film and contemporary culture form the matrix of themes that underpin Wenders's brilliant quasi-thriller, loosely adapted from Patricia Highsmith's novel Ripley's Game. A terminally ill picture framer in Hamburg (Ganz) reluctantly agrees to become a hit man to insure the future of his soon-to-be widow (Kreuzer). Duplicity and ambiguity reign as he crosses paths with double-crossing killers (including filmmaker Sam Fuller) and shady American art dealer Tom Ripley, played by Dennis Hopper in cowboy gear.

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November 5 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Tokyo-Ga

Directed by Wim Wenders
US/West Germany 1985, color, 92 min.
With Hannelore Hoger, Alfred Edel, Curt Jurgens
English, German, and Japanese with English subtitles

Wenders and American cameraman Ed Lachman journey to Tokyo for a quick-sketch cinematic scrutiny of all things Japanese, dwelling on the production and consumption of the hyperreal images with which Japan's chief city is saturated. Moving away from this enmeshed postmodernism, he seeks out remnants of traditionalism, specifically traces of the late director Yasujiro Ozu, whose work had a profound influence on Wenders. He talks to Ozu's cameraman and visits the director's grave site before heading back to the urban jungle of golf games, plastic food, neon signs, and pachinko parlors. For many, this is Wenders's most underrated film, stunningly shot by Lachman.

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November 10 (Monday) 7 pm

Mathias Kneissl

Directed by Reinhard Hauff
West Germany, 1970, color, 94 min.
With Hans Brenner, Ruth Drexel, Frank Fey
German with English subtitles

In one of the first attempts to critique the idealized, pastoral imagery of the German Heimatfilm genre, director Reinhard Hauff provides a much darker portrait of turn-of-the century peasant life. The members of the Kneissl clan are outcasts living in seclusion in a ramshackle mill outside Munich. After their father is savagely beaten to death, Mathias and his siblings attempt to maintain a meager existence on the fringe of society only to find hostility and brutality. The supporting cast features an array of Fassbinder regulars including Irm Hermann, Eva Mattes, Kurt Raab, and Fassbinder himself.

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November 12 (Wednesday) 9:30 pm

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum)

Directed by Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta
West Germany, 1975, color, 106 min.
With Angela Winkler, Mario Adorf, Dieter Laser
German with English subtitles

An international success of the New German Cinema, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum is a tense adaptation of Heinrich Böll’s novel about the power of the mass media to inspire guilt by association. A young woman (Winkler) spends the night with a young man she has met at a party, who turns out to be an alleged terrorist. After suffering intense scrutiny at the hands of the German police, the judiciary, and—worst of all—the right-wing tabloid press, Katharina fights to retain her honor and, in the process, becomes transformed.

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November 19 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The Patriot (Die Patriotin)

Directed by Alexander Kluge
West Germany, 1979, b/w and color, 121 min.
With Hannelore Hoger, Alfred Edel, Curt Jurgens
German with English subtitles

Hannelore Hoger first appeared as schoolteacher Gabi Toechert in the omnibus film Germany in Autumn. In The Patriot, director Alexander Kluge provides a much larger canvas on which the schoolteacher can pursue her quest for new ways to express her country’s history. Combining newsreel footage, interviews, and fairy-tale sequences, director Kluge constructs a counter-history of Germany, from its medieval origins to the present, which skillfully interrogates the nation’s complicated identity.

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November 24 (Monday) 7 pm

Marianne and Juliane

Directed by Margarethe von Trotta
West Germany, 1981, color, 114 min.
With Jutta Lampe, Barbara Sukowa, Rüdiger Vogler
German with English subtitles

Closely based on the life of Baader-Meinhof member Gudrun Ensslin and her sister, Margarethe von Trotta’s masterpiece zeroes in on the psychological relationship that exists between two sisters, one the editor of a progressive feminist journal (Lampe), the other a committed revolutionary who has been jailed by the police (Sukowa). The Baader-Meinhof era comes to life in this extraordinary melding of the personal and political, where the tension between stands that are either too safe or too shrill comes into sharp relief.

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