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8— Germany, Year Zero (1947)

1. Roberto Rossellini, "Dix ans de cinéma," part 2, Cahiers du cinéma , no. 52 (November 1955), 5. [BACK]

2. Ibid. [BACK]

3. Ibid., p. 4. [BACK]

4. Faldini and Fofi, L'avventurosa storia , p. 111. [BACK]

5. Ibid. Quentin Reynolds, who was gathering material for his book Leave It to the People , wrote that Rossellini told him that the film would cost $115,000 to make, and the reason it was so expensive was because of all the location shooting in Germany. The "actors" were chosen, in Rossellini's normal fashion, from among those with little or no experience. Accompanied by an old friend who had been locked up in a Nazi jail for fifteen years, Rossellini found real British soldiers, assorted Nazi generals, exwrestling champions, and literature professors to round out the cast. [BACK]

6. Faldini and Fofi, L'avventurosa storia , p. 112. [BACK]

7. The War Trilogy of Roberto Rossellini , p. 374. All further references will be included in the text. [BACK]

8. From the film: "EDMUND: Aren't you a teacher any more? ENNING: No. The authorities and I don't see eye-to-eye any more on—( he caresses the whole length of the boy's arm up to his neck, then under the chin )—educational policy" (p. 383). [BACK]

9. Enzo Ungari's remarks are recorded in Dibattito su Rossellini , ed. Gianni Menon (Rome: Partisan, 1972), p. 31. [BACK]

10. Quoted in R. M. DeAngelis, "Rossellini romanziere," 356. [BACK]

11. The semiotician Colin MacCabe has also noted what he calls the film's "subversive subtext." In a provocative article entitled "Realism and the Cinema: Notes on Some Brechtian Theses" ( Screen , 15, no. 2 [Summer 1974], 19-20), MacCabe articulates an analysis, based on Lacanian and Althusserian theories of subject positioning, of the "classic realist text," in which he equates the metalanguage of the nineteenth-century realist novel with the simple "narrative of events" found in the cinema. According to MacCabe, they are comparable because both envelop the subdiscourses found within them, explain and pass judgment on them, while pretending at the same time to be "objective," and, in fact, invisible. I think his comparison finally does not work because he too easily assumes that film's narrative of events and the "reality of the image" are always taken by an audience at face value, unproblematically, to be "the ways things are," rather than constructed. But of course the image or narrated event usually offers itself as authoritative, and in so disguising its status as discourse it pretends to naturalness rather than revealing itself as a specific articulation. In the films of Rossellini, however, especially Germany, Year Zero , MacCabe finds a continuing strategy of subversion of the dominant discourse, in fact, a "systematic refusal" of it. This is his analysis:

In Germany, Year Zero  . . . we can locate a multitude of ways in which the reading subject finds himself without a position from which the film can be regarded. Firstly, and most importantly, the fact that the narrative is not privileged in any way with regard to the characters' discourses. Rather than the narrative providing us with knowledge—it provides us with various settings. Just as in Brecht the "fable" serves simply as a procedure to produce the various gests , so in Rossellini the story simply provides a framework for various scenes which then constitute the picture of Germany in year zero. . . . Indeed the narrative of Germany, Year Zero can be seen as a device to introduce the final gest of Edmund's suicide—and in this it closely resembles the first reel of Brecht's own Kuhle Wampe (p. 20).

The problem here is that MacCabe is utterly neglecting the active part the very well-developed—and heavily melodramatic—narrative plot line plays from beginning to end in this film. If any film's dominant discourse can be identified with its narrative of events, then surely this one can be as well. Furthermore, MacCabe's privileging of Edmund's suicide over all other elements of the text is really little more than a sophisticated version of an error of twenty years' standing made by critics who have taken too literally Rossellini's remark that the only part of the film he was interested in was the finale. MacCabe continues:

Secondly, Rossellini's narrative introduces many elements which are not in any sense resolved and which deny the possibility of regarding the film as integrated through a dominant discourse. The Allied soldiers, the street kids, the landlord, the Teacher's house—all these provide elements which stretch outside the narrative of the film and deny its dominance (p. 20).

How are these elements "not resolved"? They are all features of Edmund's story that discharge their narrative function and then disappear, just as they would in any film. With the exception of the Allied soldiers, as I have mentioned above, these are characters and places that enable Edmund's preordained narrative to go forward, unconventionally, perhaps, but with no less speed and no more problematically than any other character or place in the film. MacCabe's final point is that "the characters themselves cannot be identified in any final way," and thus end up being only a complex sum of differences. Of course, it is possible to read all characters, in fiction or in film, as virtual sites of a play of differences (and contradictions) rather than as having fixed identities. The problem is that MacCabe makes the claim for this film as against the mass of others. He is, in fact, offering what amounts to too radical a reading of Rossellini's actually rather mild antinarrative strategies in this film. His view of Rossellini's technique , on the other hand, where he does find evidence of a standard "realist ideology," is more convincing, and even rather obvious:

If the reading subject is not offered any certain mode of entry into what is presented on the screen, he is offered a certain mode of entry to the screen itself. For the facts presented by the camera, if they are not ordered in fixed and final fashion among themselves, are ordered in themselves. The camera, in Rossellini's films, is not articulated as part of the productive process of the film. What it shows is in some sense beyond argument and it is here that Rossellini's films show the traditional realist weakness of being unable to deal with contradiction (p. 20).

12. The phenomenologist priest Amédée Ayfre praised the scene, claiming that it was here that Rossellini introduced "phenomenological description" to the cinema, and through specifically cinematic rather than philosophical means. What he means by this term is the attempt "to describe directly our experience such as it is, and without regard for the psychological genesis or causal explanation which the scientist, historian, or sociologist can furnish for it." For Ayfre, Rossellini's originality stems from the fact "that at no moment does the child give the impression of 'acting,' of being an actor. One can't say whether his acting was good or bad. . . . This child has simply lived, he has simply existed before us and the camera has surprised him in this existence" (pp. 7-8).

Ayfre, unlike Rossellini's Marxist critics, sees the problem as a matter of rescuing neorealism from analysis and simple naturalism. Thus Germany, Year Zero points to the solution because it shows "concrete human events in which is co-present the entire mystery of the Universe. In other words, the mystery of being is substituted for the clarity of construction" (Amédée Ayfre, "Phénoménologie et néo-réalisme," Cahiers du cinéma , no. 17 [November 1952], 10. See also Ayfre's book, Le Cinéma et sa vérité [Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1969], pp. 141 ff.) [BACK]

13. "A Discussion of Neo-Realism," 73. [BACK]

14. Oms, "Rossellini: Du fascisme à la démocratie chrétienne," 13. [BACK]

15. Borde and Bouissy, Le Néo-réalisme italien , p. 37. [BACK]

16. Faldini and Fofi, L'avventurosa storia , p. 112. [BACK]

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