thu 30/05/2024

LFF 2014: Germany, Pale Mother | reviews, news & interviews

LFF 2014: Germany, Pale Mother

LFF 2014: Germany, Pale Mother

A revelatory female perspective on Nazi Germany

Mother love: Lena (Eva Mattes) comforts her child in Nazi Germany

When can Nazi Germany be humanised? Never, many German critics believed on Germany, Pale Mother’s 1980 release, when it was apparently despised for its “subjective” account of one woman and her daughter’s lives in that era and its aftermath.

Director Helma Sanders-Brahms simply ignores the question, pouring her own mother’s experiences into the lust for life of glamorous Lene (Eva Mattes, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s one-time wife), whose proud, ironic smile lets her deal with family friends becoming Nazi bureaucrats, the air raid during her daughter’s birth, and being raped on rubble by US GIs as her child watches. Her smile’s sudden, rictus destruction signals her spirit’s scarred collapse under the weight she’s carried, partly on behalf of the daughter who in reality made this naturally feminist, revelatory epic.

The war, where Lene’s husband has gone, happens off-stage, air raids and ruin apart, and she can’t comprehend him when he returns. The Holocaust, too, is barely mentioned. The horror and cost of the Nazi era are, though, implicit everywhere, from the boarded-up Jewish shop where Lena demands material to the promotion of Nazi friends in the Fifties to fuel Germany’s Economic Miracle, to the Grimm fairy tale Lene recounts to her daughter daily on their odyssey through their country in 1945, of an innocent wife who discovers her husband lives in the “murder-house”.

A neater, more acceptable film would shoehorn in the Gestapo and concentration camps. Sanders-Brahms instead stays true to the forgotten woman’s tale she knows. Four years later, the great German TV series Heimat would be acclaimed for the uncomfortable insight she pioneered: that the people of Nazi Germany were only ever ordinary men and women; human, even as they dehumanised others.

Rediscovered as an archive "treasure" at the LFF, this powerful film deserves to be released again. Now its 1979 making is as long ago as the war was then, we might be ready for it.

Lena's proud, ironic smile lets her deal with the air raid during her daughter’s birth, and being raped on rubble by US GIs


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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