Germany Pale Mother (15) | Home Ents Review
Dir. Helma Sanders-Brahms, West Germany, 1980, 146 mins, in German with subtitles
Cast: Eva Mattes, Ernst Jacobi, Elisabeth Stepanek
Set during the Third Reich and its aftermath, the film explores the devastating impact of war on family and relationships. It’s released for the first time in the UK by the BFI on Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray edition exclusively contains a shorter theatrical cut.
Hans (Jacobi) and Lene (Mattes) scarcely have time to meet and marry before Hans is sent away to fight, leaving Lene to give birth alone and struggle through the war with a newborn baby daughter.
On release, the film was savaged by German critics for its symbolic aspects and sentimentalism – it is hard with hindsight to see what they were bitching about. At some level, Lene is represented as a symbol of the German nation but no more so that Maria Braun in Fassbinder’s contemporaneous film.
It’s hard to see why the personal-historical aspect was problematic back then – the film’s personal take on history now looks bravely female-focused and feminist.
There are a couple of moments that appear jarringly gauche, including Lene’s labour scene which is intercut with documentary footage of aerial bombardment. Then again, like the rest of the first third of the film, this scene is a Tristram Shandy like fantasy on the daughter’s part of what her parents’ lives were like before she was born.
There is a striking, prolonged fairytale narration as mother and child trudge around the German countryside and the film is in general very good at presenting domestic relationships made claustrophobic by the influence of unseen, larger historical events.
Germany Pale Mother was heavily truncated for its limited cinema release. Now the BFI presents the film restored to its original length for the first time.
The extras include an interesting documentary, Hermann mein Vater (Helma Sanders-Brahms, 1987, 57 mins), a fascinating companion piece in which Sanders-Brahms accompanies her father to Normandy, where he was posted with occupying German forces in 1940-41
Review by Colin Dibben
Germany Pale Mother is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 25 May 2015.