Helma Sanders-Brahms 1980 movie Germany, Pale Mother remains an international success today and is now regarded one of the classics of German cinema. It is a realistic study of the German people seen through the eyes of a typical family within a timespan that runs from just before WW2, through the hardships of war and Germanys defeat and then right up until the 1950’s.
Because of its time frame this is no ordinary love story. Hans and Lene are two very average politically uninterested young Germans who fall in love and marry. Shortly after their honeymoon Hans is called up and as WW2 begins is sent to Poland leaving Lene pregnant and at home to raise her newborn daughter Anne. As the war continues circumstances change drastically as the bombings get worse and she decides to leave Berlin. Carrying the child on her shoulders she makes her way through the snow covered woods barely surviving the hardships, lack of food and a violent rape - but she does learn the hard lesson of how to stay alive. When Hans returns after the war Lene’s newfound independence is curtailed and she now has to revert back to the traditional role of housewife and mother. The reconstruction of Germany runs parallel to the destruction of her small family unit as Lene becomes despondent, ill and worn out.
The two main stars are Eva Mattes who plays Lene and Ernst Jacobi as her husband Hans, Mattes appeared in four Rainer Werner Fassbinder movies between 1972 and 1978 but is probable best known in modern Germany for her role in the long running TV police procedural Tatort.
I have read reviews that accuse the movie of being overlong, boring and depressing, I could not disagree more. The film mixes archive newsreel footage with art house realism and is based on the directors own childhood, the lives of her parents and her upbringing in the 1950’s.The film did however raise controversy on its release, it was not released in the USA until 1984, because of its handling of Germany’s recent past and raised the unwelcome question of who should bear responsibility for the Nazi regime. The movie I believe states quite clearly that even people who were not involved in voting for Hitler and the Nazi’s, like Sanders-Brahms parents, still bore the responsibility of the atrocities that occurred because they neither protested or resisted. A thought provoking movie on shared responsibility and the beginnings of feminism in the modern era.