Germany Year Zero

Germania, anno zero

Roberto Rossellini, Italia, Germany, France, 1947


In this film, Edmund, a 12 year old boy, wanders around the ruined streets of Berlin following the German capitulation at the end of the war. During the war he had to provide for his family by way of the black market and trafficking various things. Following a suggestion by one of his teachers, a Nazi, who suggests that the death of Edmund’s disabled father, ‘a useless mouth’, would be a useful and desirable thing to happen, Edmund poisons his dad. 

The final scene, which ends with Edmund’s suicide, shows his walk towards death. The question of play is of vital importance in this sequence.  During the war, suffering under crushing responsibilities that a boy his age should never have had to suffer, his childhood was stolen from him and he was removed from any possibility of play, an essential component of who we are at that age. 

At the start of the scene he comes across a group of children younger than himself playing with a ball amongst the ruins.  He tries to join their game, but he’s rejected. He’s too old to play with them and too young to teach them how to play.  (We see a similar scene in Kiarostami’s film Breaktime, where the opposite happens, the players are older than the character). He resumes his journey amongst the ruined streets and then stops to listen to a priest playing a harmonium in the bombed out ruins of a church.  He then starts to play hopscotch, all alone, over the shell holes on the street. 

Further on, in a livelier street, he plays with a stone in front of him (like the little boy in Kiarostami’s The Bread and the Street).  Then, in a ruined building in front of his home he plays at finding his balance amongst the rubble. He then finds an object that we can’t quite see, which looks a bit like the head of a hammer or a tap, and proceeds to use it as a gun and mimes shooting himself in the head.  He climbs up the stairs and finds a rectangle of light, projected on to the floor from the window to play at a ‘duel’ between himself and his shadow, with his obscure object as his revolver. He then takes to shooting at the windows opposite him, at first with a gun and then with a stone.

After seeing the lorry loaded with coffins that’s come to take his late father away, and seeing his family searching for him, he plays with a big stone at the edge of a window. He takes off his oversized adult jacket and plays on a sloping beam as if it were a toboggan. He then comes towards a window overlooking his home and steps out into the void. 
All of his attempts to play at being a normal child were in vain, he’s incapable of growing and living because of the childhood that was cruelly stolen from him, where he could clearly neither be a child nor an adult.