Monday, March 14, 2016

Forbidden Films (orig. Verbotene Filme) [2014]

MPAA (UR)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing

Jerusalem Post [H. Brown] review
Critic.de [M. Lahde] review*
EPD-film.de [R. Worschech] review*
FilmGazette.de [D. Kuhlbrodt] review*

NPR.org (M. Jenkins) review
NY Times (N.Rapold) review
Slant Magazine (O. Ivanov) review
The Hollywood Reporter (F. Scheck) review
The New Yorker (R. Brody) review


Forbidden Films (orig. Verbotene Filme) [2014] (written and directed by Felix Moeller) is a quite thought / discussion provoking GERMAN DOCUMENTARY about the 40 Nazi era films that are banned to this day from normal public viewing in Germany (of 1200 made during the Nazi era and 300 of which were banned initially by the Allies after the War).  The film played recently at the 19th (2016) Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.

At issue were films that were openly anti-Semitic, anti-Polish, anti-British, pro-Euthanasia and so forth.  The concern has been that these films could confuse an un(der)educated populace into believing the flagrant propaganda present in them.  And at least one example of this was given where a contemporary German viewer after the screening (for this film) of the German Nazi-Era wartime movie The Homecoming (orig. Heimkehr) [1941] dramatizing the purported discrimination suffered by ethnic Germans in Poland before the War left the film declaring that "Germany was right to invade Poland" (the immediate action which started WW II ...).

Sigh ... but that was _not_ a particularly common response.  Indeed, Israeli audiences of viciously  anti-Semitic films (among those 40 Nazi Era films banned in Germany) like Jud Süß [1940] and The Eternal Jew (orig. Der Ewige Jude) [1940] found the films _laughable_ and at least one audience member suggested that they should be made _required viewing_ for Israeli school-children so that they would better understand what both the Holocaust and the post-War founding of the modern state of Israel were about.

The documentary also noted that many of the films initially banned by the Allies after the War were subsequently "denazified' by literally "painting over" / "cutting out" the overt scenes with Swastikas or with Adolf Hitler, etc.  However, as Felix Moeller, the director of the documentary, appeared to be something of a "purist," this alternative was portrayed as violating or even "butchering" the integrity of the original films.


I came to this film with perspective of someone of Czech descent, hence from a family which knew well both 6 years of Nazi occupation and 41 years of subsequent Communist domination and I would insist that many of the same questions / issues raised in the current film could be raised with regards to films made in the Soviet Union during the Soviet Era (70+ years - 1918-1991) and in the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War (40+ years - 1945 or so - 1989).

Indeed, deciding what to do with films made during various epochs during those Communist years have _not_ been "idle questions" for _any_ of the countries / successor countries involved:

Following Stalin's death, during the de-Stalinization period in the Soviet bloc, classic (often still propaganda) films had Stalin erased from them in various ways.

And many of the Communist Era films are also _laughable_ today.  Cossacks of the Kuban (orig. Kubanskie kazaki) [1950] is a particularly appalling "inversion of reality" Soviet Era propaganda film, especially since the Kuban Cossacks were absolutely _decimated_ by Stalin's forced collectivization campaign in the 1920s and then most of the remaining ones were wiped-out for collaborating (for tragic if _obvious_ reasons) with the Nazis during the Caucasus / Stalingrad campaign in 1942.  Stalin's regime could have left the dead Cossacks be, accused as they had been of being (1) Supporters of the Czar, then (2) Counter Revolutionaries, then (3) Kulaks ("rich" land owners) and finally (4) Collaborators with the Nazis.  Instead, perversely after killing the vast, vast majority of them, Stalin's regime still "found the need" to show them _smiling_ "happily working" on the collective farms of their home/traditional region.

But even less appalling Communist Era films suffered from obvious ideological constraints.  And pretty much _anyone_ from the former Soviet bloc could _almost effortlessly_ (with the "back of one's hand") point-out the ideology that lurked within and limited _every single film_ that was made in those countries during those years.  (And analogously one could similarly identify the obvious ideological limits present in Iranian cinema today).

What's perhaps interesting in the context of the current film about the Nazi Era films still banned in Germany today, is that almost all of the post-Communist states have chosen to let the films from their Communist pasts remain available ... if _perhaps_ still "De-Stalinized."

Why?  Obviously for various reasons, some not particularly good -- It's more or less obvious, for example, that Vladimir Putin is seeking to run Russia today in a manner of "Stalin light," hence his regime does not find his nation's Communist and even Stalinist legacies particularly embarrassing.  Imagining the rise of a similar situation in Germany _could_ concern viewers of the current film here.

However, (1) MOST OF THE POST-COMMUNIST STATES of the former Soviet bloc, _don't_ feel particularly threatened by the Communist past as the films of that time are obviously dated (as are all films of the past) and the ideological constraints present are _pretty much obvious_ to all viewers from those countries; and (2) as was brought out in Mueller's film here about the Nazi Era films but EVEN MORE TRUE IN THE CASE OF THE COMMUNIST ERA CINEMAS OF THE FORMER SOVIET BLOC COUNTRIES, _it's really hard to talk about the artists, film-makers, actors of the time_ WITHOUT reference to their films.

The Nazi Era thankfully lasted for "only 12 years."  In contrast, the Communist Era in Soviet Russa lasted for 70+ years and in the rest of the Soviet Bloc for 40+ years, hence FOR GENERATIONS.  Indeed, it'd be IMPOSSIBLE for a Russian viewer TO WATCH ANYTHING RUSSIAN without WATCHING AT LEAST SOME SOVIET-ERA FILMS.  After all, THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE MADE IN RUSSIA for _most_ of the history of cinema.

And as is always the case, DESPITE IDEOLOGY, a fair number of films made under ANY CONTEXT / REGIME are GOING TO BE GOOD, POPULAR AND MEMORABLE and FOR GOOD REASON ... they would be high quality products made by talented professionals. 

So how then to end here?  I'd say that director Mueller makes a quite compelling case here to at least DISCUSS the virtue / value of releasing (in Germany, they're already available elsewhere anyway) these 40 Nazi Era films which have been banned there to this day.

And I would tend to support releasing them if _perhaps_ with a simple label -- NAZI (to allow potential viewers to immediately understand that they were made during the Nazi Era).  I think that would MORE THAN ENOUGH for most people, even in Germany (discussed in this film), to immediately put these films in context.

And I agree with that Israeli viewer -- one need only to let every schoolchild in Israel to see a few of those films and one would never ever have to fear them again.  THEY themselves (informed by their parents / grandparents) would be more than capable to both soberly and devastatingly refute any ideology present within them.

As for the lunatic fringe?  There will always be loonies who'll tattoo swastikas to their foreheads, for any number of reasons, no matter what the rest of us do.  But we don't have to compromise our values (or fear the value of our Truth) on account of them.

Fascinating / thought provoking film!


< NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>

No comments:

Post a Comment