Sunday, June 29, 2014

Morgen beginnt das Leben / Life Begins Tomorrow

La vita comincia domani / [Domani comincia la vita]. DE 1933. D: Werner Hochbaum. SC: Carl Behr. DP: Herbert Körner. ED: Marianne Behr. AD: Gustav A. Knauer, Alexander Mügge. M: Hansom Milde-Meißner. C: Erich Haußmann (Robert), Hilde von Stolz (Marie), Harry Frank (il violinista), Walter von Lennep (cantante), Etta Klingenberg (la ragazza del caffé), Edith Schollwer (la cameriera), Gustav Püttjer (l'uomo della giostra). P: Ethos-Film GmbH. 35 mm. 76'. From: Österreichisches Filmmuseum
    Presented by Peter von Bagh, introduced by Alexander Horwath.
    Viewed at Sala Scorsese - Cinema Lumière, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 29 June 2014

Joachim Schätz (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014, catalogue and website): "The chronicle of a fearful day. After five years in prison, Robert is set free. His wife Marie means to pick him up, but coincidence intervenes. They search for each other, they repeatedly miss each other, and along the way, Robert comes to doubt Marie's fidelity and the promise of a better tomorrow."

"One everyman, one everywoman, and the joys and accidents of modern city life: director Hochbaum and scenarist Carl Behr tap into the vein of contemporaneous city films like Paul Fejos' Lonesome (1928) or Gustav Machatý's From Saturday to Sunday (1931), but their outlook is much darker. Arriving in German cinemas the summer after the Nazi takeover, their film has been fruitfully read as "a symptom of transition, an expression of the general anxiety neurosis of 1933" (Karsten Witte). From Robert and Marie's experiences, Hochbaum weaves sophisticated montages of image and sound, inner and outer world, impressions and recollections. Rather than being content with showcasing late-1920s avant-garde film techniques, Morgen Beginnt das Leben's tour de force of sequence shots, rhythmic editing and wordless storytelling achieves a purposeful, fierce portrait of disturbance and disorientation. Instead of the working masses, an escalating montage collects the ex-convict's vicious, gossiping neighbors. When the camera is attached to a merry-go-round, the result is not exhilaration à la Jean Epstein, but an eerie gliding movement prying Robert. The door at home won't open, the streets are full of noise and sinister whispers, and in the cafe where he used to work, Robert is overcome by memories of the manslaughter he committed on impulse."

"As witnessed by Hochbaum's "chained camera" (Bert Rebhandl) breathlessly trailing its protagonist, select moments of blissful oblivion stand out all the more: a waitress warbling a hit song, a bellhop bobbing to background music. Such reprieves provide the film with its pockets of light, rather than the fortunate lastminute resolution that follows desperation - the first in a string of untrustworthy happy endings in Hochbaum's œuvre."
Joachim Schätz (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014, catalogue and website)

In his introduction Alexander Horwath singled out Morgen beginnt das Leben as the last great example of German interwar cinema.

AA: A fine lyrical film about the difficulty of returning to normal life after five years in prison. The violinist Robert Sand has attacked the restaurant owner who tried to take advantage of his wife Marie, killing him accidentally in the struggle. Marie's alarm clock is out of service and she misses the crucial appointment when Robert is released. Due to misunderstandings, Robert starts to fear the worst.

Morgen beginnt das Leben is largely a stream of consciousness film. The main narrative takes place within one day, but flashbacks cover the entire chain of events.

Hochbaum is still in possession of the great secret of the German silent cinema, and as a rule he tells the story purely visually.

Herbert Körner the cinematographer knows how to use the moving camera. Forward tracking shots are eloquent. In the dance sequence the camera dances along like in a Max Ophuls film. There are fluent long takes, there are extreme close-ups. There is no sign of early-sound-film clumsiness. A long shot from a high angle covers the release from prison. Superimpositions abound in the mist of the memory.

There are bravura sequences such as the whip pans covering the trains taking Robert and Marie to their opposite directions. Marie is following the reverse trajectory towards the prison. Fine moments of the subjective camera include the memorable one from which we follow the going-ons at the dancing restaurant from behind the violinist's hands, and in the mirror at the opposite wall we see "us" as the violinist. Witty shots include the prisoner's round at the prison yard, with a clock superimposed in the middle. Hochbaum and Körner belong to the poets of rain.

Morgen beginnt das Leben starts also to feel like an hommage to Weimar cinema, paying respect to many favourite visual motifs, affectionately catalogued by Siegfried Kracauer in From Caligari to Hitler: - the canary in its cage (Der Blaue Engel) - the fairground - the carousel - the lonely little girl and the friendly man immediately under suspicion (M) - the formidable Berlin policeman stopping the traffic chaos with an imperious gesture - "the circle as a symbol of chaos" - the high angle shot of the staircase (M among others) - the lonely man's cognac (M) - "the feet that walk" - "Im Namen des Gesetzes" / "Im Namen des Volkes" (M) - the elliptical court sequence (M) - the prisoners' round (Varieté). The only annoying device is the montage of the gossips, favoured by Fritz Lang and tiresome also in his films. The entire concept, of course, also brings to mind Franz Biberkopf's release from prison in Berlin Alexanderplatz. I'm not saying that Hochbaum is a copycat, but the amount of such reference points brings further weight to Alexander Horwath's claim of Morgen beginnt das Leben as the last great achievement of Weimar-style German cinema.

Hochbaum knows how to create psychological tension, and the suspense keeps growing until the final release.

The print has been struck from difficult source materials. There are passages of fine visual quality. Elsewhere there are soft passages and missing black levels.

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