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The Murderers Are Among Us

Posted by martinteller on April 18, 2013

Suzanne Wallner (Hildegard Knef) has just returned to her Berlin apartment after being in a concentration camp.  But there is a man now occupying it.  Hans Mertens (Wilhelm Borchert) is a former officer and a doctor.  But he doesn’t practice anymore.  He’s given up on humanity, and can longer stand the sight of blood or moans of pain.  He’s crawled inside a liquor bottle where he nurses a deep cynicism.  Suzanne agrees to share the apartment with him, and falls in love with him despite his self-destructive behavior and lashing out.  Hans still battles his demons, and his guilt intensifies when he discovers his former captain (Arno Paulsen) still lives.

This was the first German film made after the war.  Its director, Wolfgang Staudte, had a minor role in Jud Süß, a notorious Nazi propaganda film so anti-Semitic that Jews were reportedly targeted and beaten by audiences after screenings.  Himmler ordered that the film be shown to all SS recruits.  Perhaps Staudte had his own demons to contend with.

This is not a movie that asks the world to forgive Germany.  It is a movie about healing the psychological damage and the need for justice.  The war-ravaged city (the film is one of what became known as “rubble films”) is scarred and broken, the perfect backdrop for Hans’s shattered psyche.  The cinematography is outstanding throughout.  It features the German Expressionist style that would give noir its dark edge: long and deep shadows, high contrast, skewed angles and dramatic framing.  The film climaxes with a series of flashbacks — another noir staple — revealing the root of Hans’s torment.

There are a few shortcomings.  The romance is simply thrust upon the characters, as if mere cohabitation is reason enough.  It happens without significant buildup.  Borchert’s performance gets a bit hammy once or twice, although I commend him for pulling off drunk acting that isn’t caricature.  Otherwise, he does an excellent job, as does Knef.  She doesn’t look anything like a concentration camp survivor, but one can allow that there was probably some healing time in the interim.

A psychologically compelling movie with impressive visuals, a look at a Germany beginning to rebuild its humanity.  Rating: Very Good (83)


3 Responses to “The Murderers Are Among Us”

  1. nancy said

    I really want to see this one. How did you hear about it

  2. […] The Murderers Are Among Us Martin Teller’s Movie Reviews […]

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