From: "Ivan Mansley" <ivanman dsl.pipex.com>
Sent: Saturday, July 10, 2004 11:37 AM +0100
DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT. PART 7: WEIHNACHTSWOLFE [CHRISTMAS WOLVES], Clarissa 1963.
Clarissa, crying in her lover's arms towards the end of the episode, sobs "Why is it such an effort to be happy?" Nearly all our new generation discover the realities, the sadness, and the loneliness of adult life breaking through their previously relatively carefree lives. Their relationships are tormented and often twisted. Through his different narrative strands Edgar Reitz shows us how difficult relationships between men and women, and between children and parents, can be.
Let us take a look at some of these narrative strands. Clarissa is a free spirit in many ways, and yet she is troubled and tormented. She has taken Volker and Jean-Marie as lovers in turn and has had to abort her baby by one of them. She is consumed by guilt. Early in the episode we see her visiting an art gallery, ironically full of pictures of Madonnas and bouncing fat babies to remind her of what she has done, as she had been advised to do on "sad and desperate days." There is a significant moment when she is passed by two nuns, hand in hand, one of whom turns to look at her. She has Clarissa's face! Symbolically, the religious life beckons as a way of erasing the guilt she feels, or perhaps reinforces that guilt. Eventually, Clarissa has to be rushed to hospital with septicaemia and acute anaemia, the result of a septic illegal abortion, as a doctor pointedly remarks. Later, there is a scene when Clarissa's landlady visits her in hospital. She hears a scream and rushes into Clarissa's room where she finds Clarissa trapped underneath her drip apparatus and her mother lying on the floor. It is unclear what has happened, but it would seem not beyond the bounds of possibility that Mrs. Lichtblau has tried to harm her daughter. In her grief and disappointment she has become a monster. On seeing Volker, she rounds on him and exclaims, "You sex-fiend." Volker is nothing of the sort, of course.
Mrs. Lichtblau gets even worse. After Clarissa has cut her hair and returns to her room she calls her daughter "a murderer". These are awful words for a mother to call her daughter, and I found the moment shocking and truly appalling. The whole scene of Clarissa in hospital at Christmas and her final hurried departure is truly well-done. She has been deliberately put in a room with a mother and new-born baby in order to teach her the joys of motherhood. Reitz enjoys drawing contrasts between the ostensibly happy family unit and the distressed Clarissa and her mother. I found much to interest me here. Clarissa is reading Musil's "The Man Without Qualities". This is not a novel I know but Edgar Reitz obviously expects his audience to know it. She reads about colours and their significance. For instance, she reads that "blue" for the fictitious Clarissa meant fidelity and femininity. Clarissa's surname can be translated as "light blue", and yet she has not exactly shown fidelity in its orthodox sense. However, if Hermann is her true love, perhaps she has. Another striking aspect of this scene is the way Edgar Reitz focuses on the book through tangles and strands of Clarissa's hair. If hair is a woman's "crowning glory" [Biblical?] then Clarissa punishes herself by cutting much of it off, even though she still looks incredibly beautiful afterwards. Before this there was a moment, a striking moment, but whose true significance escaped me. Clarissa stands in front of a window, holds a strand of her hair aloft, and then with a dramatic gesture lets it fall suddenly, with her arm left upright above her head. Any one have any comments on this?
There is a scene between Renate and Juan, which echoes the earlier one between Hermann and her. In both she wants sexual relations and in neither case does she succeed. I was surprised by Juan's brutal "Nein" to her question as to whether she would make a passable actress. He is right but its harshness took my breath away. The most physically violent scene, of course, occurs between Stefan and Helga in a mountain hut. Their relationship is portrayed as doomed from the start. He cannot get close to her. "You live behind a thousand panes of glass", he says. As they climb the Alpine peak and reach the hut at the top she constantly taunts him, mocks his manhood, spouts anti-capitalist sentiments about Christmas [sees his little gift-wrapped present as having an "ominous smell" and being symptomatic of consumerism] and endlessly complains about vague, metaphysical angsts until Stefan can bear it no longer and silences her with an empty wine bottle, which he forces into her mouth, followed no doubt, although not shown, by violent rape which she has
invited. Again a very well-handled scene!
Let us now turn to Hermann. We know that Hermann and Schnusschen are not right for each other. Edgar Reitz conveys this most skilfully. She is a sweet little miss and claims a common upbringing and background as a bond between them. Their incompatibility is nicely shown by Reitz during the preparations for Hermann's concert. Who is moving and making the floorboards creak? She is! Who wants to make her man look like Leonard Bernstein but knows nothing of the music? Why, Schnusschen! She is concerned above all with appearance. Later we see her in Frau Moretti's beauty parlour trying to improve her own looks. Helga crosses swords with Hermann before his concert begins, referring to the death of their love. "I'm your widow", she says. Reitz cleverly shows Hermann and Schnusschen drifting together and arranging to be married, but Hermann is hardly convincing when he says that he is in love with her or at least he thinks so in answer to Clarissa's question.
When Clarissa flees the hospital she ends up with Hermann who is alone at Fuchsbau on Christmas Eve. Their reunion makes a very special scene and provides the episode with its title. Hermann is perhaps the wounded Nietszchean hero, having cut his hand on a rusty nail whilst demolishing a fence for firewood. There is an echo of earlier events here. Clarissa and Hermann, wrapped in a blanket, sit watching the dancing flames in the stove. Stefan is lighting the stove in the Alpine hut as Helga taunts him, just before the violent consummation, but more importantly we might remember the moment of love between Hermann's parents, Maria and Otto, where Maria's face was beautifully lit by the flames from the stove, as the Allied bombers drone overhead. How complicated have personal relations become now! It is Clarissa who makes the breakthrough now, however, when she comes to Hermann's bed. Otherwise they might have each been left in their isolated worlds. They cry and caress. Hermann says, "I am your wolf and you are my wolf". I found this analogy rather strange, but if the words of the song Clarissa sings right at the end, accompanied by Hermann on guitar, reflect reality, then there is no consummation.
"And they did not love each other
And they did not have each other
And they were tender to each other
They seem to have failed again. I do not find Hermann convincing as a lover or as supremely attractive to women. I think the acting is at fault here but I know Mr. Reitz disagrees with me. I liked Jean-Marie's summing up of Hermann: "He's the sorcerer's apprentice. Derivative but talented."
I would like to mention the relationship between Volker and Jean-Marie. Someone argued that Reitz does not show any homosexuality in DZH and that this is a weakness. It seems to me that Reitz shows a very close bond between these two young men. I noticed an affectionate hand on Volker's shoulder in Strasbourg. They sublimate their differences and do not quarrel. They are not shown as
homosexuals but they are shown as great friends who confide in each other and discuss matters sensitively and in a mature way that belies their years.
A very short scene caught my eye. Evelyne is singing in a church accompanied by an organist. There is only one other person in the church; an African in traditional dress. Is he one of the three Kings? If so, there is no birth, only an abortion.