germany year zero (roberto rossellini, 1948)

Another movie for "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." Week 30 is called "Martin Scorsese Week".

One of America's most well known and celebrated film makers, Martin Scorsese made a name for himself with landmark films of the New America film wave, such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and continues to inspire through his films today. Here, we have a list of films that Scorsese considers imperative to watch for anyone learning the art form.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from Martin Scorsese's Film School.

Germany Year Zero is the third film in an unofficial trilogy from Rossellini (following Rome, Open City and Paisan). The Germany of this film is a post-war disaster area, with bombed-out buildings and people desperate for basics like food and water. There is a neo-realist feel to much of the film, as is to be expected, but Rossellini also gives us sequences that are almost flights of fantasy in comparison to what the genre usually offers. The scenes showing the blasted lives of Germans after the war are indeed realistic. The women prostitute themselves for money, while the men and children work the black market. In one scene, a horse lies dead in the street, surrounded by people cutting it open and stealing the meat. Many of the ex-Nazis hide their previous lives, but among themselves they feel a bit more free to remember.

A young boy, Edmund, tries to do well for his family, selling things, stealing potatoes, whatever it takes, but his efforts are not enough for the family, which includes a sick father and two older siblings. They only have three ration cards because the older brother, a committed Nazi who fought to the end, is afraid to turn himself in for his own card. The boy watches all of this, and is clearly suffering from the reality of their lives. He meets up with an old school teacher who makes sexual advances and gives Edmund tasks, from which the boy gets a pittance to take home.

Germany Year Zero is dark and oppressive. Edmund comes up with a plan to kill his father so there will be one less mouth to feed. He listens to his old Nazi teacher talk about survival of the fittest, while his father says he wishes he were dead. When Edmund poisons his father, he thinks he is doing a good thing. Such is the world of Germany Year Zero that we understand what leads Edmund to his actions, even as we condemn him for what he has done.

The final segment of the film has Edmund wandering the streets of Berlin. He sees nothing to make him think the world is or ever will be a good place, and makes a decision that is emphatically final.

One imagines Buñuel using surrealism to show us this world, but Rossellini treats it, not as surreal, but as all too real. With hindsight, we know that Germany recovered, but in 1948, Rossellini saw only destruction and despair. #232 on the They Shoot Pictures Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.