Today, as the final entry for German Week, DV serves you Die Mörder Sind Unter Uns. It was either that, or one of a handful of other classics I could think of. Lotte Reiniger’s animation classic Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed is one I’ll save for a later day, Gert Fröbe (you know, Goldfinger) was also a good choice – preferrably Es geschah am hellichten Tag, a German classic which was later remade as The Pledge (starring Jack Nicholson). As is so often the case, the remake couldn’t stand up to the original.
All good choices, but Die Mörder sind unter uns (literally “The Murderers are among us”) has a little extra, not in the least its readily availability on DVD (it’s out on Region 2 as well as Region 1). It also tackles post-war Germany, something we haven’t mentioned in this week’s reviews – apart from a brief mention with Goodbye, Lenin (in which a mother from Eastern Germany wakes up after several years of coma and can’t be exposed to severe shocks, which may be somewhat difficult given that the Berlin Wall has been demolished).Die Mörder sind unter uns is also tied with history, the film was made in 1946 and is officially the first post-war movie. In the background of the action, you can actually see the city of Berlin in ruins. Die Mörder sind under uns lives on a rare edge between reality and fiction.
The film begins in 1945, just after the war. The first image we see is that of a destroyed street. People wander around, aimlessly. Among them a drunk man (Ernst Wilhelm Borchert), despised by his neighbours. A little later a young woman enters the shop downstairs, it is Susanne Wallner (Hildegard Knef), just returned from a concentration camp. She’s ready to return to her old apartment, but not only is it in awful shape after the bombings, it’s also inhabited by the drunk man. He is quite hostile towards her and accuses her of being one of the many who fled the cities during wartime. She doesn’t tell the truth, which only tightens the scene. It also reveals the leitmotiv of the film: guilt. Guilt because of what happened and anger towards those who did awful things during the war and acted as if it never happened. As one Posterman says during the film: “The war is over, things are different now.” Die Mörder sind unter uns is an accusation against those people, as the German dvd obviously declares: as you enter the dvd menu, you’ll hear a voice scream out: “But I’m innocent!”
The drunk man appears to be surgeon Mertens, so disgusted by what has happened during the war he lost the ability to do his job. The screaming patients remind him of the screams of war victims, especially the occasion where several Polish men, women and children were executed on Christmas Day because of an uproar by some men. Mertens pleaded with his superior not to execute the women and children, but to no avail. If it hadn’t been for the festive day, he might’ve even been punished for this weak behaviour. Not much later, the German soldiers are celebrating Christmas under a decorated tree, while dozens of bodies lie outside.
Susanne Wallner succeeds step by step in getting Mertens’s life back on the rails, but the surgeon doesn’t tell what has happened. But when Mertens bumps into his former superior, he’s disgusted by how that man is enjoying his wealth, hardly aware of the many people who have to live in a ruined city. Mertens swears he’ll have revenge on the ‘murderer’, the question is whether Susanne will be in time to stop him…
Die Mörder sind unter uns is the easiest film to watch and I’m not talking about the slow pace the film sometimes has. But the guilt and the ruins weigh heavily on the fllm and doesn’t make it the most enjoyable movie out there. Still, you’ll be glad to have watched it after 81 minutes. Stylistically, it benefits from Germany’s many pre-war classics: there’s still an expressionist feel to some of the film (especially in the scene where Mertens confronts his former superior – as you can see on the poster at the top of this article), but it’s mixed with the neo-realism that became popular just after the war.
The extras on the German disc offer a couple of newsreel clips, the first about the meeting where the American and Russian allies allow film company DEFA to produce their first post-war films. Sadly the German disc doesn’t have any subtitles, so if you don’t understand German and would like to see Wolfgang Staudte’s film, I’ll have to refer you to the Region 1 disc. If you’d like to see a side of the war’s aftermath you rarely get a chance to see, this film should be high on your list.
I’ll give this one 8 out of 10, which is better than I’d originally rated the film. I would’ve left you with a trailer, but couldn’t find it. Instead, the first sequence of the film is available on YouTube, so here’s that instead…
And that is it for German week… “The End” or, as they say in Germany, “Ende”. Yes, all things have to come to an end once. Apart from sausages, they end twice. Or as Stephan Remmler (the former singer of Trio) used to sing in 1987: “Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.”