Germany Cinematography – The ‘Zero Hour’ (1945-1949)

by | January 18, 2022

Although characterized by growing political tensions culminating in the birth of two opposing republics, the period 1945-1949 must be considered as a whole because there are no real differences between the films produced in the four areas of occupation, and because a certain circulation continued to exist. of works and directors between East and West. In particular, in the Sowjetische Besazungszone (SBZ) already on 17 November 1945 a ‘cinematographic active’ was summoned, which was attended by forty experts, including directors Kurt Maetzig, Peter Pewas and Wolfgang Staudte, with the task of restarting the cinematographic activity. In the SBZ where about 80% of the film studios and the major development and printing plants remained, DEFA), in the form of a joint stock company with Soviet participation. Having inherited most of the UFA’s facilities in Babelsberg, DEFA became for a certain period the largest German film company also because until the fateful 1949 it followed a ‘liberal’ and market policy, also offering work to numerous non-resident directors. SBZ. Conversely, the recovery was more difficult in the three western areas where infrastructure was almost lacking, except in Hamburg and Munich. Unlike the East, where a centralized system of production was perpetuated in structural continuity with the Nazi one, the principle of productive fragmentation and competition was introduced to the West. This system, with a plurality of small capital-poor firms, would have led, however, to an almost automatic dictatorship of the market and an invasive dependence on distributions. In a situation characterized by an exercise destroyed by war and a complete invasion of foreign products, in the course of 1946 the first two works of the new Germany: Die Mörder sind unter uns (The killers are among us) by W. Staudte and Sag᾽ die Wahrheit by Helmut Weiss. While the latter is an insignificant comedy, Staudte’s film is instead worthy of maximum interest given that it constitutes both from the content point of view (the shock and drama of a return to a ghostly Berlin), and from the stylistic point of view (the careful use of highly contrasted lighting and real environments), the model of the short season of Trümmerfilme. Compared to this promising start, on the other hand, crowned by a notable success with the public (six million spectators), the subsequent development only partially kept faith with the demand for ‘realistic’ renewal. In addition to the work of Staudte, the DEFA distinguished itself for some of the best productions of the time: from Ehe im Schatten (1947) by K. Maetzig to Affaire Blum (1948) by Erich Engel, from Strassenbekanntschaft (1948) by P Pewas a Rotation (1949), also by Staudte. Also in the western areas, on the same wavelength, were made In jenen Tagen (1947) by H. Käutner, Film ohne Titel (1948) by Rudolf Jugert, Berliner Ballade (1948; Berlin Ballad) by Robert A. Stemmle or Morituri (1948) by Eugen York. In general, the Trümmerfilme focus on private cases and have at the center the figures of ‘little men’, guilty of having passively observed the unfolding of events; often the narrative perspective is ‘objectified’, as for example. in the case of the car that goes through ten years of tragic German history and seven masters, in the film In jenen Tagen, while the ‘voice-off’ is frequently used to comment on the events. But it should also be added that, more often than not, the setting in the rubble of the war looks like a pure decoration, the work of skilled scenographers. Stylistically, numerous Trümmerfilme refer to what for convenience we call the ‘expressionist’ tradition: strong contrasts of light and shadow, a tendency to symbolization, a re-proposition of a suffering but undifferentiated humanity. Or it gives itself, as for example. in Berliner Ballade or in Der Apfel ist ab (1948) by Käutner, a markedly cabaret-like form to express ironic-satirical moods, an expedient that was subsequently used a lot. W. Liebeneiner in Liebe 47 (1949, loosely based on the strong neo-expressionist drama by W. Borchert Draussen vor der Tür, 1946) finally makes use of ‘surrealist’ sequences, but bends the desperate protest of the piece to the conciliatory morality of the happy end.

If Trümmerfilm constituted the prevailing genre of the two-year period 1946-1948 (among the approximately forty films made, only five are entertainment works), it suffered from the confrontation with Italian Neorealism, to which it wanted to be related in the desire for moral redemption and research of new stylistic ways (but if there is ever a perfect Trümmerfilm, it was made by Roberto Rossellini with the splendid Germania anno zero, 1948, an Italian-German-French co-production). It was therefore a period characterized by a chaotic mix of old and new not without interest. With the subsequent split of Germany, however, this pale beginning of renewal faded and German cinematography was dragged into a fatal scissor: “while in the east the propaganda monotony spread,

Germany Cinematography - The 'Zero Hour' (1945-1949)