sat 13/07/2024

DVD: Germany Pale Mother | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Germany Pale Mother

DVD: Germany Pale Mother

A rediscovered German classic about a mother and child's wartime bond

Lene (Eva Mattes) comforts daughter Anna as bombs fall on Berlin

This is a great, neglected film of Nazi Germany. After being savaged by German critics for its “subjective” and “sentimental” perspective on the Third Reich at its 1980 Berlin Festival premiere, it was released with 30 minutes slashed. This is the restored director’s cut’s DVD debut.

Writer-director Helma Sanders-Brahms’s view certainly is subjective, and feminine. Germany Pale Mother is a fictionalised version of her early childhood with her parents: here young lovers Hans (Ernst Jacobi) and Lene (Eva Mattes), separated and destroyed by war. Lene’s home front heroism and bond with daughter Anna is the focus. In a key sequence, Lene leads her child to safety through Germany’s woods, distracting her with a long fairy tale about a “murder house”: here Nazi Germany is a giant Grimm nightmare.

This is a saga in which a daughter tries to understand her parents, and so the damned nation where they fell in love. It helped start a line continued by Edgar Reitz’s Heimat, and running up to this month’s Phoenix, which humanises a generation of Germans who committed or allowed slaughter, and shows them to be otherwise, troublingly unremarkable.

A bitter peace, in which old Nazis prosper and it’s impolite to talk of the past, feels shoddily real, and worse than Helene and Anna’s wartime boldness. The nation’s accumulated suppression and strain plays out on Helene’s face. Eva Mattes gives her an impudently ironic, constant half-smile, as Nazism’s flaws and the need to save her daughter become clear. Finally, half that face freezes in an awful rictus. She has become  scarred, half-monstrous Germany; and a ruined, tragic heroine.

The main extra is Sanders-Brahms’ 1987 documentary Hermann mein Vater, in which she takes her real father back to the Normandy village he helped occupy. This gentle, evasive old man’s embarrassed exchanges with friendly villagers are contrasted with footage of France’s devastation by Germany. “My parents weren’t murderers,” Sanders-Brahms ponders. “But they didn’t stop the war either.” Their unknowable past haunts this release.

Lene leads her child to safety through the woods, distracting her with a long fairy tale: Nazi Germany here a giant Grimm nightmare


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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