Germany, Pale Mother [Deutschland, Bleiche Mutter] Germany 1980 JOURNEY Section
There are times when you see a film that is so emotional, so expressive that you come out speechless. This is just such a film. This is an archive re-mastering and restoration of a very famous German film, first shown in 1980, devastatingly unanimously panned by the critics and shown in many countries in the shortened version. The Director-Scriptwriter, Helma Sanders-Brahms accepted the wisdom of the critics, and lived to see the restored version which was first shown in Berlin in February this year, Helma died in May.
The UK première of this version was presented at the London Film Festival today by the master-restorer and Helma Sanders-Brahms daughter.
The story behind this film and the film itself is poignant and appalling. The things that happen, happened in real life to Helma’s mother. The voiceover, which is Helma herself, is the voice of the little girl (Helma) born to her parents during the Second World War and in Germany. Her father’s great friend, Erich is a member of the Nazi party and is going out with one of two sisters, Hans goes out with the dark haired beauty, played by Eva Mattes. They scarcely have time to marry before Hans is sent into Poland. During a brief leave before being sent to France, they conceive a child. From then on, through the pregnancy and on into the first years of the child (played at one stage by Helma’s own daughter) the war is raging. Hans comes back for short leaves of two or three days tired, disillusioned and estranged to his equally tired, challenged wife. Their first house is bombed, she goes to Berlin where there are shortages and air raids; finally she is persuaded to leave for the country.
Told in painstaking and fearless detail, with brilliant performances by Eva Mattes and Ernst Jacobi (who plays Hans) the film touches on the emotional intensity of wartime privation and then peace-time dislocation and depression. Hans and Lene have barely time to know each other and later are too exhausted to love each other, and though they have both longed for peace, everything is altered from before. It is not the “after” that they imagined and the war has moved from outside to inside.
This brave telling of how it was for that generation was too much for the sensitivities of the German audience only 30 years later, the cuts made it a stronger, harsher account. Now, seventy years later we are ready for a more nuanced look, but it is not a soft focus idyll. Love is difficult, life difficult and the aftermath of the death camps is fully present, both in the visual representation and in the telling, and re-telling of a particularly gruesome version of a famous fairy tale from The Brothers Grimm.
The title comes from a Berthold Brecht poem, written prophetically in 1933, and read on the film by his daughter.
Let others speak of her shame,
I speak of my own.
O Germany, pale mother!
How soiled you are
As you sit among the peoples.
You flaunt yourself
Among the besmirched.
The poorest of your sons
Lies struck down.
When his hunger was great.
Your other sons
Raised their hands against him.
This is notorious.
With their hands thus raised,
Raised against their brother,
They march insolently around you
And laugh in your face.
This is well known.
In your house
Lies are roared aloud.
But the truth
Must be silent.
Is it so?
Why do the oppressors praise you everywhere,
The oppressed accuse you?
Point to you with their fingers, but
The plunderer praises the system
That was invented in your house!
Whereupon everyone sees you
Hiding the hem of your mantle which is bloody
With the blood
Of your best sons.
Hearing the harangues which echo from your house,
But whoever sees you reaches for a knife
As at the approach of a robber.
O Germany, pale mother!
How have your sons arrayed you
That you sit among the peoples
A thing of scorn and fear!