Perhaps one of the most haunting and compelling parts of Sanders-Brahms' film Germany Pale Mother (1979) is the nearly twenty minute long telling of The Robber Bridegroom. The structural purpose of the sequence is a bridge between the marriage of Lene and Hans, who battles at the war's front, and the decline of the marriage during the post-war period. Symbolically the fairy tale, called the "mad monstrosity in the middle of the film," by Sanders Brahms (Kaes, 149), offers a diabetic forum for with which to deal with the crimes of Nazi Germany, as well a internally fictional parallel of Lene's marriage. The fairy tale begins with a miller betrothing his daughter to the first suitable man who comes along.
The man choose happens to live deep in the forest, and fills the daughter with dread every time that she sees him. One day, the suitor demands that his bride come visit him at home. When she tells him she does not know the way, he says he with spread the path to his house with ashes. No doubt this fictional element is meant to invoke sadistic images of Nazi Germany and the use of ashes of cremated concentration camp inmates for road construction. The daughter does follow the path with great unease, however, as she follows the path she marks it with peas. She finally comes to the house, and is promptly warned by a bird that she is entering a house of murderers.
The girl enters and house and finds it almost entirely deserted. However, in the basement she finds an old women who repeats the bird's warning. The crone then that the girl will marry death and her bridegroom only seeks to kill her, cut her pieces up, and eat her. As the two prepare to escape, the bridegroom and his band of the ives return with maiden [virgin]. The old woman hides the girl behind a large barrel. From her hiding place, she witnesses the thieves give the maiden three glasses of wine to stop her heart.
They then rip her clothes off, and hack the body into pieces with axes. On of the murders notices the girl wears a gold band, but cannot pull it off her finger. He cuts off the finger which flies from the table and lands in the girls lap. Before the thieve can look for it, the crone offers them some wine, which she has laced with a sleeping potion. The thieves fall prey to the potion and sleep deeply. The girl and the old lady escape the house to find the path of ashes blown away.
However, the peas have sprouted and lead the way to. They return to the miller and tell him of the day's events. The wedding goes on as planned, however each of the guests is asked ito tell a tale. When it is the bride's turn she tells of her trip to the bridegrooms house, introducing the tale with, "It was just a dream." At the end of the tale he brings forth the finger and the ring, the bridegroom is then detained by the guests until he is tried and punished for his crimes. The suggestion by association that Germany is a "house of murders" is an extremely intentional movement further reverberated by the images that for a backdrop for Lene's telling of the tale. The beginning part of the tale runs parallel to Lene and Anna's stumbling upon an abandoned factory with sky scraping chimneys and huge ovens.
The evoked images of concentration camps, and mass genocide are only re enforced with Lene's retelling of the birds warning to the bride; " Turn back, turn back you young bride, you are in a murder's house." It is also lf interest that while seeking refuge in the factory, Anna cannot eat while Lene can. This is a allusion to the how the different generations are able to deal with the Third Reich. Lene's ability to eat while in the symbolic concentration camp shows that she either accepts the Nazi's crimes and can somehow deal with them, or that she is ignorant to their existence. Anna's inability to eat with in the "house of murderers" reflects her generation, and the trouble and torment the crimes of the past caused with the children of the forties. With the narration continued, the grotesque visage of concentration camps are again recalled by inclusion of railways. Railways being the main transport of inmates to concentration camps.
The viewer is treated to images of abandoned train terminus, and disused rail tracks overgrown. All most if people were trying to forget that they exist. The sight of Lene holding Anna close while traveling on a train also adds to the motif. Sanders-Brahms interrupts the internal narrative with more images as evidence of the damage the Nazi's caused Germany. These images are as irrefutable as the amputated finger in the fairy tale. Lene and Anna come across the body of a fallen soldier.
This shot is followed by aerial shots of a decimated Berlin and of Hitler's burning bunker. The diabetic silence of these shots leaves the viewer with a deeply embodied feeling of the death and destruction the war caused. However, the fairy tale does end with a manifestation of denazification. The murderers are caught, and sentenced for their crimes.
Ironically, in the fairy tale they are brought to justice by their own people. The fairy tale takes a more direct parallel to Lene, and her life. Lene becomes the bride in the story. She marries death and will live in the house of a murderer. Hans assumes these roles while serving as a soldier in the war. Lene is also tied to the maiden and the crone in the movie.
In a much earlier scene Hans rips Lene's blouse off of her much as the thieves did to the maiden in the story. A stronger tie is draw when Lene is reunited with her sister towards the end of the war. The night that Hans returns, Lene drinks three glass of wine. Much as the maiden in the story, Lene "heart stops" soon after. The dread Lene soon comes to have of her husband is the exact dread the bride has of her bridegroom in the tale, and in the final scene of the film Lene accuses Hans of wanting to kill her. The use of wine was previously used in Lene's story as a symbol of foreboding danger.
Lene and Anna come across some allied soldiers in one the the abandoned train terminals. They offer Lene some wine, and then proceed to rape her. However in the end of Lene's tale, her murderer is not brought to any type of justice. Instead, the film closes with a sort of opened ended unresolved desperation. This has been a major criticism of mine in regards to German cinema. It is with Germany Pale Mother that I seems to understand German films a little better.
Most German films are in some way trying to come to terms with the Third Reich. The problem is it seems almost entirely impossible to comes to terms with such a wide scale. So if people remain unresolved on the issue, how can films that deal with the issue be expected to have concrete resolutions? Sanders-Brahms uses fairy tales as structures for her viewers to better understand her films. She includes several other references besides the long narration of the fairy tale. Soon after Lene and Hans get married, Lene pricks her finger on a curtain needle. This is symbolic of Sleeping Beauty and her loss of innocence by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel spindle.
Anna also speaks of herself and her mother as witches on several occasions; which furthers the fairy tale motif. So in the end it is to be asked what is so important about trying to intertwine Germany Pale Mother with established fairy tales. I propose that it is part of the defensive mechanism Sanders-Brahms uses in dealing with the crime's of her parents generation, and making sure that it is not forgotten. Fairy tales are timeless pieces of literature. As Anton Kaes wrote, .".. fairy tales stand outside of history, they confront us directly with unconscious impulses and let us project into them our own wishes and fantasies.
(Kaes, 149). Works CitedKaes, Anton. From Hitler to Heim at. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1992: pp 148-150. Sanders-Brahms, Helma. Germany Pale Mother (Deutschland Mutter), Helma Sanders-Brahms Film produktion, 1979..