His trademark shopworn lushness comes through in the ruined buildings and tatty train compartments, amid which Maria Hanna Schygulla preens and pouts in hats and heels and scarlet lipstick.
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When her beloved eventually does return alive and ends up going to prison for her, she continues this vacuous behavior in the name of building a life for them both, only for him to enter into a secret contract with her current lover that will keep them apart even longer. But it also bursts with inventive filmmaking and commentary: on the warped post-war German spirit in which all interaction is merely transaction; on the untrustworthiness of behavior as an indicator of feeling; and on the impossibility of happiness in such an atmosphere of moral disaster.
Set in the wake of Hiroshima, the movie centers on a family court mediator as he comes upon an extremely odd, dramatic case: a family trying to declare their wealthy patriarch mentally incompetent because the elderly doyen harbors deep delusion and paranoia regarding atomic warfare. The father, Kiichi Nakajima the great Toshiro Mifune , has spent millions trying to move their operations to Northern Japan and to build underground shelters, but worse still, Kiichi has a greater obsession: a plan to move the entire family plus his mistresses and all resulting illegitimate children!
This is the post-war era imagined as a post-apocalypse, a doomy place in which the recent past is so inescapable that it reaches through the present to choke the very idea of a future. This is cinema as intoxication, drunk on guilt and passion the film is desperately involved with the folly of doomed love and full of heartbreak for all things the bomb, and the war, killed or maimed.
Here, the post-war era seems so much more crushing for not dealing in life-or-death stakes, but in the tragedy of survival. In a bombed-out, practically post-apocalyptic Berlin, all families struggle to survive. The housing authority forces them to live in the apartment of another, more affluent family that resents their presence. A wrenching tragedy and a chilling reminder of the damage wrought on many subsequent generations by fascism, as agonizing as it is, its tacit compassion for the German people living in the aftermath also makes it an unforgettable work of towering humanism.
Here, though, they are outcasts from the German army, trusted by the Allied occupation forces at least partially because they were so disliked by their German army superiors as to be given the thankless, probable-suicide detail of bomb disposal.
Devastation and Recovery
And they are anything but unified, held loosely together by common interest, but each having very different motivations for taking on such a perilous job. Their natural leader played by Jack Palance , as stoic as an Easter Island Moai throughout is a brilliant bomb expert, but clashes with his suave second-in-command, in both love and war, when they both fall for the same woman.
As often with Aldrich, the film skates close to B-movie status, and is far more impressive in the micro than the macro of its plot: the love story never engages, too many of the supporting characters are undifferentiated cannon-fodder, and the higher stakes of the world outside and the politics are sometimes lost amid the clashing male egos of the troupe. Nevertheless, it did what it set out to do, by which we mean it won Winslet an Oscar and netted the film a Best Picture nomination, despite having precious few insights to share on the collective guilt and shame of the Nazi generation, or the one that followed it.
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Funded in part by the government, who were looking for a film set in Allied-occupied Germany, it sees congresswoman Jean Arthur coming to visit the troops, and enlisting a U. Instead we get a kind of clinical, intellectualized reanimation of the techniques Soderbergh admires, right down to him shooting a great deal of the film on soundstages, and in stately, theatrical, choreographed takes rather than the looser format more modern filmmaking allows.
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