The Management of Shattered Identity: German Films, 1945–57


Saturday, April 21, 2018, 7:00pm


Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy Street

In conjunction with our special exhibition Inventur—Art in Germany, 1943–55, the Harvard Film Archive is screening five complementary German films from the period. The series is curated by Eric Rentschler, the Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and director of graduate studies at Harvard University.

Presented by: Harvard Art Museums

Admission: Free: No Tickets Required

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German postwar cinema occupies a liminal sector of film history, sandwiched between Nazi-era productions and the New German Cinema of the 1970s. The signatories of the 1962 Oberhausen Manifesto indicted the light entertainments of the Adenauer era (1949–63), dismissing its escapist comedies, Heimatfilme (“homeland films”), and melodramas as examples of a moribund “Papa’s cinema.” The judgment was dismissive and unfair. Postwar German cinema in fact gave rise to numerous innovative, critical, and formally striking productions. Professor Rentschler’s series revisits a period in film history that until recently has been overlooked, putting on display such buried treasures as Under the Bridges, which was shot on location in Berlin during the last months of the war; the avant-garde Jonas; and Peter Lorre’s single directorial exercise, The Lost One.


Zwischen gestern und morgen (Between Yesterday and Tomorrow; 1947)

Directed by Harald Braun; with Hildegard Knef, Winnie Markus, and Sybille Schmitz 107 min., b/w, DCP; Germany, German with English subtitles

Between Yesterday and Tomorrow is a quintessential example of a key postwar cycle: the German Trümmerfilm (rubble film), which examines issues such as collective guilt and the prospect of an uncertain future. In Harald Braun’s noirish film, past and present freely intersect. After living in Swiss exile for 10 years, an illustrator returns to Munich, joining old acquaintances in the ruins of his former home, the Hotel Regina. Together they confront the consequences of the war and their own roles in the tragic death of Nelly Dreifuss (Sybille Schmitz). Kat, a member of the group played by a stunning Hildegard Knef, represents the generation of young women who seek to take leave of the past and look forward: “We have to carry on living, don’t we? That’s our only option.”


Der Verlorene (The Lost One; 1951)

Directed by Peter Lorre; with Karl John, Peter Lorre, and Renate Mannhardt 99 min., b/w, 35 mm; West Germany, German with English subtitles


Filmmaker Harun Farocki once said that “hardly a film prefigured fascism as accurately as M, and hardly a film has recaptured fascism as accurately as Der Verlorene.” The star of both films is Peter Lorre, and The Lost One was the actor’s sole directorial effort. He plays Karl Rothe, a German scientist who tries to adapt to postwar Germany, but is overwhelmed by guilt for his crimes during the Third Reich. Clearly influenced by prewar expressionist cinema—including direct allusions to his character in Fritz Lang’s M (1931)—the film presents Lorre’s actors in foreboding shadows or haunted half-lights. Nominated for the Golden Lion at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, The Lost One was a financial failure. German audiences remained unwilling to confront their own culpability and instead flocked to the escapist Heimatfilme (“homeland films”). Much like Charles Laughton after his Night of the Hunter, Lorre would return to his acting career in Hollywood after this effort.

The screenings will take place at the Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy Street, in Cambridge, just down from the Harvard Art Museums. For more information, please visit the HFA website or call 617-495-4700.