falderal : a moving images blog
Die Mörder sind unter uns (The Murderers Are Among Us) ; 1946  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Director: Wolfgang Staudte
Actors: Ernst Wilhelm Borchert, Hildegard Knef, Arno Paulsen, Robert Forsch
Country: Germany (Soviet occupied Germany)

This was the first post-WWII German film I’ve watched, well, that’s not phrased correctly. I guess what I mean is that it’s the first German film I’ve watched between the time WWII ended and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Before learning a bit about East German films and German history post-WWII, I always thought that East German films were crazy Communist/Socialist propaganda, but on the contrary, most films weren’t like that at all. With Die Mörder sind unter uns, it was a film about Germans reconciling with their past and learning to go forward with their lives while acknowledging the atrocities they committed.

First of all, I know that Staudte purposefully tried to use cinematographic techniques that were different than what the Nazis used and I think for the most part, he did succeed. Many of the shots reminded me of film noir (ref. Picture 2), German expressionist, and Kammerspielfilms, but the ending scene with the shots of the mass graves and super-impositions of crosses made me think of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens and Hans Steinhoff’s Hitlerjunge Quex; the shots were mesmerizing and somewhat overwhelming as well. Some scenes were shot with a tilt that caused a sense of anxiety and made me wonder why he chose to film scenes in such a manner. Was it because he wanted to show the unrest in Germany? This is just my speculation.

The story had me wonder just how much Staudte was coming to terms with his past and Germany’s past. What did he want the viewers to take in from this film? Was this film Staudte’s apologia as well as apologizing for Germany’s actions during WWII or was it something that the Allies, particularly Russians, wanted? Just how pure were Staudte’s intentions and message? In some ways it reminded me of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Il conformista and how Bertolucci looked at Italy’s fascist period, but Staudte’s film is also very different than Bertolucci’s. I know that the Russians knew the power of films and wanted the Germans to create films that were anti-fascist so that they can internalize it themselves rather than having outsiders consistently pushing their ideas. I also read that Staudte was embarrassed of his past and his connections to Nazi propaganda films.
The ambiguities of some of the characters’ pasts made me wonder just how much Staudte was accepting of the atrocities Germany commited. For example, Susanne (Knef) has survived living in a concentration camp, but the reasons why she was sent there are ambiguous. It is mentioned that she was taken to one due to her father, but why? My first thought when they mentioned concentration camps was that she must have been Jewish, but why only mention her father? Was he the only relative she had? Or was her father a communist, thus she was taken away as well? Her looks look like the ideal “Aryan” woman and she reminded me of Kristina Söderbaum, who was considered to be the prototype of an Aryan woman. Not only that, Söderbaum was in many propaganda films directed by her then husband Veit Harlan and both Staudte and Söderbaum starred in the infamous Jud Süß. Ok, now I’m just going off on a tangent, but really, why so vague about Susanne’s past?! And also with Herr Mondschein (Forsch) too! What’s his background? Susanne says that she is surprised to see that he has survived the war. Was it because he was in hiding? Why was he separated from his son? So many questions but no answers. This leads me to another complaint about lack of character development. Dr. Mertens (Borchert) is the driving force of this film with his past, his reconciliation with it, and how he comes to terms with it, but I wanted so much more from the other characters. Dr. Mertens rudely asks where Susanne was while Berlin was falling apart with people dying everywhere, and he says something like, “The country? The hills?” and Susanne doesn’t really say much and doesn’t mention that she was also suffering just as much or even more than the Berliners. Throughout the film, I assumed Susanne was Jewish thus I wondered iif they would address the relationship between a Jewish woman and an ex-Nazi officer, but no, they didn’t. Maybe Susanne was communist thus there really was no point in it? I don’t know.
I could really go indepth about my analysis of Dr. Mertens and how each action he commits reflects the “healing” process of Germany and about moral and social responsibility, but I think that’ll spoil the film too much (for you).

This is a film I would like to rewatch once I know more about German history. For those who do not know anything about German history and film, I’m not sure just how much I would recommend this film. Well, most people accept what happened during WWII and know something about it, so I guess it wouldn’t be so bad for anyone to watch this film. Maybe it’ll give a fresh look at it rather than overly analyzing it by trying to understand all the historical contexts that fit in with this film. Personally, I don’t know how I feel about this film. It was highly enjoyable but I tried to nit-pick it while watching it and kept wondering what each scene meant, what each camera angle implied, etcetera. But then again, I’m interested in the connection between what was going on when the films were created and the films themselves.
Ok, rather than all this random musing, my final verdict is, WATCH THIS FILM! I think it’s a great way to get oneself into German film from any period to see how films reflect German history. Also, this was the first post-WWII German film that was released, so it’s pretty awesome in that sense as well and the reason why this film was the first film to be released in Germany (both in West and East Germany) is interesting. I HIGHLY recommend Daniela Berghahn’s Hollywood Behind the Wall: The Cinema of East Germany, which I am currently reading right now. I sort of wish that I didn’t read a little bit of it because I wanted to watch East German films with a clear mind/clean slate so that my judgment and interpretations wouldn’t be influenced by outside ideas/historical context.

IMDb Link: Die Mörder sind unter uns
Where to buy: DEFA Film Library, Amazon.com

Leave a Reply