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Retro filled with risk

Berlin Film Festival Preview 2013

This year’s Berlinale Retrospective, the Weimar Touch: The International Influence of Weimar Cinema After 1933 puts a neat spin on things by first looking back and then forward some 20 years, focusing on the films of German-speaking emigrants up into the 1950s.

Post-WWI Weimar Republic Germany (1918-33) was a boom time for creative energy, with the period’s movies exploring popular narrative forms and experimenting stylistically, before all coming to a screeching halt with the Nazi takeover in 1933 that caused more than 2,000 film industry creatives and workers — many Jewish — to emigrate.

Organized in cooperation with the Deutsche Kinemathek film and TV museum and its topper Rainer Rother, Retrospective 2013 presents 33 films in five sections: Rhythm and Laughter (musicals and comedies), Unheimlich — The Dark Side (“Intensely scary crime films concentrating on the dark side of the human psyche and society,” according to Rother), Light and Shadow, Variations and Know Your Enemy (films taking a stand against the Nazi regime).

Rediscoveries include the socially critical comedy “Peter” (Austria/Hungary, 1934) and newly restored Dutch film “Komedie om geld” (1936) by Max Ophuels. The cameraman on the latter, Eugen Schuefftan, later won an Oscar for “The Hustler.”

Other famous film emigres include Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger, Robert Siodmark and Billy Wilder. No Retrospective is complete without Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot” (1959), which brings the subversive humor of Weimar cinema into to America.

Films in the Unheimlich section contributed to shaping of film noir in post-WWII Hollywood — many of the helmers of those classics were German emigres, like Siodmark, who made “Traps” (Pieges, 1939) while exiled in Paris.

The Variations section features remakes of classic Weimar films and films modeled on those of the period, such as Joseph Losey’s 1951 adaptation of Fritz Lang’s 1931 work of the same name, “M,” and Victor Saville’s “First a Girl” (U.K., 1935), based on Reinhold Schuenzel’s “Viktor and Viktoria” (Germany, 1933).

Light and Shadow is less about Expressionism, more about a type of light. F.W. Murnau expressed this language of shadows throughout his work, his lighting famous for allowing gradation that avoids stark contrasts. The Weimar tradition is evident here in his 1927 U.S. silent film “Sunrise — A Song of Two Humans.”

Know Your Enemy includes Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 classic “To Be or Not to Be” and Ludwig Berger’s almost-unknown Dutch 1940 film “Somewhere in the Netherlands,” a melodrama focusing on the threat of a German invasion that actually came to pass in May that year. Michael Curtiz’s immortal “Casablanca” (1942) — with a predominantly European cast — is another highlight.

What won’t be lost on today’s audiences is the irony, says Rother, “that because of their accents, Jewish and other expatriated German actors were confined to very specific roles in those films, mostly as Nazis or German officers.”

Berlin Film Festival Preview 2013
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