Germany Pale Mother (1980) Poster

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This review is for the restored full length version of this very harrowing film
t-dooley-69-38691628 May 2015
Originally showcased at the 1980 Berlin Film Festival, this was initially criticised for being far too long – that being 151 minutes. So it was edited down to just two hours and has become seen as a German classic in the intervening years. It tells the story of Hans and Lene who meet before the outbreak of World War II and fall in love – both are not pro Hitler and so are not Party members. It opens with the poem of the title 'Germany Pale Mother' by Berthold Brecht and it is read by his daughter. It was penned in 1933 but to hear it today it would be easy to mistake it being about Hitler and the War.

When Germany invades Poland Hans is called up and so begins the long years of separation. In the meantime they have a daughter – Anna – who is the narrator of the film and tells their story through her eyes and the experiences of a child. The war is cruel and then when it is over the cruelties seem to get worse. This film spans many years and the heartbreaks and travails of just existing – let alone surviving.

This is not a war film – it uses archive footage (which looks very aged indeed) interspersed with the later material to try to place the story better in the historical context. The acting is all superb –but the story is depressing. It is meant to be depressing I think to ram home the cost of war and what it does to the body, mind and even the soul. There are some very hard to watch scenes here and at the full length this does need some commitment. There is a line that is possibly meant more as a plea than a statement and that is when Anna says 'who am I to judge, I was just lucky enough to be born later'. German speakers will not be impressed by the sub titles though – pretty average as far as they go. This though is a great film, it is one that the BFI have helped restore and it is a difficult watch, but it is also a film that needs to be seen if only for its message and it needs to be preserved in the hope that such folly will never be repeated.
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The horrors don't stop when the war does
ReganRebecca5 January 2017
Germany, Pale Mother is a unrelentingly bleak film, made all the more so by the fact that it is a semi-autobiographical portrait of Helma Sanders-Brahms parents. The film covers about a decade or so in their lives, from newlyweds in Hitler's Germany to the reconstruction post- German era.

We first hear of Lene before we see her. Hans, and his friend Ulrich, spot her walking along the bank as they are boating along a river. Despite the fact that Hans finds her attractive he watches impassively as a dog belonging to some Nazi party members attack her, but is most impressed by the fact that she doesn't scream or flinch. They later attend a dance together and Lene asks him if he's a member of the Nazi party, something that's important to her, though she seems fairly apolitical and doesn't have strong feelings about the Nazis, even when she watches them haul off one of her Jewish neighbours. Lene and Hans marry and are quite happy together, but the happiness is short lived. Since he's a low level civil servant, who isn't even a member of the party he is quickly conscripted into the army to go fight in Poland, the first in several professional setbacks he will face as a result of not joining the Nazis. Things are great for Lene either. Though the early years of the war mostly involve waiting around for her husband to come home from leave and ignoring the fact that more and more Jewish families are being hauled off, the evil of the war will come and visit her much later.

I've often heard it said that in the most personal stories we find universal truths and this certainly is true in this film. Sanders-Brahms settles her point of view almost exclusively on her mother and her parents' marriage and yet it manages to cover so much, from the way in which Germans, even non-Nazis, ended up participating in the war through their willingness to look the other way, to the way in which Nazi corruption continued after the war. By focusing on her mother, Sanders-Brahms also turns some conventional wisdoms on their head. While the men were off fighting abroad, Lene has a difficult life, but she manages to get along, become independent, taking care of herself and her child. Some of the worst things that happen to her happen during "peace" and reconstruction, times when the men who are supposed to protect her betray her in horrible ways.

Eva Mattes, as Lene, has by far the showiest role and she is pretty fantastic in it. The real star though is Sanders-Brahms direction. There are so many bold choices, from using herself as a voice-over, splicing in documentary footage of a little boy being interviewed so that it looks as if he is having a conversation with Lene, a shot of the swastika reflected in a pool of water, which are haunting and poignant.
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Deeply Depressing
Karl Self6 May 2001
This movie reminded me of a caricature by Sempé: a crowd leaving a cinema, an utterly depressed look on all their faces. Seeing this, a young man cueing at the box office says to his girl friend: "wow, this must be a really good movie!".

"Deutschland, bleiche Mutter" is a very bleak movie, more interesting as a document of the generation born around the war years than of the war years themselves. If that's what you're looking for, you have struck gold. Otherwise be warned, it is not a movie for the easily depressed (or easily bored, for that matter).
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Tragedy in the purest sense
Agent1014 May 2002
This was probably one of the few foreign films I couldn't sit through. Talk about dreary. This must have been one of those films which helped establish the boring-foreign film stereotype. While the story was very strong and the pacing was excellent, it feels like a long, drawn out version of people waiting to commit suicide. However, the acting in the film was amazing, fully delving into the uneasy silences of two people who are torn apart by war and different views of marriage. Tough to inhale at most times, but a perfect example of the tragedy.
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great movie
anuraags-074718 October 2020
The movie is very nice shows the struggle of a German woman throughout the world war 2 and post the world war2,very heart touching screenplay done by all the actor and actress.
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An important topic lost in execution
Horst_In_Translation14 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"Deutschland bleiche Mutter" or "Germany Pale Mother" is a West German 2-hour movie from 1980, so this one already had its 35th anniversary last year. The writer and director is Helma Sanders-Brahms, a filmmaker who died 2 years ago and was probably among Germany's most impactful female directors of the 20th century. This one here is her most known work I guess. But sadly, I cannot share the praise. The question if and how much you end up liking this film is closely connected with how much you like lead actress Eva Mattes in here as she is in basically every scene from start to finish. I have liked her much more in some other films I saw and she feels sometimes pretty much off the mark and over-the-top in here. This is especially disappointing as the topic deserves a much better film. I also cannot say that I was too fond of the script in general or the male lead actor Ernst Jacobi in here. Mattes plays a woman who lives on her own in Nazi Germany after her husband goes off to war and also after the war has ended she is still alone for quite a while until her man finally returns home from imprisonment. In the meantime she is mother of a daughter and a lot more has changed, also her man's state of mind and, last but not least, her own sanity. At times, it is a pretty tough watch and there is no other appropriate description for this film in terms of genre other than drama. It is not a failure by any means, but I also did not think it was a worthy addition to the best watches in terms of "Trümmerfrauen" films. But then again, it seems as if the focus is much more on the two protagonists than on the historic context and this was a negative aspect as well in my opinion. All in all, the bad outweighs the good and this film dragged considerably during its 120 minutes runtime. I give it a thumbs-down.
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slow and depressing
SnoopyStyle21 July 2015
It's right before WWII in Germany. Lene is a rather plain pensive girl and her dark hair makes her less desirable in the race obsessed country. She meets kind Hans and they get married. Hans is conscripted and sent to the front. Lena gives birth to their daughter Anna. Life is a struggle in war-torn Germany. The couple struggles to remain connected. After the war, they try to return to normal but then she suffers a facial paralysis.

The movie is much too slow at the start. It doesn't really pick up the pace but at least, there is a bit more tension with the war going on. The leads are not terribly charismatic but that's kind of the point. The production and the old war footage leave the movie with a slightly unreal feel. It's a depressing movie.
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