Friday, January 19, 2007

Germany Year Zero (1948)

Sober, clear-eyed film about a young boy (played by Edmund Meschke) doing what he can to can to keep his family from starving amidst the rubble of post-war Germany. Early on, a character claims, "I don't believe in others helping out," and the spirit of every-man-for-himself permeates the day-to-day existence portrayed by Roberto Rossellini. Everyone's suspicious (Edmund's ex-soldier brother refuses to register for civil benefits, pleading "What if it's a trap for stupid people?"), everyone's desperate (single cigarettes become an important commodity) and everyone's trying to find a hustle that will allow them to eat for a couple days before someone else finds it. Through all this, Edmund wanders, too young to be a man but too old to be a child; as the film creeps forward, pragmatism and cruelty (on the part of Edmund and others) start to be indistinguishable. Rossellini shoots all this with an observational eye; his devotion to spartan neorealism makes the hardships faced by its characters ache all that much more. The inevitable ending, when it arrives, feels like a path of lesser resistance, and the insistent musical score jars against the presumed non-artifice of the mise-en-scene, but overall this is striking stuff.

Grade: B


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