This is a film which got me thinking about the nature of tyranny.
This film was made by an East German film director just before the Berlin wall fell. In an interview before the film he tells us how, when the Berlin wall was demolished, he and his family simply left to the West even though he was a film director. He speaks of how he became unemployed as a consequence and how the bureaucrats there are still in cushy jobs. It reminded me of South Africa after Apartheid fell. Many of those who helped prolong the life of Apartheid did very well after legal Apartheid ended.
A German captain (who is a professor in civilian life) in occupied Greece (1944) appears to have a cushy post while World War II rages.
He decides to make a film about the classical play, Oedipus. Greeks are co-opted to play parts in the film and the amateurish production rambles on but gradually the film becomes stronger and stronger. The tension between the Greeks and the Germans gradually increases.
Nothing can be normal in a country which has to endure a conqueror. There is something quite extraordinary about invaders celebrating the culture (even if their film is a tragedy) of a country they have conquered. It reminded me of how the British rediscovered and publicised much of India's heritage.
It makes one ask immediately, if you can see so much to respect (and even if you don't see or know that heritage) in a fallen land, should you not leave? But when empires clash, smaller countries are often trampled in the dust.
A German column stops at a Greek village where Greek civilians have been shot in reprisal because they had 'sheltered partisans'. But then, how do you say 'no' to men with guns?
Among the dead is a little Greek boy who had earlier participated in the film. It reminded me of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1965. Back then an American unit lost comrades in an attack by Vietnamese. They then massacred a many civilians in My Lai. That sort of thing has happened throughout history when invaders violate somebody else's country.
The nature of Human Beings is such that they will rebel when tyranny plagues their lives.
The sergeant in the film has absolute control over the lives of the conscripts and his petty tyranny over his helpless victims is a telling commentary on the kind of people who volunteer for the soldiers' life. They enjoy being told what to do and also exult in torturing those under their command. Sadists and masochists, their lives are miserable and they enjoy making others miserable.
Of course guerrillas are a different matter altogether. They band together and volunteer to fight against tyranny as our own MK and APLA etc comrades did. That is to be expected.
This is a brilliant film which I wish the whole world would see. Instead, even the Germans in the audience had heard little or nothing of this film or its director.
That is sad. No, it's tragic. If our govt had seen this film maybe they would not have sent our young men into the C A R. where so many killed people and were themselves killed.
At discussion time, one of the professors, Peter, asked why Oedipus had been chosen as the central piece in a film about an alien army in a foreign country?
My suggestion was that Greece was the fountain-head of western civilisation but in the film we saw Germans who also saw themselves as standard-bearers of that civilisation coming back to Greece and symbolically decapitating that civilisation.
Theirs is a bizarre, symbolic killing of the father and rape of the mother. (in the play, Oedipus unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother).
So, as the professor said, when I said what I said, 'this was a tragedy.'
I hope that you get to see this great film.
Dr Deena Padayachee 'Deena' is short for 'Deenadayalan'. MB.Ch. B (Natal)
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