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Joseph H. Lewis
"Niemansland" (No Man's Land) is one of several early talkies produced in the last years of Weimar Germany that the Nazis targetted for total elimination. As with "Kongress Tanzt", and "Dreigroschenoper", not all copies were destroyed. Long thought lost, a print of Niemansland surfaced in the United States and was restored by film archivist Maurice Zouary in 1969. It has now been distributed on VHS by Inkwell Images, Inc.
This film makes a simple human statement against war through brief parallel personal histories of five men, who encounter each other at the nexus of life and death. The culminating scenes are those at the battlefront in World War One. The sympathetic portrayal of a Russian Jew, and the depiction of a rather cosmopolitan and resourceful black man, especially infuriated the brownshirts, perhaps as much as the basic message that war was (and is) the supreme enemy of all.
"Niemansland" must be appreciated as an artifact of its time (1931). The silent era lends much to the acting and pacing, where exaggerated gestures and, frankly, stereotypes of various kinds, bridge the gaps due to the lack of sound. Perhaps this is understandable, since the film is multilingual (the first such of very few in film history), although English is predominant. There is an obvious influence of the silent Eisenstein and his gospel of montage. The musical score by the famous communist composer Hanns Eisler (who first fled Hitler to Hollywood, then fled Joe McCarthy to East Germany, there composing the GDR national anthem) is a fine finishing touch, and actually has been available on LPs and CDs for many years. And Ernst Busch, who was the streetsinger in "Dreigroschenoper" (Three Penny Opera), made the same year, plays the German soldier. Although the German Left was involved in the film's production, the message is pure and simple; there is not a trace of dogmatic sectarianism.
"Niemansland" would make good viewing today for those who are troubled (or should be) by the possibility of yet another war.
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