In conjunction with our special exhibition Inventur—Art in Germany, 1943–55, the Harvard Film Archive is screening five complementary German films from the period. The series is curated by Eric Rentschler, the Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and director of graduate studies at Harvard University.
German postwar cinema occupies a liminal sector of film history, sandwiched between Nazi-era productions and the New German Cinema of the 1970s. The signatories of the 1962 Oberhausen Manifesto indicted the light entertainments of the Adenauer era (1949–63), dismissing its escapist comedies, Heimatfilme (“homeland films”), and melodramas as examples of a moribund “Papa’s cinema.” The judgment was dismissive and unfair. Postwar German cinema in fact gave rise to numerous innovative, critical, and formally striking productions. Professor Rentschler’s series revisits a period in film history that until recently has been overlooked, putting on display such buried treasures as Under the Bridges, which was shot on location in Berlin during the last months of the war; the avant-garde Jonas; and Peter Lorre’s single directorial exercise, The Lost One.
About tonight’s film:
Directed by Ottomar Domnick; with Robert Graf, Dieter Eppler, and Elisabeth Bohaty
81 min., b/w, 35 mm; Germany, German with English subtitles
Ottomar Domnick, a neurologist, psychiatrist, and art lover from Stuttgart, independently produced this experimental psychological portrait that has the detached aesthetic of a newsreel. Called a “turning point in the film history of the FRG” by critic Olaf Moller, the film probes the inner and outer world of Jonas, an isolated print shop employee. Upon finding a hat with the initials of a friend from the war, Jonas’s guilt and existential fear spiral into a Kafkaesque, hallucinatory paranoia. As the reasons for his neurotic attachment to the hat gradually surface, he roams around Stuttgart feeling cornered by the architecture of an alienating city, particularly its ominous and omnipresent TV tower. For film scholar Marc Silberman, Jonas provided a breath of fresh air and constituted a singular West German production that “critically addressed the repressive atmosphere of the Fifties.”
The screening will take place at the Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy Street, in Cambridge, just down from the Harvard Art Museums. For more information, please visit the HFA website or call 617-495-4700.