Aug 11, 2013


As far as I know, Argentinean-born feminist auteur Jeanine Meerapfel (Days to Remember aka Die Verliebten, The Girlfriend)—the daughter of two German Jews who fled Deutschland after Uncle Adolf became a little less tolerant towards God’s chosen tribe—is the only 'kraut' Jewess filmmaker working today whose cinematic works reflect a sort of post-Auschwitz Ashkenazi perspective on the still troubled relationship between Germans and Jews. As Meerapfel stated in a voiceover in her documentary Im Land meiner Eltern (1981) aka In the Land of My Parents—a work featuring Jews, many of whom are the director's friends, discussing how she feels and what it means to be living in Berlin as a Hebrew in the 1980s—regarding history, especially in regard to her family, “If Hitler had not existed, I would have been born a German Jew, more German than Jewish, in a small village in southern Germany…,” yet the feminist auteur opted for becoming a German anyway, making a filmmaking career for herself in a nation she would have been outlawed from working in only a couple decades earlier. To her credit, Meerapfel, despite being a racially conscious Jew and a feminist working in the West Germany film industry where ethno-masochism and philo-Semitism is the neurotic norm among racially pure Aryan auteur filmmakers, had the courageous gall to give an unflattering portrayal of a Nazi-persecuted German Jew businessman in her first feature-length work Malou (1981), seemingly a somewhat autobiographical work about a Argentinean-born Jewess who is married to a classically handsome blond German that digs into the dubious past regarding her French gentile mother’s marriage to her German Jew father. A sort of softcore feminist ‘woman's film’ clearly inspired by melancholy melodramas by German New Cinema auteur filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Helma Sanders-Brahms, and Margarethe von Trotta, as well as Swiss auteur Daniel Schmid, Malou is ultimately a work that will appeal to women and that was certainly made for the fairer sex in mind, yet it will also be of appeal to Germanists and those interested in German cultural history as an outsider’s view of a nation that has yet to come to terms with its past, especially in regard to the now-taboo Jewish question. Starring Fassbinder’s ex-wife Ingrid Craven (La Paloma, Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven), filmed by Fass-bande cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (Whity, Satan's Brew) and scored by Fassbinder’s friend/composer Peer Raben, Malou is a sort of less esoteric and more accessible ‘answer’ to the German-Jewish question brought up in Shadow of Angels (1976) aka Schatten der Engel and In a Year of 13 Moons (1978) aka In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden in its more conventional depiction of Aryan-Jew love. Somewhat interestingly, it is a German Jew and survivor of Nazi persecution that is depicted in a less flattering light than a post-WWII German, which one could interpret as auteur Meerapfel's personal attack on her own father and/or mature and un-p.c. recognition that anyone can make mistakes and be assholes, even cultivated Judaic gentlemen who almost found themselves winning a vacation to a secluded concentration camp. 

 Hannah (Grischa Huber) is an Argentinean Jew who makes a living teaching Deutsch to foreigners and who is married to a workaholic German architect husband Martin (Helmut Griem). Upset by the fact that she is married to a man who works too much and too hard and that she believes has been treating her in a patronizing manner due to her innate foreignness, Hannah begins to obsess over the failed yet strangely glorified marriage of her tragic alcoholic mother Malou (Ingrid Caven), a French orphan turned Alsatian-based dinning hall diva who converted to Judaism and completely devoted herself to her husband, and her father Paul (Fassbinder regular Ivan Desny), a wealthy German Jewish businessman who has led a rather privileged and prestigious life, even if the National Socialists caused him a bit of trouble for a period of time. Unfortunately, Hannah has a rather romanticized view of her mother, which is part due to her mommy’s dubious recollections of her own past, so it becomes rather hard for the young Jewess to discern fact from fiction. Apparently, before marrying Paul, Malou had a semi-successful career in Strasbourg as a Dietrich-esque nightclub singer/diva and she was more than willing to throw it all away to marry a rich Jew who seemed to be the perfect lover and gentleman. Not thinking twice about shedding her identity as a Frenchwoman and Christian, Malou agreed to convert to Judaism for Paul so the two could wed under Hebraic law. Not long after getting married, National Socialism rears its anti-Semitic head and Malou and Paul flee Teutonland for the Netherlands. While living in Amsterdam, Malou becomes pregnant at what could not be a more inconvenient time as Paul falls in love with a young Jewess named Lotte (Marie Colbin), who he helps escape from the nefarious Nazis. After giving birth to baby Hannah, Malou is visited by the Gestapo, so she, her husband Paul, and Lotte make their way to Argentina. Not long after arriving in Argentina, Paul dumps Malou for Lotte. Despite pleading with Paul desperately for him to come back to her, Malou is ultimately abandoned and forced to raise Hannah by herself. Forever lovelorn, Malou starts a number of deadend relationships with sleazy men that she describes to her daughter as ‘uncles.’ Since Paul considers Malou a negative influence on young Hannah, he has her sent to a European boarding school. In the end, Malou, lonely and melancholy, essentially drinks herself to death. Hannah comes to realize her mother’s relationship with her father was not the ideal fairytale romance that she always assumed as it resulted in a woman giving up everything to a man, including her identity, career, religion, and nationality, only to have him throw her away like an old newspaper in the end. Despite her seemingly petty annoyance at her husband Martin’s halfhearted attempt at ‘Aryanizing’ his Jewish wife by correcting her command of German and negatively critiquing her exotic way of dress, Malou ultimately realizes that her husband is a decent and devoted man who may not by a storybook prince, but still makes for a relatively decent husband, thus Malou concludes with a reasonably happy ending, especially for a post-WWII German film. 

 As Malou star Ingrid Caven somewhat ethno-masochistically noted in an interview in the book Chaos as Usual: Conversations About Rainer Werner Fassbinder (2000), “Our generation in Germany is skeptical about the culture of the past. All that German culture accomplished didn’t prevent people from turning into murderers. That’s why there’s all this denial. We had to find new ways of expression. We needed to recognize that German culture is unthinkable without German-Jewish culture. Germans, whether they are Jewish or not, must understand this. That the Jews were persecuted and murdered is part of it. To us, it was impossible to simply go on as before, to forget what happened.” Indeed, director Jeanine Meerapfel certainly notes that “German culture is unthinkable without German-Jewish culture” in Malou, but she, unlike most 100% kraut filmmakers of her generation, does not feel the need to denigrate Germans into oblivion for the crimes of their parents/grandparents, nor she does stoop to the science fiction level of portraying all Jewish characters as morally pristine angels as is done in Hollywood and most contemporary European cinema. As much as I hate to admit it, Jewish feminist Jeanine Meerapfel demonstrates with Malou that she is essentially more honorable and honest than most of the filmmakers of German New cinema, whose Marxist far-left fanaticism, patronizing xenophilia, pathetic and pandering Philo-Semitism, self-satisfied ignorance of traditional German kultur, and flagrant finger-pointing of their parents/grandparents are clearly symptomatic of a people suffering from a suicidal collective unconscious. Aside from its aesthetic similarities, Malou is quite similar to the films of Daniel Schmid—a filmmaker who was wrongly described as a ‘reactionary’ and ‘fascist’ by the film critics of his zeitgeist—due to his somewhat reluctant nostalgia for the past, which was further confirmed by director Meerapfel’s personal insight regarding her film, “During Filming in Madrid we heard an Argentinian singing tangos in a bar. It became clear to me that the sentimentality of the story in the film, this longing for the past, this melancholy mood, were feelings which I had learned or rediscovered in the tango.” Indeed, the great irony of Malou is that, despite its ultimately unflattering depiction of the past, the past still seems all the more alive, culturally vital, and romantic than the postmodern present where materialistic gain trumps all other human motives. As director Meerapfel stated regarding her reasons why she is a filmmaker in the documentary The Night of the Filmmakers (1995) aka Die Nacht der Regisseure, “We can show how time is connected…That’s something wonderful about films…We can show 40 years of a life, we can show a 100 years…And we can show how time passes…how people age; that’s what films can do. And we can have our parents come to life again…We can have children we never had…And we can be children. That’s probably why we make films,” and with Malou she certainly accomplished all of these goals, even demonstrating that technocratic Teutons can make better husbands than wealthy Hebrews.

-Ty E

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