selenak: (Carl Denham by Grayrace)
[personal profile] selenak
More Christmas mail, and I'm slowly but surely going spare over here. Which is as good a reason as any to interrupt the endless series of signatures and stamps to rave a bit about one of my favourite movies.

Wir Wunderkinder, from 1958, won the Golden Globe for best foreign movie but as far as I know is currently only available in German on dvd. Should this change, or should it show up in some retrospective, you really should watch it. It's the exception to such a lot of "rules" about German cinema from the 50s:

1) It actually tackles the immediate (Nazi) past as well as the post-war present (in most cases, you have to wait until the late Sixties for that one)
2) It's witty, charming and manages to combine satire with a deep humanism.

The title, which back then was translated "Aren't we wonderful?" but by now should be understandable to non-Germans due to the popularity of the term "Wunderkind", being a case in point for the irony the film uses at its trademark. Directed by Kurt Hoffmann, it tells the story of two Germans - Hans Boeckel and Bruno Tiches - who embody a lot of our national clichés; Hans Boeckel (played by Hansjörg Felmy) is idealistic, passive and none too effectual (he's lucky with the women he falls in love with, who are a great deal more enterprising than he is), Bruno Tiches (played by Robert Graf) is the pragmatic ruthless embodiment of a Wendehals, going effortlessly from trying to ingratiate himself to the (Jewish) richest man in his hometown to becoming a highly successful Nazi to making it on the black market to being a "I always was against Hitler" "honorable" post war industrialist. At the same time, we're not dealing with a simple "good German/ bad German" divide here; Hans Boeckel may be a really nice guy, but the extent of his resistance is not joining the party (which admittedly does cost him his job as a journalist, but he gets another one as a bookseller); during his and Tiches' last post-war confrontation, Tiches does have a point when he asks "and when did you ever open your mouth and protest? When did you ever try to stop us?". It needs Boeckel types to make Tiches types flourish as long as they do. Meanwhile, Hans' first girlfriend, Vera, emigrates; his second one, Kirsten, whom he marries, is Danish (which means the script gets in a lot of puns along the lines of "wohl denen, denen Dänen wohlgesonnen sind") and one of the most endearing female characters on screen during the 50s, both witty and resolute (and the person who ensures her husband & children's survival). Incidentally, in a twist that's both rare and refreshing, even today, both women are presented as sympathetic, and neither is vilified. (They're also the ones taking the romantic initiative.)

The whole story is presented as a film-in-a-film, basically, as two Kurt Hoffmann stalwarts, Wolfgang Neuss and Wolfgang Müller (both famous cabaret actors at the time, and really in most Kurt Hoffman pictures) comment in song (with biting lyrics) and prose on the story as they present it the way silent films used to be shown. It gives the whole film something of a Weimar atmosphere; Neuss & Müller might not be Brecht & Weill, but they're pretty good. And the actors are all splendid, some, like Johanna von Kocian or Robert Graf giving their best performances. Even minor parts like a Mother-Courage-like character whose daughters are both involved with Bruno Tiches or Hans Boeckel's landlady are played by then-acting legends like Elisabeth Flickenschildt and Liesl Karlstadt. (And it's fun to play "spot that later familiar face", too; for example, Hort Tappert, who two decades later became one of the nation's favourite screen cops as Derrick, shows up as Boeckel's old teacher.)

Wir Wunderkinder is a film that lives for puncturing smugness, which is another oh so rare thing for cinema in the 50s. Which is why it's important that it ends as it ends, not directly after the war but a few years later, in the then-present, being as acerbic about that period as about all the previous ones. And yet never at the expense of the characters' credibility. They're as endearing and infuriating as you could ever want fictional characters to be, and very, very recognizable, even today.

In conclusion, two excerpts. The scene below is set during the carnival in Munich, just a year before the Nazis get to power; some students present a Hitler imitation, which near the end gets interrupted. It's not subtitled, but should be understandable enough for non-German-speakers:




The second one is one of the narrative songs from the movie, "Das Lied vom Wirtschaftswunder", "the song of the economic miracle", about post-war Germany, presented by the two Wolfgangs, Neuss & Müller. Here's a (unfortunately rhyme-less) translation of the last verse to give you a taste of what the lyrics are like:

Zwar gibt es Leut, die leben heut noch zwischen Dreck und Plunder
Doch für die Naziknaben, die das verschuldet haben
Hat unser Staat viel Geld parat und spendet Monatsgaben
Wir sind ne ungelernte Republik
Ist ja kein Wunder ist ja kein Wunder
Ist ja kein Wunder nach dem verlorenen Krieg

There may be people who still live in the dirt and rubble
But for the Nazi boys whose fault that is?
Our state has plenty of money for them.
Well, as a republic we haven't graduated yet
Look, that's not surprising
After the lost war.


Here's the song in its entirety, with a brief bit of the previous scene at the start:

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