Federal Republic of Germany
The western Germany found itself immediately after the destruction of the Second World War to face the problem of industrial reconstruction. The effort made in this sense resulted in a real boom in the cinematographic field that characterized the whole of the 1950s, although economic growth did not correspond to a qualitative development of the works produced. Belonging mostly to the genus Trummerfilme (film of ruins), the films of the 1950s retrace episodes of the world conflict or narrate events linked to Nazism. Although highly prestigious authors such as H. Käutner, R. Siodmak, B. Wicki and A. Weidenmann have also tried their hand at the genre, post-war German films are hardly ever noteworthy. A cinema capable of expressing new ideas began to appear in 1962, when at the Oberhausen festival around thirty young filmmakers signed a manifesto which constituted the birth certificate of the new German cinema. “The old cinema is dead. We believe in the new” proclaimed A. Kluge, V. Schlöndorff and the other directors. “The new cinema needs new freedoms. Freedom from the common conventions of the trade. Freedom from partner influence commercial. Freedom from the protection exercised by interest groups. “Unfortunately, the state of the industry, in sharp decline compared to the glories of the 1950s, did not allow the young authors of the Oberhausen Manifesto to act with the desired freedom, especially on the economic side. In fact, the financial difficulties held back for a few years the possibility of a production control of the film by the director. Only in 1965, with the foundation of the committee of young German filmmakers, the situation was unblocked, thanks also to the numerous interventions and subsidies from the state. and to the interest of television, which partly became a producer of the first feature films of the new cinema.
The works financed in a few years with this formula are emblematic of the new course of German cinema: Der junge Törless (The disturbances of the young Törless, 1966) by V. Schlöndorff; Anita Germany (The girl without a story, 1966) by A. Kluge; Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, 1967) by J.-M. Straub; Jagdszenen aus Niederbayern (Hunting Scenes in Lower Bavaria, 1969) by P. Fleischmann; Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen (Even the dwarfs started small, 1970) by W. Herzog; Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (Before the Penalty Kick, 1971) by W. Wenders; Der Tod der Maria Malibran (The death of Maria Malibran, 1971) by W. Schroeter; Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant(The bitter tears of Petra von Kant, 1972) by RW Fassbinder.
With different stylistic and thematic characteristics, each of these authors engages a personal battle against the conventions and the political and cultural establishment of a Germany that has not yet closed its accounts with the past or even begun to question itself about the present. Although most German filmmakers adopt a decidedly poetic language, behind the sometimes visionary metaphors and tales there is the pulsing of a will to denounce which is essentially political. It is no coincidence that some directors, including Fassbinder, Kluge and Schlöndorff, signed the collective film Deutschland im Herbst (Germany in the autumn) in 1978, a bitter portrait of the German situation at the time of the events in Stammheim.
Among the exponents of the new German cinema, above all three authors follow very personal and very significant paths: W. Wenders, RW Fassbinder and W. Herzog. The latter is the director who has fought most against the rules of an evasive or at least consoling cinema: visionary filmmaker par excellence, he has given life to difficult characters, sometimes demonic, in struggle with the society that does not accept them.
Often the protagonists of Herzog’s films are “ different ”: the dwarfs of Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen, the man without memory by Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (The enigma of Kaspar Hauser, 1974), the madman explorer of Fitzcarraldo (1982). Unlike the case of Fassbinder, who died prematurely in 1982, an author who loves melodrama, always aimed at telling stories of carnal and homosexual relationships which, cloaked in a strong sense of kitsch, can be read as an allegorical representation of man’s power over man exercised within love stories: a power that quickly turns into cruelty when history comes into play. Die Ehe der Maria Braun (The marriage of Maria Braun, 1978) and Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss (Veronika Voss, 1982), which feature two women who apparently emerged unscathed from the delirium of war but who, both still victims of the fascination of Nazism and at the same time refusing it, they end up succumbing.
The returning past, the need to continue to analyze oneself is one of the themes that also affects Wenders’s cinema. Although he is the youngest of German filmmakers and therefore apparently the furthest away from the problems linked to the legacy of war, Wenders too, especially in his first films, speaks of a generation in search, yes, of a new identity, but at the same time determined not to forget the dramas of Nazism. Over the years, Wenders’s cinema has taken on ever more poetic tones, turning to investigate the existential loneliness of man and to analyze with particular regard the complex universe of feelings. In this regard, Paris-Texas (1983) and Der Himmel über Berlin (The sky above Berlin, 1987) are indicative. It seemed less significant Until the end of the world (1991).
In the Eighties a second nouvelle vague develops, characterized in most cases by a stronger political commitment, as the films of M. von Trotta, winner in Venice in 1981 with Die Bleierne Zeit (Years of Lead), denote. The film, a reconstruction of the events in Stammheim through the stories of two sisters, one of whom is a terrorist, sensitively blends political commitment and psychological introspection. Other authors of the 1980s include H. Sanders-Brahms, R. van Ackeren, H. Noever, P. Adlon. Also worthy of mention is H.-J. Syberberg, author, among other things, of a film about Hitler that lasts seven hours.
German Democratic Republic
In February 1946, after the end of the world conflict, some documentaries on the reconstruction of Berlin were shot in the nascent German Democratic Republic. The production of fiction, controlled by the DEFA (Deutsche Film Aktien Gesellschaft), was oriented towards films that had as their object the war, showed a destroyed Germany and denounced the evils of Nazism.
Prominent authors of the reconstruction period are W. Staudte, K. Maetzig, E. Engel, and especially S. Dudow, whose most important film, Unser täglich Brot (Our daily bread, 1949), is a bitter testimony to the Germany in ruins. In 1952 the conference of filmmakers convened by the Communist Party emphasized the need to conform to the principles of socialist realism; this reference to forced realism brought about a change of direction in the GDR cinema with respect to the style and themes dealt with up to then, to the detriment of the liveliness and originality that had characterized the previous production. Few authors managed to escape the prevailing academicism; among these Germany Klein, who in Eine Berliner Romanze (1956) and Berlin-Schonhauser (1957) tells stories of everyday life with an evident neorealist imprint, and K. Wolf, who from the end of the Fifties up to the end of the Seventies followed his very personal artistic path aimed at signaling the constant need for an author to operate in absolute freedom.
Thanks also to Wolf’s commitment, the cinema of the GDR from the seventies onwards has experienced a slow but significant renewal, in favor of a disenchanted and at the same time lucidly critical gaze on the present and its problems. The results achieved by works such as Wolf’s Solo Sunny (1979) – a lively portrait of the pop generation – or Die Frau und der Frende (1985) by R. Simon – ex aequo winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival – are in this sense testifies to the progressive abandonment by the filmmakers of the Eighties of the heavy ideological baggage represented by socialist realism.
The reunification, with the associated economic problems, has aggravated the difficulties of German cinema. On the one hand, the Babelsberg studios in East Berlin, for many years the largest production center in the GDR, were in danger of closing, and many directors and technicians found themselves out of work; on the other hand, the cinema that operated in the federal government barely withstood the competition of television. Authors who had characterized the cultural landscape no longer drew creative lymph from society and ideological debate, the market had the upper hand (national films grossed less than 10% of global revenue, compared to 65% of US films), and even the films inspired by the social and psychological discomforts produced by the new political order have failed to interpret the controversial moods of the public.