October 27, 2009

under the bridges (1945)

"Unter den Brücken is actually my favorite film. Anyone who sees it today would not be able to understand that at the time, when there was no future any more and Germany's final collapse was a question of days, it was possible to film such a simple, almost idyllic story.... When I really think about it, what we did arose from the film makers' stubbornness to allow any of the horror which surrounded us to seep into our work." -Helmut Käutner, director


Under the Bridges is available on an R2 DVD by FilmMuseum.

I found the Käutner quote in Silberman's German Cinema: Texts in Context, in a note to Ch.6 (about Käutner's
Romance in a Minor Key). It comes from an interview Käutner did with a certain Henning Harmssen, though I can't find the text of this interview on the web. Please tell me if you know where to find the full interview (in English).

For more on Käutner, see: Who is Helmut Käutner? review, Film Reference, Film Among the Ruins. For a review of
Under the Bridges, see Shooting Down Pictures.

Although there seems to be academic interest in Third Reich films, there isn't much critical interest. The reasons are clear, but perhaps mistaken. We politicize and other Nazi Germany, and it might be difficult to approach these films in any other way; but the skill I witnessed here warrants investigation. What fascinates me most, illustrated by the director's quote above, is the desperate affirmation of life in a time of death -- and this perhaps is what draws me to escapism, that wonderfully dark void beneath the naive charm. With simplicity and beauty, terror; one crosses to death not with tears but with song. Am I alone in this affinity?


Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

His self-assessment was right; it's his best film. I don't think it's escapism, though -- Käutner isn't escaping from life, he's escaping into it.

Ian said...

Well said -- a comment on escapism I am wont to agree with (even if others aren't). Thanks for it.

Can you give any other Käutner recommendations? I enjoyed this film a lot and am interested in seeing more. Apparently critical agreement is that this and Romance in a Minor Key are his best films, and that after the war his work declined. What can I expect of other Käutner films?

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

You should expect greatness -- 'cause when you look for it, you'll find it in even a weak Käutner. As for recommendations: Great Freedom No. 7 (from 1944), which I think was his first film in color (when he used it, it was unlike anybody else's color), and Auf Wiedersehn, Franziska! (from 1941), are personal favorites. His post-war films are of course also worth seeking out: Sky Without Stars, Ludwig II (see comment in previous sentence regarding color -- you'd have to wait a few decades until Lynch and Mann to find someone who could get so much out of shades of blue) and Captain from Kopenick are great.