Notebook is the North American home for Locarno Film Festival Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian's blog. Chatrian has been writing thoughtful blog entries in Italian on Locarno's website since he took over as Director in late 2012, and now you can find the English translations here on the
Notebook as they're published. The Locarno Film Festival will be taking place August 3 - 13.
In line with a long established dramaturgical mechanism, film criticism has shaped a history of cinema conceived in terms of discontinuity, one of dark ages followed or preceded by golden eras. Yet the habitual emphasis on the winds of change blowing in with the“nouvelles vagues,” although correct, has often ended up obscuring the cinema that came directly before it, charged with provincialism, not being very creative, and dominated by the requirements of the market.
The “independent cinema = auteur cinema” equation may seem as natural as it is obvious but, like any uncritically accepted assumption, it is fraught with pitfalls, not least that of sidelining individual films. However it is not so much an interrogation of the concept of the “auteur” that interests us here, but more a consideration of film practice, an activity that involves a group of people and audiences, embodying wishes and wants, fashioning what will become a collective imagination, establishing an ongoing dialogue in that process of developing a collective identity. From this perspective, post-WW2 German cinema has a truly fascinating story to tell us. Emerging shattered from the war, having become a territory to control, and divided in two, Germany had to rebuild itself from the ashes. As is often the case, a nation’s film production holds up a mirror to the country. In 1946, 5 films were produced; seven years later the figure would rise to 103. But what the figures do not tell us about is the outpouring of a national cinema able to straddle the most diverse genres, making the most of that lingua franca which, at the turn of the century, had made cities like Vienna and Berlin such driving forces in cultural production. In the period under consideration, West Germany, perhaps much more than its eastern counterpart, became a laboratory for a potential European industry that did not reject the American model but sought to adapt it to the needs of a country in the process of reconstruction. Hence our choice of mapping out German cinema during the years of the Adenauer administration (1949/1963), named after the chancellor of state who steered the country’s reconstruction with such a firm hand.
And—with only a few exceptions—that era’s cinema is nowadays largely unknown, even to Germans themselves. Yet it was in those very years that film production played an important role in consolidating national unity and shaping a number of highly influential figures. That pejorative expression “Papas Kino,” with which New German Cinema dismissed the era’s production, turns out to encompass a much more complex and diverse reality. One has only to see a film like Am tag als der Regen kam (1959, The Day It Rained), an unusual “Trümmer film,” to realize how those considered such bad “father figures,” needing to be repudiated, were actually, and dramatically, raising issues about the country that was being passed on to the younger generation. 1950s German cinema, whether one considers comedies or films noir, musicals or dramas, not only reveals the existence of a robust industry, able to produce stories for an audience that was finding itself, but also having an unusual taste for mixing up the high and the low brow, managing to introduce ways of reflecting on national identity even in what might appear to be purely entertainment films. While the political regime might have looked mainly to the West, the cinema of those years seems to be more nuanced, capable of accommodating filmmakers from the East and dealing with the difficult relationship with the “other” Germany, and the legacy of the war. With this trend for genre filmmaking offering a safe framework for stories that took their inspiration from highly disparate sources, West German cinema managed to find its own way to emancipate itself from American economic domination. This is another reason that we, along with the retrospective’s curators, decided to include a number of films produced in East Germany but shot or set in the West. For example, Der Hauptmann von Köln (1956)—whose director Slatan Dudow, known for Kuhle Wampe (1932), which Brecht considered the most faithful to his theories of film—demonstrates a unique lucidity in its look at West Germany’s trajectory of reconstruction and its continuity with the Nazi past; putting it alongside a hit film such as Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika (1958) will bring out unsuspected affinities, e.g. in their critique of a money-oriented society.
Alongside film history’s established and often cited names, such as Helmut Käutner and Wolfgang Staudte (who made one of the most unusual films of the post-war period, Die Mörder sind unter uns, 1946), the retrospective aims to enable discovery of others, just as important, who shaped the era’s cinema. Thanks to the long and painstaking research project undertaken by Olaf Möller, alongside Roberto Turigliatto, with his habitual rigor and expertise, the retrospective will offer an overview ranging from commercial films to auteurs’ debuts, and is rounded out with a wealth of short films. The basic idea is to suggest this decade as a pivotal period, a kind of point of convergence for diverse practices and experiences. Alongside the models cited above, the Federal Republic of Germany also saw the return of some of the great masters, such as Fritz Lang, Max Ophüls, Robert Siodmak and Georg W. Pabst, debuts by filmmakers who would go on to mark the cinema to come, such as Edgar Reitz and Jean-Marie Straub, the realization of a cinematic unicum, Peter Lorre’s Der Verlorene, to which we shall return, and auteurs committed to the so called rebirth of European cinema, such as the Italians Rossellini and De Sica, who came to make films there. Even though at this moment the program is still a work in progress, and does not aspire to undertake the impossible, in terms of being exhaustive, just as with the Titanus project, we believe that the task of this retrospective is to open a door, map out a territory which we are sure will reveal much still to be discovered. In this we are encouraged by the large number of international institutions which, right from the start, declared themselves interested in taking on, or rather, completing the program, signaling a real interest in a cinema that is so close—culturally and linguistically—and yet so distant, in terms of accessibility and awareness.