Germany, Year Zero (1947)

“This movie, shot in Berlin in the summer of 1947 aims only to be an objective and true portrait of this large, almost totally destroyed city where 3.5 million people live a terrible, desperate life, almost without realizing it. They live as if tragedy were natural, not because of strength or faith, but because they are tired. This is not an accusation or even a defence of the German people. It is an objective assessment. Yet if anyone, after watching Edmund Koeler’s story, feels that something needs to be done-that German children need to relearn to love life-then the efforts of those who made this movie will be greatly rewarded.”

‘Germany, Year Zero’, directed by Roberto Rossellini in 1947, is the third in a trilogy of movies that started with ‘Rome, Open City’, focusing on the effects of the Second World War on European cities and their vulnerable inhabitants. This movie takes place in Berlin and tells the story of a child who, impoverished, is forced to turn to crime to help support his family. He encounters an ex-teacher, an unrepentant party member and paedophile, who indoctrinates the boy with brutal Nazi ideologies that lead the boy to destroy both his family and himself. As with Rossellini’s earlier film this is a work of neorealism, the city and the scars following the war are unflinchingly presented and the actors are real people. It’s shorter than ‘Rome, Open City’, but in a strange way it felt bigger, the simple story of the child is juxtaposed against the enormity of the cityscape and the enormity of the desolation. In one particularly evocative scene, the boy has been tasked with selling a vinyl recording of a speech by Hitler to British soldiers. They play the record to test the goods, and the voice of the man who had haunted the city for a decade floats again through the streets. The performance of the boy, by Edmund Moeschke is unbelievably grounded and rivals both Nikolai Burlyayev in ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ and Aleksei Kravchenko in ‘Come and See’. These are all films in which the authenticity of the child performer is crucial, and the resulting success of the movie reflects the skill of these directors in finding their stars.

Would I recommend it? Yes – The obvious triple bill is with ‘Rome, Open City’ and the middle part of Rossellini’s trilogy ‘Paisà’ (which I haven’t yet seen). However you could also watch it with ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ to see a contrast between a boy who survives the war, and a boy who doesn’t.


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