Roberto Rossellini in Berlin wastes no time in visualizing a fallen regime, Shoeshine’s gallant steed is here a carcass in the street carved for meat. (Bergman quotes it directly in The Serpent’s Egg.) The end of the war, the nation in ruins, the camera tracks through a vast cemetery and locates a tiny gravedigger (Edmund Moeschke), pale and barely twelve but already hardened by desperation. His home is a cramped room in a crumbling building, his father (Ernst Pittschau) slowly expires in bed while the older brother who "fought to the very end" (Franz-Otto Krüger) hides in the corner, his sister (Ingetraud Hinze) rents herself out at the nightclub. Life for the defeated is a matter of black-market scrounging, interminable breadlines, sinister nostalgia: "Before, we were still men, National Socialists," sighs a passerby. "Now we’re just Nazis." An unrelenting searchlight and a humane act of commiseration, Rossellini’s final panel in his War Trilogy wanders through the rubble of Hitler’s children. Foreign soldiers casually drop by the hollowed-out ghost town looking for mementos, underground furnaces glow like hellfire, the Führer’s voice echoes out of an old phonograph: a vehemently subjective vision, the junction of Italian neo-realism and German expressionism. The pederast schoolteacher (Erich Gühne) extols the virtues of survival of the fittest, poisoned tea is the boy’s anguished present to his ailing father. (The pedagogue is faced with the deadly results of his ideology and, like Stewart in Rope, is repulsed by his pupil’s actions rather than by his own doctrine.) Through all this, little Edmund is a gaze inexorably withered by the all-pervasive despair; in the unforgettably nullifying ending, literally on the edge of the abyss, he’s become the world’s oldest child. "There would be no The 400 Blows without Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero," says Truffaut. Zinnemann’s The Search is concurrent, though Losey’s The Boy with Green Hair exudes the deeper kinship. Cinematography by Robert Juillard. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce