Germany Year Zero (1948)

germany year zero poster 1948 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Darker than dark

Heaviness might be too much for some

Movie Info

Movie Name: Germany Year Zero

Studio: Tevere Films

Genre(s): War/Drama

Release Date(s):  July 9, 1948 (Locarno Film Festival)/September 19, 1949 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

germany year zero pedophile teacher erich guhne edmund moeschke

Good thing Edmund has people like Herr Henning around him to take good care of him…without expecting anything in return

The war is over but the battle has just begun for the Köhler family in Allied-occupied war-torn Berlin.  Assigned to housing, young Edmund (Edmund Moeschke), his sister Eva (Ingetraud Hinze), and his bed-ridden father (Ernst Pittschau) fights to survive by scrounging for food and goods to trade and sell.  The Köhlers are also hiding their brother Karl-Heinz (Franz-Otto Krüger) who cannot sign up for work because of his involvement with the Nazi party and is too afraid to turn himself in.  As a result, the burden falls on Edmund and Eva to keep the family going.  When things are at their darkest, Edmund’s search for advice could turn tragic.

Written and directed by Roberto Rossellini (with additional writing by Max Kolpé and Carlo Lizzani), Germany Year Zero (Germania anno zero) is an Italian post-World War II movie.  Following Paisan in 1946 as the end of Rossellini’s unofficial “War Trilogy”, the film was initially met with mixed reviews and criticism from German audiences on the portrayals but since has been considered a classic.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #499) and was released as part of the Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy box set (Criterion #500).

If you are looking for a pick-me-up film, don’t go into Germany Year Zero with any hope (and as a World War II survival film, why would you?).  The film is very, very dark and a stark look at the after effects of war on families, children, and a society.  Due to plot points in the film, a ******spoiler alert****** is in effect for the rest of the review.

germany year zero edmund moeschke kills father poison

Drink up, pops…from me to you.

The movie starts out as expected.  The family is down on their luck and hustling to survive.  The father admits the mistakes of his generation to allow World War II to happen and the former Nazi brother is shown as what he thought was his duty to fight for his country.  The destroyed town has everyone turning on everyone, and characters like pedophile Herr Henning (Erich Gühne) can use the situation to prey on the needy and innocent.  This progresses deeper and deeper until Edmund decides the best thing he can do for his father is to kill him (advice from his former teacher Henning).  When he does he crosses a line he cannot return from and ends up taking his life…the end.  There isn’t a glimmer of hope, and life doesn’t go on for Edmund.

Rossellini’s film is considered neorealism which generally employs non-actors to portray working class people.  Most of the cast with the exception of Ernst Pittschau as the father had little acting experience.  The roles required more emoting than dialogue for most of the cast which worked well for actors like Edmund Moeschke who is very young to be leading a movie…despite having little dialogue, you are able to read his emotions rather easily and can see the dangerous path he’s headed down even if he doesn’t realize it.

germany year zero ending edmund moeschke dead

Yep…that pretty much sums it up

Visually the movie is stunning.  Shot in Berlin, it shows a city on the verge of collapse.  War-torn, the buildings are unsafe and falling down and power and housing is slim.  Kids and adults wander the streets because there is little work that can be done except jobs like burying the dead…it paints a town that can’t rebound because there is no trampoline.

Germany has been gutted, and this movie is the type of movie that guts you.  When you see people living in day to day warzones, I always wonder how they can survive…not because of the horrors around them but because of the lack of facilities and supplies piled on that depression.  Germany Year Zero feels like an earlier example of the horrors of war from the ground instead of a rosy, studio-type film…it is dark and grim, but it also feels like how the horror should be treated.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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