Germany Year Zero (1948)

Odd how I saw the last of the “trilogy” long before I saw anything else by Rossellini, let alone the first two films… saw it maybe 15 years ago thanks to Curzon Classics’ typically barely watchable VHS release (as rough as Criterion’s DVD is in places, I don’t recall Curzon’s tape being anywhere near as good), and it’s long enough ago that I didn’t remember much of the story (with the obvious exception of the horrific ending) or even which language it was in… the DVD uses the German soundtrack, cos that was the language used “on set”. The last part of the trilogy is markedly different from the other two films in more than just linguistic ways, though, as I now realise; at 73 minutes it’s significantly shorter than either of the other two films, the story is set post-war, and it’s viewed from the German side after they’ve lost. It’s also a significantly more empathetic view of the Germans than Open City offered, focusing on a boy of 12 or so, surrounded by an invalid father, an army brother hiding from the post-war authorities, four other families crammed into a small and barely functional building overseen by an owner who essentially hates them all for having been imposed on him, and many other signs of poverty and breakdown on the losing side of the war. In the midst of all this, Edmund finds himself conscripted into working the black market by his old school teacher, a pederast and former Nazi who inspires the boy to a great horror of his own. This is, of course, where Germany Year Zero really differs from the other two films; they had at least a dim sense of hope and uplift which this one entirely lacks, it really is one of the most singularly cheerless films ever made… and the suggestion that just because the Nazis lost the war doesn’t necessarily mean people who used to believe in their ideals don’t still do so, and what this fact ultimately leads to in the film, does nothing to lighten it in the least. Impressive, obviously, but grim as fuck.

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