Movie review: Germany Year Zero (1948)

Be prepared to be disturbed. The post-war view of Europe that this film depicts is not the mythologized view of Europe after the Allied victory that we typically have been exposed to in the US. War is hell and the aftermath in Europe was at least that bad.

I learned of this film in a recent NPR interview with the author of the Savage Continent, a book on the actual plight of Europe after the end of the war. On the starvation. On the exploitation of the weak. On the prostitution and rape of women. The belief that all spoils—including the women in any society—go to the victor, or at least those in power, who are usually men, is universal even in the modern age.

Germany Year Zero is shot against the backdrop of post-war Germany. Post-bombing. Post-destruction. Scene after scene shows the devastation of a bombed out city. Of people struggling to survive. Multiple families living in any partially standing dwelling. Kids roaming the streets on the make for a buck. Or a few potatoes. The director Roberto Rossellini invites us into the lives of five families living together, not congenially. We see death. Ill health. Struggle for food. Trying to find work. Hiding from the authorities due an army past.

To see a glimpse into a difference view of what things were like in Europe after the war was eye-opening. It tore away some of the mythology that surrounds the war. We are pretty insulated in the US. And with the passage of time, even more so.

I couldn’t help but realize that the boy in the film was around the same age as my parents when the movie was made. And that save for immigration to the US generations before, they could easily have been that boy or a girl portrayed in the film, and faced the same situation in post-war Europe.


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