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GERMANY, YEAR ZERO (Germania anno zero) (director/writer: Roberto Rossellini; screenwriters: from the story by Roberto Rossellini/Max Colpet/Sergio Amidei; cinematographer: Robert Juillard; editor: Eraldo Da Roma; music: Renzo Rossellini; cast: Edmund Meschke (Edmund Köhler), Ernst Pittschau (Il padre), Ingetraud Hinzf (Eva Köhler), Franz Grüger (Karl-Heinz Köhler), Erich Gühne (Il maestro, Herr Enning), Alexandra Manys (Christl), Babsi Schultz-Reckewell (Jo); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Salvo D’Angelo/Roberto Rossellini; Universalia; 1948-Italy/W Germany/France-in Italian with English subtitles)
“A horror movie in the manner of a neo-realist film, where fantasy mixes with reality.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The last part of Roberto Rossellini’s (“Open City”/”Paisan”) neo-realist war trilogy is a sincerely done fictional look at life for a stressed-out family in a bombed-out postwar Berlin. It opens with a documentary style long tracking shot of a Berlin under Occupation in 1945 in ruins and goes on to tell a pessimistic story about how moral decay runs rampant in a country where the institutions to preserve civilization have been destroyed. The mostly nonprofessional cast act as if they’re in hell, as they lose their sense of values and try to survive any way they can. It’s a horror movie in the manner of a neo-realist film, where fantasy mixes with reality. Its overwrought melodramatic moments are meant to be perceived as objective truths, but that doesn’t seem possible because the events were staged and the filmmaker’s agenda was rigged to turn out the way he wants to see events rather than reality coming about naturally.

Edmund Köhler (Edmund Meschke) is an impressionable 13-year-old boy living in cramped quarters with four other impoverished and desperate families. His family members include his ailing invalid elderly father (Ernst Pittschau) suffering from malnutrition, his cowardly Nazi returning soldier brother Karl-Heinz (Franz Grüger) who fails to report to the police fearing punishment as a war criminal (thereby not receiving a ration card or a work permit), and his resourceful sister Eva (Ingetraud Hinzf) who has been forced because of economic decisions to become a prostitute/escort for soldiers. The kid digs graves at a cemetery, but is let go because he doesn’t have a work permit. Not attending school, his family relies on him to bring home money or food. Edmund tries selling family items on the street and meets his former school teacher, Mr. Henning (Eric Guehne), a Nazi party member who is still a believer. Henning makes nice to the naive young kid and has him sell Nazi souvenirs on the black market with other vagrant children. Drifting apart from his fractious family, the youngster is filled with despair and confusion. Under the increasing influence of his treacherous old Nazi teacher, who bad mouths his father as not being a true supporter of the Nazi cause, and a misplaced sense of mercy, Edmund will kill his father and then be driven to suicide.

Though there’s a certain power revealed in telling such a desperate story of a people who were led to believe they were superior and can’t face such a humiliating defeat, there’s also not much constructive that’s presented. The young Edmund is made into a symbol of German loss, Nazi brainwashing, hopelessness and national guilt, which is the demoralizing lesson Rossellini leaves us with. Its overbearing downbeat tone can be explained because it was filmed in 1947, shortly after the unexpected death of Rossellini’s young son. What can’t can’t be explained away is Rossellini’s sloppy conclusion, where the film abruptly ends with such a dramatic flare for the tragic but the motivations of Edmund for his hideous deeds nevertheless remain vague and not entirely convincing.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”