Germania anno zero (Rossellini, 1948)

Rossellini completes his “War Trilogy” with the story of Edmund, a young German boy who navigates bombed out Post War Berlin to find food, shelter, and money for his ailing family. Rossellini’s on location photography frames this personal nightmare with haunting precision, making Edmund, his ex-nazi brother in hiding, sickly father, and older sister, a collective of past trauma’s with little hope for the future. Germania anno zero (Germany Year Zero) focuses on the everyday struggle for survival, but also the deceptive and manipulative qualities people use when faced with such situations. Edmund is countlessly betrayed, whisked away, and forced out because he’s a child, never taken seriously as a bread winner even when his own brother sits impotent, unable to provide with fear of getting arrested for past crimes. Where Paisan looked to explore the vast ramifications of WWII, Germania anno zero brings the conflict of war torn environments back to a personal reckoning where Open City began it in Italy. But Rossellini does this in Berlin of all places, humanizing the common German people instead of vilifying them for their past actions (or inactions in the case of Edmund’s dying father). Still, it’s a film about succumbing to the pressures of chaos, and Edmund’s final decision marks a distinctly pessimistic stance on the whole affair, one primed with deceit, regret, and finally death. In the neo-realist tradition, Germania anno zero doesn’t pull any punches in examining the horrors of post war life.

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