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April 20 – 23, 2018

The Management of Shattered Identity:
German Films, 1945 - 1957

In conjunction with Inventur - Art in Germany, 1943–55, the groundbreaking exhibition at the Harvard Art Museum examining “the highly charged artistic landscape” in Germany from the mid-1940s to mid-1950s, the Harvard Film Archive is screening five complementary German films from the period. As the curators of Inventur describe, “the exhibition focuses on modern art created at a time when Germans were forced to acknowledge and reckon with the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust, the country’s defeat and occupation by the Allies, and the ideological ramifications of the fledgling Cold War. Chosen for the way it helps characterize the art of this period, the word Inventur (inventory) implies not just an artistic stocktaking, but a physical and moral one as well—the reassurance of one’s own existence as reflected in the stuff of everyday life. The exhibition, too, ‘takes stock,’ introducing the richness and variety of the modern art of this period to new audiences, while prompting broader questions on the role of the creative individual living under totalitarianism and in its wake.”

Relatively underscreened and unknown, German postwar cinema occupies a liminal sector of film history, sandwiched between Nazi era productions and the New German Cinema of the 1970s. The signatories of the 1962 Oberhausen Manifesto would indict the light entertainments of the Adenauer era (1949-1963), dismissing its escapist comedies, Heimatfilme and melodramas as examples of a moribund “Papa’s cinema.” The judgment was dismissive and unfair. Postwar German cinema in fact gave rise to numerous innovative, critical, and formally striking productions. Harvard professor Eric Rentschler’s series revisits a period in film history that until recently has been unfairly written off and overlooked, putting on display some buried treasures such as Under the Bridges, which was shot on location in Berlin during the last months of the war; the abstract, avant-garde Jonas; and Peter Lorre’s single directorial exercise The Lost One.

Curated by Eric Rentschler, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures & Director of Graduate Studies, Harvard.

Special thanks: Lynette Roth, Kate Rennebohm—Harvard Art Museums; Robert Distelrath—Goethe-Institut München; Petra Kettner—SWR Media Services; and Michael Werkmeister, neue deutsche Filmgesellschaft.

Inventur - Art in Germany, 1943–55 is on display at the Harvard Art Museums through June 3, 2018.




Friday April 20 at 7pm

Under the Bridges
(Unter den Brücken)

Directed by Helmut Käutner. With Hannelore Schroth, Carl Raddatz, Gustav Knuth
Germany 1945, DCP, b/w, 99 min. German with English subtitles

Although Helmut Käutner had worked in Germany during the Third Reich, making such films as Port of Freedom (Grosse Freiheit Nr. 7, 1944), he managed to maintain a certain ideological independence. In the assessment of Mein Kampf director Erwin Leiser, Käutner’s wartime films maintain “the right to a free life as opposed to the requirements of discipline.” Käutner himself speaks of “the filmmakers’ stubbornness to allow any of the horror which surrounded us to seep into our work.” Produced and filmed during the confused final months of World War II, Under the Bridges is considered by some critics to be Käutner’s finest film. Echoing Jean Vigo‘s L’Atalante, the tale revolves around a romantic triangle on a small boat that wends its way up and down the Havel near Berlin. Käutner took leave of the artifice of studios and, while bombs continued to fall on the Reich, shot on location. His film also took leave of UFA production values and departed from the Nazi era’s script-bound predilections, rediscovering the wonder of immediacy and physical reality—with no mention of the war at all.

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Friday April 20 at 9pm

Film Without a Title
(Film ohne Titel)

Directed by Rudolf Jugert. With Hans Söhnker, Hildegard Knef, Irene von Meyendorff
West Germany 1948, 35mm, b/w, 90 min. German with English subtitles

One of the first postwar productions, Film Without a Title takes place immediately after World War II. A director, a screenwriter and an actor—Willy Fritsch, playing himself—discuss making a new movie in Germany. Two “ordinary people”—Christine, a country girl, and Martin, a Berlin art dealer—insist that the film should be about their lives. Working during the Stunde Null or “Zero Hour” of German cinema, screenwriter Helmut Käutner (Under the Bridges) and director Rudolf Jugert break all the rules. They traverse a variety of genres—from romantic melodrama to war film to comedy to pseudo-documentary—to tell and retell the stories of Christine and Martin, reflecting the confusion and uncertainty of the postwar situation. Between desolate memories of the war years and bright hopes for everyday life, the filmmakers subvert narrative convention by allowing spectators to go “behind the scenes” and create their own film. Print courtesy Goethe-Institut and Beta Film.

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Saturday April 21 at 7pm

Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (Zwischen gestern und morgen)

Directed by Harald Braun. With Hildegard Knef, Winnie Markus, Sybille Schmitz
Germany 1947, DCP, b/w, 107 min. German with English subtitles

Between Yesterday and Tomorrow is a quintessential example of a key postwar cycle: the German Trümmerfilm (rubble film), which examines issues such as collective guilt and the prospect of an uncertain future. After living in Swiss exile for ten years, an illustrator returns to Munich, joining old acquaintances in the ruins of his former home, the Hotel Regina. Together they confront the consequences of the war and their own roles in the tragic death of Nelly Dreifuss (Sybille Schmitz). In Harald Braun’s noirish film, past and present freely intersect and interact. Kat, a member of the group played by a stunning Hildegard Knef, represents the generation of young women who seek to take leave of the past and look forward: “We have to carry on living, don’t we? That’s our only option.” Digitally restored version on DCP courtesy neue deutsche Filmgesellschaft and Beta Film.

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Saturday April 21 at 9:15pm

The Lost One (Der Verlorene)

Directed by Peter Lorre. With Karl John, Peter Lorre, Renate Mannhardt
West Germany 1951, 35mm, b/w, 99 min. German with English subtitles

Harun Farocki once said that “hardly a film prefigured fascism as accurately as M, and hardly a film has recaptured fascism as accurately as Der Verlorene.” The star of both films is Peter Lorre, and The Lost One was Lorre’s sole directorial effort. He also wrote the novel the film is based on and co-wrote the screenplay. Lorre plays Dr. Karl Rothe, a German scientist who tries to adapt to postwar Germany, but is overwhelmed by guilt for his crimes during the Third Reich. Clearly influenced by prewar expressionist cinema—including direct allusions to his character in Fritz Lang’s M (1931)—Lorre’s actors are captured in foreboding shadows or haunted half-lights. Nominated for the Golden Lion at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, the film was a financial failure. German audiences remained unwilling to confront their own culpability and instead flocked to the escapist Heimatfilme. Much like Charles Laughton after The Night of the Hunter, Lorre would return to his acting career in Hollywood. Print courtesy Goethe-Institut and Beta Film.

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Monday April 23 at 7pm


Directed by Ottomar Domnick. With Robert Graf, Dieter Eppler, Elisabeth Bohaty
Germany 1957, 35mm, b/w, 81 min. German with English subtitles

Ottomar Domnick, a neurologist, psychiatrist, and art lover from Stuttgart, independently produced his first feature film, an experimental psychological portrait with the detached aesthetic of a newsreel. Called a “turning point in the film history of the FRG” by critic Olaf Moller, the film probes the inner and outer world of Jonas, an isolated print shop employee. Upon finding a hat with the initials of a friend from the war, Jonas’ guilt and existential fear spiral into a Kafka-esque, hallucinatory paranoia. As the reasons for his neurotic attachment to the hat gradually surface, he roams around Stuttgart feeling cornered by the architecture of an alienating city, particularly its ominous and omnipresent TV tower. For film scholar Marc Silberman, Jonas provided a breath of fresh air and constituted a singular West German production that “critically addressed the repressive atmosphere of the Fifties.” Print courtesy SWR Media Services.

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