Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Overtheorized and underseen: "The oppressed accuse you"

Today's recommendation, the second in this week's quintet of postwar German films, is

Helma Sanders-Brahms'

Germany, Pale Mother

I'm not going to get into tokenism here & point out ZOMG FEMALE DIRECTOR, though i guess i just did. This film has been unfairly derided as one of the most depressing ever made. To which I say: How nice that you can concern yourself with such first-world problems.

What most people know about this film is that it is vaguely about Sanders-Brahms' mother, and that it is a Metaphor (deliberate capitals) for Germany. Hence the title, which is from the (extremely fine) Brecht poem. The story is narrated by a daughter, who exists both outside and within the narrative. She tells the story of her parents' courtship, which exists in a mordantly idyllic Germany and has milestones that occur along the backdrop of The War (deliberate capitals): a wedding during a declaration of war, childbirth during bombing, postwar marital divide.

But this isn't about the story, and the point of the story as a film is that it could be millions of families' stories, because it's about Germany's story (cf O Deutschland, Bleiche Mutter!). The structure of the film's narrative is what has always fascinated me. On the one hand it's straightforward and linear; on the other, it's elliptical and puzzling and raises questions: How can Lene's daughter narrate when she doesn't exist yet, and what does that imply about narrative? What is at stake when Sanders-Brahms integrates newsreel footage and cuts it so that it seems like old newsreel subjects are interacting with the fictional characters; how are we to interpret that within the context of historiography and New German Cinema? The film itself reminds me of the narrative structure of Willa Cather's My Antonia, a composite narrative that picks up and subsumes other narratives, structures, and texts, to create a female narrated and female-centered narrative within a male-dominated space; Germany, Pale Mother does the same thing in its integration of The Robber Bridegroom (Grimm) and the Brecht Poem

Finally, watching the film nearly 30 years after it was made, how would it be different now, in an ostensibly reunited Germany?

I obviously don't propose answers to these questions; I'm just a hack trying to fluff my ego with a blog. But I think this film is really overlooked; the only people who are even aware of it are either humorless intellectuals who ignore the life in it or laypeople who didn't seem to appreciate it very much. I Recommend it to you from the midpoint of those viewpoints and hope that you find middle ground. It's a sad film, a tragic one, but one that fights for and affirms life in every frame, and I hope you watch it accordingly.


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