Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Witness Out of Hell / Zeugin aus der Hölle, Zika Mitrović, 1966 (Filme gegen Deutschland 4)

One of the first films from West Germany which centers around a jewish Holocaust survivor. It wasn't made by the emerging New German Cinema, but by CCC, one of the most important mainstream production companies of the time. CCC was headed by Artur Brauner, a german-jewish producer, whose major importance for German postwar cinema is still seldom recognized.

WITNESS OUT OF HELL is part procedural (a reporter and a prosecutor lean on a former concentration camp inmate in order to convict a Nazi war criminal), part trauma cinema (triggered by the investigation, the inmate relives parts of her ordeal). While these two strands work together quite well structurally, there's a certain uneasy mixture in tone on the level of individual scenes; the intimate, emotionally charged memory ordeal of Papas (who is great) is sometimes at odds with the routine genre trappings Brauner can't leave behind. Sometimes, though, the latter act as container for the former: real desperation caught in lean b-movie artificiality.

(There's also bad dubbing, but this comes with the territory in these sixties coproductions.)

Most importantly, neither Papas nor the film ever succumb to sentiment, and thereby WITNESS OUT OF HELL foregoes the phoney sense of catharsis that makes most German cinematic (or literary) Vergangenheitsbewältigung so unbearable. This one just remains bleak until the very end. Which is especially bleak.

WITNESS OUT OF HELL sure isn't a great movie. Still, its very existence puts the New German Cinema to shame, because in some ways, it is much more courageous than anything Kluge or Fassbinder ever did.

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