DAS ANDERE LEBEN by Rudolf Steinboeck, which can be translated as ANOTHER LIFE or A DIFFERENT LIFE is one of the two films made by the crew and cast of the Viennese Theater of Josefsstadt (something we could call 'an independent production' these days). The story is based upon the novel by Alexander Lernet-Holenia. Interestingly, it has not lost any of its vigor or message and still appears to work perfectly as a post-WWII social insight and, more powerfully, the judgment of the time.
It is July 1944. Different characters seem to echo the tormented choices that the generation faced at the time. The judgment, therefore, is not directed towards people from the start but towards the political and social situation. Who attracts our attention most are two women: Elisabeth Josselin (Aglaja Schmid), a wife of Austrian officer Walter Josselin (Robert Lindner) and Suzette Alberti (Vilma Degischer), a Jew, the daughter of Dr Heinrish Israel Joel (Hans Ziegler). Life looks quite promising for both of them until Suzette widows. Then, the horror of the Nazi horror steps into her flat and forces her to flee (the scene of her escape is one of the most powerful moments of the film). The arts of survival becomes a struggle unendurable for the gentle minded, kind woman who finds too few friends in the tough reality. Soon, it is Elisabeth who will be bound to "become" Suzette...
Apart from a mainstay theme of a woman within the man-dominant society (Walter, Elisabeth's husband manifests the 'duy above all' approach at least at the beginning of the story), the story is very daring (for the time) to work as an insight and the judgment of the times when Jews were persecuted solely because they were Jews. The character of Suzzette, brilliantly played by Vilma Degischer (a word about the actress later) is the manifestation and embodiment of victims of discrimination and appalling reality that spread around the country in the 1930s and 1940s. "Can you make friends with a Jew?" asks Walter his wife Elisabeth at one moment. Although her father is a well renowned doctor, his reputation is discarded once people find out he is a Jew. Yet, there were also people ready to help and Elisabeth embodies that attitude and, in the classical maxim, help she gives, help she will receive...
A distinguished Josefsstadt Theater actress, probably most famous worldwide as Erzherzigin Sophie in SISSI Trilogy, Vilma Degischer, delivers a performance that may hardly remain unnoticed. She places much charm and vitality as well as emotions and feelings to her character and creates an unbelievable rapport with the viewers. A performance that has totally stood a test of time! This cannot be said about Aglaja Schmid who builds more upon her female appeal and gives a performance that may lead to ambiguous opinions. Nevertheless, some of her scenes still prove her talent which works rather on stage than on screen.
The male characters are clear and predictable from a social standpoint but intriguingly (for the time) sophisticated and ambiguous from personal standpoints. These are also two: the aforementioned Walter, Elisabeth's husband who does anything for the duty to his country but, yet, changes in time and discovers the reality so corrupted, the other is Bukowsky (played by the actor famous for some films of the time, including the ones with Zarah Leander, Siegfried Breuer), a calm, illusive, charming personality who has his goals and means to achieve them. There is a bit of mystery about his character and a bit of illusion which corresponds to the atmospheric backdrop to the entire story. Among the supporting cast, much credit to Hans Ziegler as Dr Joel (the actor also played Dr Seeburger in SISSI).
Yes, the whole atmosphere of the entire film may remind you of something like G.W. Pabst's style in DER PROZESS or F.W. Murnau's TABU. So to say, most of the scenes are heavily influenced by the German Expressionism. In that relation, the film skillfully places us, viewers, within the depths of the true continuity with filming tradition and does not merely resort to sweet post-war fairy tales but displays this continuity, this tradition in the new context. Mind you, for instance, the shots of Bukowsky's house, this light and shadow noticeable throughout, the way tension is built primarily on images. Sometimes, like in the silent era, the image, the picture tells for itself. Consider the scene Elisabeth finds out about Suzette's death. A long static shot that makes us both observers and participants. The bars of destiny's irony, the inevitable doom, the the sound of steps drawing parallels with the pulse.
DAS ANDERE LEBEN with its unpredictable touches and enriched manner of storytelling is a film highly worth seeing. As a production which rather stands on its own, it evokes unique emotions. A different film than the ones we see these days, for sure with a slightly clichéd yet unpredictable finale.
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