Where are all the happy German movies?

I’ve recently taken up German lessons again and wanted to use the foreign section on Netflix to help with my immersion efforts. There is quite a good selection there I think. I started with some old silent movies (obviously of little help for foreign language immersion purposes!) because they looked irresistible. Nosferatu – ! Who can resist?  For years, ever since I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula actually, I’ve lamented the “fact” that no one has ever made a Dracula movie as good as the book. Of course the book is always better! But, for some reason unfathomable to me, Dracula movies always seem so far from the mark.. Perhaps the bar was set too high by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and no film could be made that captured the essence in the same intensity? Even Coppola’s version, whilst not terrible by any means, doesn’t hit the right notes for me. Much too fast and explicit. Not nearly subtle enough. The details aren’t dragged painfully slowly and subtly across our awareness in that most Kubrickesqe of ways (I’m sure He could have made a Dracula film to match the book had he ever the inclination! There’s a “what if” to stir the soul…). Alas, there being no such great, timeless, epic Dracula film, I took inspiration that there was at least some fertile ground left to harvest and hoped and prayed that, with remakes and new takes being all the rage these days, someone would catch on to the the idea of finally doing Dracula right. (In this decade of Vampires and remakes – it almost seems inevitable really that this decade sees a truly great Dracula movie emerge, but then again, it may very well just end up a CGI mess like so much released in recent years.) I even began to formulate plans to seed the idea… Until I watched this old silent German film Nosferatu. The classic. The original. Here was the film I had been waiting for. Okay, maybe it’s not 100% perfect, but again, no film is and the book will always be the better experience. But here is a film that captures the utter folk-superstitious horror of the villagers when they realize the visitor is going to do business with the beast. Despite the name changes, some sensible abridgement, and a complete change of the ending, this movie was, at least in the critical details of the mood and story, the most true to the essence of the book of any Dracula movie I’ve seen. The book was hands down the scariest book I’ve ever read, and here is finally a film which captures a bit of that primeval terror. A truly great film.

I also viewed one evening Metropolis, which I mention only in passing as it too is an early German silent film and I would be remiss in failing to mention it. I don’t have much to say about it at this time largely because so much has already been written about it by others and because, frankly, I feel I need to watch it again. I enjoyed it, but I’m not ready to comment extensively on it. I will say it is not particularly happy…

A movie I want to discuss in some detail is Sophie Scholl, Die letzten Tage.  Being, educationally speaking, a product of the United States public education system, I had never heard of The White Rose movement prior to watching this film. I spent a good deal of time online afterwards looking up a bit of history; trying to fill in some unfortunate blanks in the personal databases. This movie, according to every online source I could find, is largely based on the truth, and politically and socially speaking, the movement upon which this movie is based is an inspirational one, at least to a rational, free thinking (read liberal hippie, by those inclined to do so, though I do not consider myself particularly liberal nor a hippie) individual like myself, who puts logic and the well being of all life and the planet herself ahead of blind allegiance to any faith or nation or ideology. There are those who will site contradictions here, and there are some, in a manner of looking at things. There is some talk that those behind the resistance movement only took such a mindset when it became apparent Germany would not win the war – which if entirely true certainly casts a shadow on otherwise noble or heroic actions (although I am far from close enough to any primary sources to determine exactly what the truth of this matter is – any reader knowing better please feel free to speak up). And there is the Christian faith of the lead character, which in and of itself would seem to be a contradiction to my stated aversion to blind faith or allegiance… But I’m a realist and an opportunist, and if the motivational factors in a person’s life lead to actions which produce positive results, I’m all in favor. But enough of history and philosophy! I want to discuss the cinematography of this film, and will sum it up as: Color! An excellent use of color. Not necessarily in any particularly clever or symbological way, but in such a way that I found myself completely absorbed by the colors in the film. The saturations, the intensities. I felt a nostalgia for a bygone color scheme. I actually had thoughts along the lines of “What a shame that such a beautiful color scheme was on the side which ultimately lost” and so on and so forth. The reds of the banners, and particularly of the robe worn by the “judge” at trial,  were so strikingly beautiful I found myself at times deeply engaged in philosophical self quarrels about how such hatred as spewed by the Nazi paradigms of racial superiority and purification could be so finely ingrained with such beauty and artistry. I experienced cognitive dissonance between the visual beauty of the Nazi paraphernalia and the mental imagery and historical knowledge we are brought up to associate with (or associate with through first hand knowledge) the Nazi regime and the terrors they inflicted upon the world. All of this is to say I found this movie to be profoundly thought provoking on a multitude of levels and potently engaging for all the senses, to say nothing of the emotional power of this movie, of which I have yet said very little. What can be said? It is better to be experienced by watching this film yourself. Then you will see that words only go so far.

Continuing the unbroken string of unhappy German movies was a movie I hesitated to watch at first – namely Rosenstrasse. I will be blunt and state that I, a grown man with a cold heart, cried at the end of this movie. I hesitated initially to watch this film because it seemed like yet another Holocaust movie and quite frankly I wanted to see what the German movie industry has to say about, well, anything other than the Holocaust, as it seems so many German movies revolve one way or another around this morbid subject. I don’t mean to belittle the memory, but frankly I want to see a happy movie once in a while! But the description on Netflix and a brief skimming of the reviews convinced me more was to be gained by watching than not. This is another movie based around a more or less true event during that nightmare the textbooks call World War II. The movie is split between a funeral “today” and a telling of sad – and terrifying – events of yesteryear, told in flashbacks by an old woman. Our listener, Hannah, is the daughter of a woman who was a young girl during the events on Rosenstrasse in 1943.  The story teller, Lena, was a woman who took in the young girl, Ruth, after her mother was taken by the Gestapo. Lena doesn’t know at first that the young woman who has come to her (claiming to be a student researching the events of the “Rosenstrasse protest“) is in fact the daughter of the young girl she saved so many years ago, and with whom she had lost touch.  The scene where Lena puts together the pieces – Hannah (her very name the name Ruth wanted for herself once upon a time) takes things very personally and emotionally – and realizes just who is sitting in her living room listening so intently, and reacting so personally, to her memories, was a bit too much for my dammed up heart and the river did indeed burst forth, via the eyes. Hell, I’m watering up just thinking about it again… One hell of a good movie that can make a cynical bastard like me water up!

So, if you are looking for a good thought provoking film, or even just something a bit different from the usual Hollywood muck, I wholeheartedly recommend any and all of the above films for your viewing pleasure – just be sure to have plenty of tissues ready!

Psssst – I hear there is a new European film out called Iron Sky (U.S. release date unknown to me at this time) about Nazis setting up a base on the moon after WWII and returning to take over the planet in 2018. Supposed to be somewhat funny – which is good for a change – if it’s possible… But I have to say, if Sarah Palin is president in 2018, as is implied in the film, I’ll be rooting for the Nazis. Same poison, different flavor I suppose… (i.e. In the fight between two right wing extremists battling for supremacy, I’ll take cold intellectual idiocy over impassioned ignorant idiocy every time. We all die anyway either way. At least know what you’re doing as you’re killing me. Don’t let my death be an accidental or unintended consequence of your ill-thought-out scheme to do what again?) So, where are all the happy German movies?

2 comments

  1. I was never impressed with Coppola’s Dracula too much. Too much lust as opposed to sinister seduction, I think. There were other flaws as well. I’ve never seen Nosferatu, but I would like to check it out one of these days.

    1. I recommend it. It is old and silent (which is a deal breaker for some folks) but I really enjoyed it more than any other version. I see you have a new book out – I’ll have to check it out when I get a chance.

      Say hi to Champ for me – I didn’t get a chance to see her last time I passed through the area.

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