Sunday, April 13, 2008

Movie of the Month

I recently reviewed the following DVD for Video Librarian, and thought it was worth sharing. Lately, I've been getting into German films that tackle the years just prior to and after the reign of Hitler—I've had enough Nazis to last a lifetime, thanks very much—especially those made during or concerning the GDR era. There are a number of reasons why, but the main one is this: They tend to take on privacy and free speech rights. These issues are never going to go away, making the best of these films universally relevant.
The Rabbit Is Me, i.e. I Am the Rabbit, is a great place to start.
Also, I don't mention this in my review, but the film offers a female
character who manages to find her voice within the midst of an
incredibly repressive environment. She's a feminist for the ages.


With its nouvelle vague-like cinematography and clear-
eyed narration, The Rabbit Is Me dresses its political mes-
sage in the garb of melodrama. Based on the banned novel by Manfred Bieler and set in 1961-62, Kurt Maetzig's “decadent
and nihilistic” film was also banned in the German Democrat-
ic Republic (GDR) and remained unreleased until 1990.

Maetzig's heroine, the East Berlin-based
Maria Morzeck (Angelika Waller), studies
by day and waitresses by night. Raised by
her Aunt Hete (Ilse Voigt), Maria plans to
become a Russian translator. After her
brother, Dieter (Wolfgang Winkler), ends
up in jail for "subversive activities," the
19-year-old meets a middle-aged man for
whom she feels an attraction (the scene in
which he flirts while munching on a brat-
wurst is particularly amusing). As she
tells him, "I believe loving someone is the essence of living.”

Unfortunately, Paul Deister (Alfred Müller) is the judge who
put Dieter away, and while he isn’t an SS officer like Black Book's
Sebastian Koch, his entrance into Maria's life anticipates Paul
Verhoeven's Dutch adventure (in which Carice von Houten's
Jewish entertainer pulls one over on the Nazis). Similarly, Mar-
ia yields to Deister's advances to speed the wheels of justice,
but her heart gets in the way. Throughout, Maetzig withholds
judgment. Maria, after all, was having premarital relations
before Deister came along—and his wife is no dummy either.

The extensive extras in-
clude biographies and
filmographies, a 1999
interview with the un-
repentant Maetzig, a
1993 interview with for-
mer GDR Minister of Cul-
ture Hans Bentzien (1961-
66), an informative made-
for-TV documentary on "The Rabbit Films" (
DEFA-Film and the 11th General Assembly
), an essay
on the era, and a photo gallery. The Rabbit Is Me is
highly recommended, especially for fans of the more re-
cent GDR-related scenarios depicted in Goodbye, Lenin!
and the
Oscar-winning Lives of Others. (K. Fennessy)

[Slightly edited from the original text.]

Endnote: Though set during WWII, Sophie Scholl: The Final
is another great German picture with a strong female prot-
agonist. The movie received an Oscar nomination (losing to South
Africa's Tsotsi), but failed to attract the attention it deserved in
the US, possibly because it was deemed a bummer (the swasti-
kas slapped all over the marketing materials can't have helped).

Not only is it superior to The Counterfeiters, which won this
year's foreign-film Academy Award, but it's more relevant to
today, especially for cartoonists in Denmark, authors in China,
or filmmakers in Thailand, i.e. anywhere in which criticism of
one's government can lead to harrassment, censure, or even
murder—state-sanctioned or otherwise. Images from
, Chronik des Deutschen Films, and Verbotene Filme.

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