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Seven Journeys / In Jenen Tagen, West Germany 1947.

Posted by keith1942 on August 2, 2019

Steffen and Sybille in 1933

This film was part of a programme at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019, “We Are Natives of Trizonia” Inventing West German Cinema, 1945 – 1949. Trizone was the overall term for those parts of Germany occupied by the western Allies; Britain, France and the USA. The Catalogue refers to a popular song of the period, ‘We Are the natives of Trizonia’ / ‘Weir sind die ingeborenen von Trizonesien’. This was a song performed at the Cologne Carnival in 1948 by Karl Berbuer.

“It’s nothing short of a national anthem, a declaration of independence by an occupied people sensing that freedom and new statehood are near.” (Olaf Möller in the Festival Catalogue).

This was  a period when there was a short-lived genre of Trümmerfilme (‘Rubble Films’). The actual devastation, most notably in Berlin, remains an iconic visual image in both German and foreign films. Seven Journeys is not strictly speaking a ‘rubble film’ but the stark and massive ruins of Berlin are a recurring image in the film. The writer [with Ernst Schnabel) and director was Helmut Käutner. We enjoyed a programme of his films at the 2018 Festival. I was impressed with the 1940s and 1950s titles by Käutner, so I was keen not to miss this film.

The film opens in 1945, shortly after the end of the war. Amid the Berlin ruins and rubble we find two men working on an old car. This uses poetic license as the car is 1936 Opel Olympia though the plot goes back to 1933. One of the distinctive features of the film is that it is narrated by the car, [voiced by Käutner himself]. The story offers seven owners of the vehicle over a twelve-year period in flashbacks from the present. The little stories of the people’s experiences provide a commentary on the Third Reich.

The two men working on the car are Karl (Erich Schellow) and Willi (Erich Schellow). Their painstaking labour to make the car serviceable again mirror the parallel efforts of Berliners to salvage what they can among the ruins. As they work they find objects and mementos in the car; each triggering a flashback to one of the stories.

 

  1. The men notice a date carved into the glass of the windscreen. So we meet Sybille (Winnie Markus) who is loved by two men, both of whom propose to her. Steffen (Werner Hinz) is leaving by ship for a post in Mexico. In the evening she goes with Peter (Karl John) into Berlin where they witness a large demonstration. Peter writes the date on the car window with a diamond ring; 30th  January 1933; Hitler becomes Chancellor.

 

  1. The men find a comb in the car. We now meet the family of Wolfgang Buschhagen (Franz Schafheitlin), his wife Elizabeth (Alice Treff) and their daughter Angela (Gisela Tantau). Wolfgang works in a Museum. His friend Wolfgang Grunelius (Hans Nielsen) is a modernist composer. Different people drive in the car and then, Angela, finds her mother’s missing comb in the car. She suspects this is the sign of an affair between Elizabeth and Grunelius.

 

  1. The men notice a clip on the dashboard. We see that this used by Wilhelm Bienert (Willy Maertens) and his wife Sally (Ida Ehre) to hold papers. They own a small shop but the notice on the clip is the notification of the ‘Oath of Disclosure’ which prevents them now owning a business. After the ‘Brown shirts’ smash their shop and others owned by Jews the husband commits suicide.

 

  1. The men find an old horse shoe. We then see it fixed to the dashboard as Dorothea (Erica Balqué) drives round Berlin looking for friends. The man, Jochen (Hermann Schomberg), is leaving to seek safety as the war begins. Both Dorothea and her sister Ruth are involved with Jochen. Dorothea has to decide on her course of action. At one point she is stopped by a soldier. He recognizes the car, it is Peter from 1933, now in the army.

 

  1. The men now notice bullet holes in the chassis. We now see the car on the Soviet front where a driver, August (Hermann Speelmans) is collecting a new lieutenant (Fritz Wagner). Despite August’s fears of partisans the lieutenant insists on driving to the military station through the night. After some hours the moon appears, all is like daylight.

 

  1. The men find some old papers. Now we see the car, back in Berlin, in an underground garage. It is the later stages of the war. Erna (Isa Vermehre) borrows the car as she wants to drive an old friend from the city to the countryside, Her passenger is a Baroness (Margarete Haagen) whose husband has been arrested following the attempted assassination of Hitler. But the journey is interrupted when a policeman demands to see their papers, incriminating papers.

 

  1. When the men inspect the boot they find straw there. The straw is from a barn where the dilapidated cart is seen. A motor-bike dispatch rider takes shelter in the barn, as does a young women with a baby. Marie (Bettina Moissi) and Josef (Carl Raddatz) spends a couple of days sheltering in the barn. Refugees pass during the day and at night bombers pass overhead. Josef gets the car working and he makes a detour from his assignment to drop Marie near Hamburg. He now has to face questioning by roadside patrols.

The narrator, the car, now tries to remember what happened after that, but

“I don’t remember’.

A montage of spinning car wheels has the faces of the characters from the ‘Seven Journeys’ superimposed. And we leave the car and the two mechanics among the Berlin ruins, but flowers are growing in the rubble.

The stories work well and the characters are carefully drawn in relatively brief plot lines. The film makes good use of locations in these stories. This was also the case in an earlier film by Käutner, Under the Bridges / Unter den Brücken (1946). Here he was again working with several of the same crafts people. The cinematography, finely done, is by Igor Oberberg. And the editing, which cuts within and between stories and the film’s present, is by Wolfgang Wehrun.

This film was cut on release by about 20 minutes. What was cut is not clear to me but it seems likely that the censorship was done by the Occupying Powers who remained in control in West Germany; one key component of their policies was the ‘denazification’ campaign. It may be that the lack of conscious guilt in the film was a factor.

The film covers the twelve years of the Third Reich. The characters’ stories are spread across this period leading to the cataclysmic situation as Germany suffered defeat. The Catalogue points out that the stories presented do not offer representation across the population.

In Jenen Tagen is a among the very first productions ventured in the future Trizone. Käutner offers a historical panorama in seven anecdotes, detailing German sorrow, suffering and unexpected benevolence during the Nazi regime, ……. how could Germans not see themselves as the guilty party at that points in time?”

The writer goes on to comment the film

“never suggests that this terror regime functioned only because almost everybody made their compromise-laden peace with it …..”

but also makes the point that

“the good deeds he shows were the exceptions to the rule.”

The film has a little more than thus credits. Thus at the opening the car tells us that,

“when I was young [I thought that] I would last a thousand years … [but] it was only twelve.”

And in an interesting line of dialogue we learn from Peter in the 1933 story that the parade they pass are the Spartacists [Spartakusaufstand, by then The Communist Party of Germany / Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) And in several stories, as that of the Biernerts, one senses the a malignant and dominant force under which people quality or perish. Moreover, the German population had already had a ‘denazification’ programme enforced on them, which included being forced to watch some of the films of the now opening and horrific concentration camps. My sense is at this time that the occupation powers paid as little attention to German resistance as the German population paid to any national culpability. Films made under mainstream conventions are usually inadequate for such complex situations.

We had a 35mm print in German with English sub-titles. the image and sound were fine so we were able to appreciate the full original version of the film.

 

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