Monday, October 07, 2013

Die Unehelichen / Children of No Importance

Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin
DIE UNEHELICHEN. Eine Kindertragödie (Kodittomat / Children of No Importance) [Gli illegittimi / Illegitimate Children] (Gerhard Lamprecht-Produktion der National-Film AG, Berlin, DE 1926) D: Gerhard Lamprecht; SC: Gerhard Lamprecht, Luise Heilborn-Körbitz; DP: Karl Hasselmann; AD: Otto Moldenhauer; C: Ralph Ludwig (Peter), Margot Misch (Lotte), Fee Wachsmuth (Frieda), Bernhard Goetzke (battelliere/Skipper Lorenz), Hermine Sterler (Frau Berndt), Max Maximilian (Zielke), Margarete Kupfer (Frau Zielke), Elsa Wagner (Frau Martens), Eduard Rothauser (sarto/tailor Martens), Paul Bildt (mugnaio/miller), Käte Haack (sua moglie/miller’s wife); 35 mm, 1961 m, 95' (18 fps); print source: Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Berlin. Deutsche Zwischentitel. Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone), with e-titles in English and Italian, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 7 Oct 2013

Rolf Aurich, Wolfgang Jacobsen: "Lamprecht’s concern for children can be seen and understood in many of his films. Die Unehelichen (Illegitimate Children), produced in 1926, is based on an official report of the Association for the Protection of Children against Exploitation and Abuse. Welfare documentation shows how sensitively Lamprecht approached his young actors, and how he was able to avoid overburdening them, instead respecting their childish seriousness. “It’s unheard-of, what he gets out of the children,” enthused Heinz Michaelis in the left-wing Die Welt am Abend, continuing: “Never, not even in America, the land of child stars, has a film director immersed himself so lovingly in the psyche of the child and created so lovingly from it. These children move with such naturalness that one can here speak of a transfiguration, that psychological process in which the actor is completely possessed by the figure being played, a grace that can belong only to the most naïve or to the most sensitive people, and which one has seen so far in films to the greatest effect in Jackie Coogan and Asta Nielsen.”"

"For this film, too, we have a contemporary summary of its content by the director: “Three illegitimate children, 4-year-old Frieda, 6-year- old Lotte, and 13-year-old Peter, are in foster care with a couple named Zielke. Zielke, a notorious drinker, maltreats the children; his wife exploits them. When the police step in, it is too late. Lotte has succumbed to a heavy cold. Frieda is taken to a miller’s family, where she will have it good, and Peter is adopted by a woman who takes pity on him. One day his father, who had never concerned himself with him, shows up – a bargeman who can now use a young worker. It is not the hard work which causes Peter to flee, but the fear that, under the influence of alcohol, his father will turn into another Zielke. Peter is sought by the police, but is brought back by his benefactress. She must deliver him to his tough father. Only when Peter’s desperation sends him into the water does the bargeman realize that he cannot keep him and he lets the rescued child go.”"

"This may read like naïve pulp fiction, and yet it was very near to the director’s heart. Lamprecht told Gero Gandert that he came upon the material because his mother’s house, and especially her kitchen, was always full of little children. The family lived on Schönhauser Allee, in a typical Berlin neighbourhood, and the children were always hungry. Apart from that, he learned from his parents “very early on, that life is not the way one read about it in children’s books. Rather, I learned to know realism, and my clever parents, especially my mother, gave me answers about this early on. If I read stories or novels in which the bad, rather than the good, won, then I was told, yes, that’s what life is like, one has to get used to it. Good is not always rewarded – and that left its mark already very early.” He started looking at things more closely; he became, as he said “clairaudient”. He felt sorry for people “who flogged themselves to death and still had no success, like it said in the children’s books. A new world … intruded into the world I had painted for myself as a child.” And he extended this early childhood experience into his later life and his films."

"“Often, in my films, this children’s world still came through, and I then was happy to do what I could in order to feel something like compensatory justice.” In this way, films became for Lamprecht a social corrective, a means “of exposing the social damages of our age”, as a critic of Montag, the Monday edition of the national Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, put it. At least that’s what Lamprecht may have thought."

"The education reformer and psychoanalyst Siegfried Bernfeld, one of the founders of modern research into youth, took on the film in the cultural periodical Das Tagebuch and examined its factual statements and their effects. Bernfeld claimed to have found nothing but a gulf between reality and film, stating that it was “a moving entertainment” that “extorts tears without obligation, that is, aesthetic tears, from the misfortune of a few children”. The film campaigns for “the pernicious illusion of education for youth welfare”. Foster children should stay with good foster parents; correcting the legal situation would also ameliorate the social grievance."

"However, Bernfeld continued, “The numbers of these children are so frighteningly great that it would never be possible to allocate all of them to good parents.” Therefore, “To see the truth in its bleakness without direction – that is essential.” This is a different view of the world, quite in accord with the opinion of the critic Alfréd Keményi in the Communist newspaper Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag), who spoke of the “essentially mistaken welfare character of the film”, and it marks the discrepancy in the perceptions of Lamprecht’s films that persists to this day. With which they must cope. The director himself sensed this. In response to a reservation in this matter expressed by his interviewer Gandert, Lamprecht admitted he was never “a socially critical person”; this he would have to deem “unfortunate”. On the other hand, he made his films “the way I really was, and didn’t force myself in order to get the effect: Aha, he’s attacking society.”" – Rolf Aurich, Wolfgang Jacobsen

AA: A powerful naturalistic tale about abandoned children in Berlin. They are taken into custody families who exploit them, and they become victims of malnutrition, illness, and overworking. Gerhard Lamprecht has a passion for the realistic detail in the life on the streets, in the poor family's kitchen, and in the fairground. The film is full with fascinating observations.

Die Unehelichen is a story about class society. We see how much better the children of the rich families have it. Even Peter has a chance to live a carefree child's life for a little while. Then his father, who had abandoned him, comes to fetch him to slave labour on his barge.

The film does not gloss over the violence to the children. Somehow the most vicious act of violence is the one in which the foster father kills the children's pet rabbit by throwing it out of the window.

Die Unehelichen is not solely a naturalistic film. There is a powerful nightmare sequence with kaleidoscope effects and superimpositions when the little sister is on her deathbed. The fairground theme can be related with the expressionistic trend of German cinema (Kracauer: "the circle as a symbol of chaos").

The most impressive characteristic of Gerhard Lamprecht as a director is his sensitivity to the suffering of the children. His direction of the child actors is fantastic.

Die Unehelichen has been brilliantly restored from difficult and at times uneven source materials. Inevitably there is at times a slightly duped look, perhaps because of the 16 mm origins of the footage.


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