|Edmund Meschke plays Edmund Koehler in Germany Year Zero directed by Roberto Rossellini|
Germany Year Zero (1948)
d. Roberto Rossellini
Criterion Collection #499
Part of the Roberto Rossellini War Trilogy Box Set, which is Criterion Collection #500
Watching the canon of films grouped under the "Italian Neo Realism" banner requires a grim kind of intellectual fortitude. First of all, the films themselves are bleak as hell- as one might well expect from a aesthetic movement that blossomed among the ruins of World War II Western Europe. The Roberto Rossellini war trilogy contains three titles, Rome Open City (1945), Paisan (1946) and Germany Year Zero. When I watched Rome Open city last fall, I was more focused on the way the film "invented" Italian Neo Realism, with Germany Year Zero I was more focused on the story inside the movie, which concerns the plight of every day Berliners in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of Germany after World War II.
The focus of the narrative is the young Edmund Koehler, who is supposed to be 13 but looks about 8. He is desperately trying to help his sickly father survive under impossible conditions. The conditions are made worse by his older brother Karl-Heinz, a former soldier who refuses to emerge from hiding despite assurance that he has 'nothing to feat.' Koehler tries to help by variously selling goods on the black market (a scale, a phonograph of one of Hitler's speeches) and stealing potatoes with a gang of slightly older boys and one parent-less young girl. His only support is provided by his "old Teacher" who is also very much a Nazi and likely a pedophile to boot (though the pedophilia is only hinted at through the caressing touch of the teacher to young Edmund and another boy.)
The dark ending of Germany Year Zero (a murder suicide scenario between the boy and his sickly father) leaves you gasping for breath. It's a strong ending from a genre not known for such conventional melodramatic, and perhaps that's why I like Germany Year Zero more than other early Italian Neo Realism films.