Oct 28, 2013
Although completely unknown outside of German-speaking nations, the Heimatfilm (“homeland-film”)—a mystical Teutonic film genre typically filmed outdoors in rural settings with a somewhat sentimental tone centering around old fashioned morals, tight knit families, and a quasi-völkisch and mystical infatuation with nature—was quite a popular film genre in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria from about the late 1940s to the early 1970s as the only popular kraut film style that followed in the footsteps of films from the Third Reich era, so it should be no surprise that a number of filmmakers of German New Cinema, including Volker Schlöndorff, Werner Herzog, Herbert Achternbusch, and even Rainer Werner Fassbinder, started a fashionable anti-Heimatfilm genre that was somewhat trendy during the late-1960s/early-1970s depicting the Germanic countryside as an absurdly backward place full of bloodthirsty lynch mobs, racist and fag-bashing rednecks, an uneducated and superstitious general populous, and smelly cow turds and mutilated animal corpses. Of course, the far-leftist filmmakers of German New Cinema were not the first people to play with and distort the conventions of the Heimatfilm genre, as demonstrated by the little known (at least anywhere outside of Germany and Austria) and criminally neglected gothic horror Heimat film Rape on the Moor (1952) aka Rosen blühen auf dem Heidegrab aka Roses Bloom on the Grave in the Meadow aka Dorothee written and directed by German auteur Hans H. König (The Little Town Will Go to Sleep, Jägerblut). While only a film director for about a half a decade (he would later work as a TV writer before disappearing entirely), Hans H. König managed to subvert and tweak many conventions of the Heimat genre, while sticking to the general plot structure where a good guy and bad guy fight over a girl, with the good guy winning in the end and everyone ends up living happily ever. Indeed, whilst Rape on the Moor essentially follows the typical Heimat plot structure, including the standard romantic subtext, the film does not conclude on a positively positive note as a fiercely foreboding cinematic work that depicts how some things, including boorish rapist kidnappers, that stay the same in the Teutonic countryside are not exactly the most ideal, but nonetheless unavoidable, sort of like cancer. Set in a small Nordic North German village (the film was shot in Bremen (Worpswede Teufelsmoor) and Diepholz (Wietingsmoor)), Rape on the Moor depicts how history has a way of repeating itself when the old Germanic legend of a young beauty named Wilhelmina, who disappeared in a marsh after she was raped by a Swedish soldier during the Thirty Years' War, is eerily repeated in the modern day when a husky hoghead of a man who will not take no for an answer becomes morbidly infatuated with a young girl who wants nothing to do with him. Featuring swamp scenes that look like a peasant’s take on those featured in F.W. Murnau’s post-expressionist masterpiece Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and a sexually predatory villain who is sort of the proletarian equivalent of the bulky bastard baron featured in Effi Briest (1974) directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Rape on the Moor acts as a sort of celluloid missing link between the pre-Nazi ‘grandfather generation’ and the filmmakers of German New cinema.
While strolling down a dirt road on her bike, Dorothee Aden (Ruth Niehaus) is approached by lecherous lurker Dietrich Eschmann (Hermann Schomberg)—a boorish and belligerent beast of a farmer that is as tall and heavyset as he is vulgar and unpleasant, thus making quite the apt person for subduing and assaulting fragile young women—who demands to know why the young debutante is avoiding him. Aside from the fact that Dietrich is a married man and she finds him rather repulsive, Dorothee is in love with a young and promising architect named Ludwig Amelung (Armin Dahlen), who will do anything for the woman he loves, even if he must constantly leave town to attend to his job duties. Dietrich, on the other hand, has a rather miserable marriage with his lonely wife Fiete (Gisela von Collande), so much so that when he tells his beloved “I will kill you,” she simply responds with, “Do it” as if she is longing to be put out of her misery. Instead of killing Fiete, Dietrich ends up maliciously molesting his wife, thus demonstrating the sadomasochistic nature of their miscarriage of a marriage. Like a pissed puppy with rabies, wherever Dorothee goes, degenerate Dietrich follows, so the little lass describes him rightfully as being “like an animal” and, like a beast, the bloated ogre has virtually nil control over his sexual urges or so he will prove. During a splendid day while roaming the countryside with her Teuton boy toy Ludwig, Dorothee spots two crows and describes them as being, “The souls of Wilhelmina and the Swede.” According to local folklore, during the Thirty Years' War—a time when, according to Dorothee, “one had to be friendly to the strangers who came from the North or South”—a young and beauteous maiden named Wilhelmina made the mistake of leading a Swedish lieutenant through a moor, where he raped her, so as revenge and, “out of the misery and desperation of her heart,” she later led him to the wetlands where they both disappeared into the earth, never to be see again. Undoubtedly, Dorothee has a sort of metaphysical feeling that she and Wilhelmina are kindred spirits, which proves to be true in the sense that she is soon raped by Dietrich and she seeks revenge by taking him to the moor, with the goal of killing him and herself, albeit things do not turn out as perfect as planned as her loyal lover Ludwig comes to the rescue in the end. Unfortunately, while Ludwig, with the help of a rescue team (who sport what looks like World War I era German helmets), manage to rescue Dorothee from being forever swallowed up by the earth in just in the nick of time, the emotional damage as a result of the rape and near death/suicide/murder experience may have caused irreparable damage that may or may not destroy the two lovers' relationship in the end. Whether Dorothee and Ludwig ever manage to move on with the traumatic events is questionable, thus making the kraut countryside seem like a curious and accursed place plagued by blood, soil, and semen.
Although I may be overestimating his love of the Teutons, maybe if he had seen Rape on the Moor and the various other subversive Heimat films directed by Hans H. König, Austrian-Jewish-American cineaste Amos Vogel might have thought twice about describing heimat films as “those insufferable, sentimental "kitsch" prosodies to Fatherland, Soil, and Family,” in his book Film as a Subversive Art (1974). Indeed, Rape on the Moor takes a more unsettling look at völk history and folklore than probably any others of the 300+ Heimat films made during the 1950s as a work ultimately demonstrating that—aside from love, family, spirituality, and nature worship being a part of folk history—lovelorn jealousy, barbarian invasions, and violent sexual pillaging also came into play because for every happy couple there is a desperate and sometimes deranged third person looking to split them apart who is willing to do anything to achieve their aberrant aims. Unlike anti-Heimat films like Hunting Scenes from Bavaria (1969) aka Jagdszenen aus Niederbayern and Der plötzliche Reichtum der armen Leute von Kombach (1971) aka The Sudden Wealth of the Poor People of Kombach, which portray Teutonic rural areas as backwards hellholes with a borderline retarded populous of the superlatively superstitious sort, Rape on the Moor does not wallow in contempt for the kraut country, but portrays it as a beautiful yet brutal place where both man and nature have the capacity for the most ungodly and unmerciful of atrocities. If Rape on the Moor accomplishes anything that is original that makes it stand out from not just Heimat films but horror cinema as well, it is in depicting the countryside as an oneiric and omnious haunted house/graveyard of sorts that has the propensity for literally possessing its inhabitants, especially the character Dorothee, who is summoned by the moor, whispering “The… moor… is… calling” to herself while in an entranced state of wayward ecstasy. Sort of the Rebecca (1940) meets Carnival of Souls (1962) of Heimat films, Rape on the Moor is indisputable proof that Teutonic mysticism and Gothic horror can make for an immaculate combo, but rather unfortunately, aside from Niklaus Schilling's killer kaleidoscopic work Nachtschatten (1972) aka Nightshade, I cannot think of another film that has attempted this devilishly delectable celluloid formula.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:34 PM
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