Oct 21, 2019

Befrielsesbilleder




While we are constantly beat over the head virtually at birth with tired tales of shoah survivors and victims of Nazi persecution that resemble something out of some bad melodrama (or, worse, a Spielberg movie), we rarely ever hear about the forlorn fates of the other side, especially those that made the less than auspicious decision to fight for Europa against communism via the Third Reich as so many foreign recruits believed they were doing (as the post-WWII enslavement of half of Europe by the Soviet Union demonstrates, that is certainly what they were doing). Indeed, it cannot be a good feeling to be on the losing side in what was probably the most disastrous and nightmarish war in human history while so many criminals and killers on the (so-called) ‘resistance’ side would be regarded as heroes and be free to execute bloodthirsty Judaic eye-for-an-eye vengeance on the ‘guilty’ and—sometimes—not at all guilty. While SS-Oberführer Oskar Dirlewanger probably deserved his (suspected) grisly fate, one has to really question the motives behind the recent craven and inordinately petty harassment of virtually zombified 90+-year-old retirees (John Demjanjuk being probably the most well known example and Bruno Dey the most recent) being persecuted by conspicuously corrupt western courts under the suspicion of being concentration camp guards when they were young and dumb (while, rather notably, Israel is infamous for refusing to extradite its savagely sadistic genocidal mass murderers like Salomon Morel).

While my Dutch grandfather was involved in the resistance and his family even hid teenage Jewesses inside their home, he had cousins in the Waffen-SS and apparently they spent the rest of their lives in exile in Germany after WWII lest they succumb to prosecution and very potential execution in some Nuremberg-esque show trial where Judaic justice reigns. While it was always very clear to me that my grandfather suffered immensely as a result of WWII as the trauma it caused has acted as a virtual inter-generational family curse of sorts, I could not help but wonder about the lives of his black sheep Waffen-SS cousins. Needless to say, not many films exist on the subject of a relatively sympathetic portrayal of the misery of ex-German soldiers in a post-WWII Americanized world aside from a couple notable examples like Belgian master auteur André Delvaux’s surely underrated Een vrouw tussen hond en wolf (1979) aka Woman in a Twilight Garden starring Rutger Hauer as a terminally dejected Flemish (ex)Waffen-SS officer and Danish director Martin Zandvliet’s rather mid-brow Land of Mine (2015). Undoubtedly, Jan Troell's Knut Hamsun biopic Hamsun (1996) does a good job depicting the patent absurdity of how the Norwegian Nobel-Prize-winning writer was robbed and persecuted in his old age by the post-WWII government, but it is not a particularly aesthetically alluring cinematic work like the auteur's previous films. Arguably, the most subversive and certainly most experimental of these films is Danish auteur Lars von Trier’s little-seen fiercely fucked and forsaken celluloid fever dream Befrielsesbilleder (1982) aka Images of a Relief aka Liberation Pictures—an ostensible war film that defies classification yet also undeniably demonstrates the auteur learned a thing or two from Tarkovsky, Bergman, and Dreyer. 


 Although von Trier would eventually discover in 1989 that his biological father was a WWII resistance fighter of German goy extraction by the name of Fritz Michael Hartmann, he believed at the time that he made Befrielsesbilleder that he was Jewish via the pseudo-father he was named after, thereupon making the film, which practically bleeds Wehrmacht blut, seem all the more subversive and insanely idiosyncratic in terms of post-Auschwitz sentiment. After all, von Trier himself portrayed a creepy Jewish artist named Victor Marse in his previous film Orchidégartneren (1977) aka The Orchid Gardener that not only curiously dresses in both Nazi cosplay and drag, but also concludes the film by molesting a little girl pushing a baby doll carriage. Right before discovering he was actually Aryan as opposed to a chosenite, von Trier appeared as a character simply credited as ‘Jew’ in his classic film Europa (1991) in a curious director cameo comparable to Fassbinder’s kosher character in Lili Marleen (1981). As Jack Stevenson noted in his worthwhile text Lars von Trier (2002), von Trier, who grew up in a degenerate hippie nudist far-leftist household, had even contrived a false Jewish identity of sorts as exemplified by the filmmaker’s words, “I am very taken with my Jewish background. Jewishness has something to do with both suffering and historical consciousness which I miss so much in modern art. People have left their roots, their religion behind.” Notably, in Befrielsesbilleder, not only does von Trier conjure pangs of suffering and preternatural historical consciousness, but he also unwittingly gets in contact with his Teutonic roots in both a historical and deeply atavistic fashion as if he had been possessed by the spirit of Hermann Löns after attending a Hans-Jürgen Syberberg film retrospective. Indeed, the Danish auteur that added the German nobiliary particle ‘von’ to his name in tribute to great Judaic filmmakers with phony aristocratic titles like Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg arguably reveals with Befrielsesbilleder that sometimes the Volksgeist can appear deeply on a subconscious artist level as surely no true blue Hebrew has ever directed a film that is even remotely similar both in terms of aesthetic and subject matter, but I digress. 


 Despite the fact that probably virtually no one would suspect so much upon viewing it, Befrielsesbilleder—a sort of mid-length feature at just under 60-minutes in length—was actually made by von Trier as his film school graduate project (for a similar example of an enterprising young auteur, checkout Aryan Kaganof’s aberrant-garde Bataille adaptation The Dead Man 2: Return of the Dead Man (1994)). Of course, to even mention such a perversely poetic cinematic work was created in film school is an unfortunate fact that surely undermines it, but facts are facts and von Trier is—for better or worse—not your typical filmmaker but a born-artist from an Aryan family with a long artistic legacy (in fact, von Trier's communist mother attempted to defend her cuckolding of her kosher husband by telling the filmmaker that she wanted to bless him with “artistic genes”). Aside from revealing an unbelievably mature degree of aesthetic and technical refinement, the film also demonstrates von Trier’s unconventional dedication to the historical documentary record as the auteur dared to dig up unseen documentary footage of resistance fighters tormenting supposed Nazi collaborators in the city of Copenhagen in the wake of the liberation of Denmark in early May 1945. Undoubtedly, in its shockingly seamless combination of vintage documentary footage and almost surreally stylized footage directed by von Trier, the film anticipates the auteur’s later utilization of different sorts of stock footage and film and digital formats in works like NYMPH()MANIAC (2013). Ultimately, the entire film feels if it is set in some purgatorial post-Hitler hell where a limbless human-torso Dirlewanger is being double-penetrated by the devil with a big black razor-sharp dildo for eternity, though the Nazi (anti)hero does curiously ascend to heaven in the end in what is indubitably one of the most shockingly transcendent moments in all of von Trier’s work. 


 Although he has a very Jewish-sounding name, Leo Mendel (Edward Fleming)—a four-eyed nerd that radiates a certain pathological pitifulness and deep-seated despondency—is an officer in the Wehrmacht and his prestigious position has now turned him into a virtual dead man walking as he is caged in a nightmarish POW prison in Copenhagen after the liberation of Copenhagen in May 1945. Like his kraut comrades, Leo plans to blow his brains out and prepares for the big event by writing his lover Esther (Kirsten Olesen) a rather brief ‘goodbye letter’ of sorts that reads: “Darling, Esther.  This frightful war, which brought us together, has now separated us again. It is terrible to write that we shall never meet again. But so it must be. Don’t forget that what you do for love stands above good and evil. Forever yours, Leo.” Unluckily for him, Leo does meet Esther again after he escapes from prison upon failing to successfully commit self-slaughter after his gun malfunctions and gets somewhat of a dark surprise.  Surely, Leo's incapacity to even kill himself really underscores his loser status, though things only get much worse from there. Rather unfortunately, while lurking in the shadows in preparation for reuniting with his lover, Leo gets the sickening shock of a lifetime under already less than ideal circumstances when Esther eventually shows up in the arms of an American buck negro GI in a scene that recalls a similar scenario of interracial romantic disharmony in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s hit film The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978). While the jigaboo liberator kisses and sensually embraces Esther, she pushes him away by complaining “Can we do something else?” while looking clearly dejected as if she is painfully cognizant of the fact that she is nothing more than an involuntary spoil of war and that she probably much preferred being a Nazi slut. 


 While one might initially suspect that Esther would be eternally grateful to see her assumed-dead lover, she is more or less a total bitch in the sort of way a women get when they still love a man but realizes that the relationship is completely doomed. Indeed, after bitching to Leo, “What do you want? You promised, didn’t you?,” Esther momentarily complains about lanterns blowing away and then accuses Leo of being culpable for war crimes, stating, “Everybody’s talking about what you did. The partisan boy you took last week. You ruined his eyes!” Leo seems to believe he is equipped with plausible deniability by coldly retorting “SS—they were from the SS,” but Esther—being an intuitive bitch that knows bullshit when she hears it—replies, “I know you were there. Don’t you see that you have a responsibility too? You’re so brilliant. You don’t care what you see. You can be used. What sort of morality is that? But you store it up. At some time a reaction will come. When will you scream?” Ultimately, Esther provides the answer to her own question the next day by causing Leo to unleash a deathly scream after playing the femme fatale, luring him into an insidious trap, and betraying him in the most cravenly personalized sort of fashion; or, a one-sided sort of Liebestod


 While it is hard to tell considering he is a marked man and officer in the most hated military in the world and thus probably not completely mentally sound, Leo has a rather flat affect as if he is an autist of sorts and Esther hints at this by complaining to him, “I could never see my reflection in your eyes.” Indeed, one gets the sense that if Leo was less cold and mechanical and offered more of himself, Esther might not betray him. Leo seems to sense this—or at least the impossibility of satisfying a uniquely unhappy woman—when he remarks “For a woman it’s always something different” after Esther complains, “It’s different now” in regard to their current less than ideal predicament. Undoubtedly, things are different and Leo is so ludicrously low that he can only go up; or so he does after reaching the lowest of lows in terms of abject desperation and infernal isolation. While he should probably know better, especially after seeing Esther with the yank spade stud, Leo agrees to meet her the next day at a secluded place in the woods in what ultimately proves to be an almost quintessentially Teutonic fairy-tale settling where the protagonist actually manages to briefly break out of his seemingly impenetrable shell and embrace life and nature just before he dies. Indeed, while Esther stands with her back to him while dressed like some sort of drag king Gestapo agent, Leo declares with the utmost conviction and sincerity, “Something happened to me yesterday—which disturbed me. All at once I found myself thinking of the world of my childhood. The forests—and the birds. It’s never happened to me before. To have images coming back. When I was a boy I could talk to the birds. When I was a boy I could talk to the birds. And they would answer me.” While Leo attempts his childhood talent for talking to the birds at Esther’s dubious recommendation in what ultimately proves to be a trap, American soldiers and their Danish comrades begin encircling the protagonist. After a soldier ties Leo to a tree, Esther declares “Those eyes. They don’t love. They don’t despise” and then personally blinds him in a brutally primitive fashion by stabbing him in each of his eyes with a sharpened branch in a literal/figurative ‘eye-for-an-eye’ scenario that concludes with the protagonist literally ascending to heaven during sunrise while his treacherous yet nonetheless clearly guilt-ridden beloved sobs in his car. In the end, the film is not just the paradoxically uplifting yet dispiriting story of an autistic Aryan Christ, but also the timeless (yet transcendental) tale of a woman betraying a mensch she loves because he did not make her ‘feel’ the right way at the right time; or, the real perennial war of the sexes. 


 Despite the fact that Befrielsesbilleder is, in many ways, a more aesthetically alluring and arcane cinematic works than many of his later films ranging from the Dogme 95 retard-a-thon The Idiots (1998) to his latest serial killer effort The House That Jack Built (2018), apparently the auteur had a somewhat troll-ish mindset when he conceived of it, or as Jack Stevenson explained, “Von Trier later claimed that many viewers fainted during the 18 June screening at the Film School, ‘because’, as he put it, ‘I quite on purpose gave no release for the excitement which had been built up. … I purposely increased the excitement by setting the characters in extreme situations.’” Of course, anyone that has seen the film’s co-writer and cinematographer Tom Elling’s own directorial efforts like Perfect World (1990) will know that he clearly had a strong aesthetic and technical influence on the overall quality of the film, yet it is still assuredly Trier-ian in its provocatively and preternaturally haunting essence. As with von Trier’s greatest films, the auteur reveals his innate disdain for the Hollywood model by refraining from making insufferable moral judgments against his characters—whether it be the Nazi officer or the Danish whore who betrays him, which says a lot considering he was under the impression that he was an Israelite at the time. Of course, as a man that regards Liliana Cavani’s vaguely esoteric exercise in SS sadomasochism The Night Porter (1974) as one of his favorite films, one should not expect anything less from von Trier.

Naturally, despite depicting a naughty Nazi is a sympathetic light, von Trier was not trying to express any sort of pro-Hitlerite message with the film as revealed by his words, “I have not taken the side of the German officer because he is a Nazi but because he is the loser. … I permit myself to be fascinated by that which has always fascinated people, among other things, death. War is always a good subject.” Not surprisingly in our ultra-PC Zio-authoritarian times, such a rare open-minded mentality would get von Trier in deep trouble during a now-infamous press conference for his film Melancholia (2011) at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where he joked about how he “understands” and “sympathizes” with Hitler and expressed some negative sentiments regarding Israel and the horrendous Hebraic hack Susanne Bier (After the Wedding, Bird Box). Of course, as a subversive European ‘artiste’ with a deep interest in politics and history, especially WWII, it is only natural that von Trier would try to understand Uncle Adolf and his undeniable influence and the auteur's early films like The Orchid Gardener, Befrielsesbilleder, and Europa certainly proves that.  After all, artists are oftentimes interested in politics because, not unlike art, it gives them the opportunity to create their own world, which is something that, despite his eventual failure and defeat in the end, Hitler fully achieved, hence his special interest in architects like Albert Speer and sculptors like Arno Breker.


 Despite winning the ‘Special Award’ at the European Film School Festival in Munich in 1982 and receiving some positive reviews, Befrielsesbilleder was naturally met with much controversy and attacks, namely due to its unflattering depiction of the Danish resistance, or as Stevenson explained, “Liberation Day in Denmark had really been Judgment Day: passive collaborators and fence-sitters became patriots overnight – old scores were settled and accusations, true and false, were leveled. Five years of pent-up emotions boiled to the surface in a blind frenzy of anger, joy, patriotism and lust for revenge. While today public debate about the sensitive issue of the Occupation in Denmark is wide ranging, in 1982 perception of this complicated time conformed to a much more ‘official’ line: Germans were bad, Danes were good, and the Resistance had been heroic and widespread. Von Trier’s attempts, however perhaps half-formed, to investigate the ambiguous nature of good and evil and guilt and innocence within the sensitive context of the War, was sure to offend many, particularly his elders.” Undoubtedly, aside from the rare exception like the somewhat esoteric Death In June song “C'est Un Rêve,” there are not many similarly fearless examples of European art comparable to von Trier’s film where an artist dares to confront the cold black hypocritical heart that inspired some of the harsher actions of the ‘freedom fighters.’ Of course, as the film hints, not unlike Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun did before it, the outcome of WWII becomes more than a little bit dubious when it involves American negro ‘liberators’ taking native European women as whores and neighbors killing neighbors after the war had already ended. Also, certainly no common sense or humanity was applied when pioneering French film theorist Robert Brasillach—one of the first Western critics to seriously study great Japanese auteur filmmakers like Yasujirō Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi—was executed for his pro-fascist journalism after Charles de Gaulle refused to grant him a pardon. After all, until the Third Reich began losing the war and yanks and Brits invaded the continent, the German occupation of fellow Germanic countries like the Netherlands and Denmark was relatively peaceful. One certainly cannot say the same of the many countries that the United States have occupied since then and Europe has hardly benefited from the Americanization of the continent as its moral and spiritual degeneration, cultural retardation, dwindling populations and perpetual invasion by hostile so-called ‘refugees’ from the global south clearly reveals.  In that sense, it is somewhat of a surprise that a filmmaker as great, revolutionary, and relatively young as von Trier even exists today in modern-day Europe, but then again, he still seems like a childish dilettante compared to his fellow Dane and cinematic hero Carl Theodor Dreyer (surely not coincidentally, Medea (1988), which is based on Dreyer's unused screenplay adaptation of Euripides' classic play, is among von Trier's maturest and most metaphysical works).


 When the great frog film critic André Bazin wrote, “If there is a cinema of cruelty today, Stroheim invented it,” he certainly could not have predicted von Trier or his singular talent for bringing immense poetic pulchritude to such striking cinematic cruelty as is fully apparent in Befrielsesbilleder—a film that is quite probably the auteur’s most underrated cinematic effort to date in the sense that virtually no one has seen it despite the fact that it was directed by one of the most important and iconoclastic filmmakers working today. A film that begs for interpretation due to its hyper hermetic symbolism and ominously oneiric atmosphere, I cannot help but interpret it as a (probably largely unintentional) eulogy for Europa. Indeed, in a scene where a pocket watch burns in a fire while German soldiers—the last defenders of Europe against communism and other innately anti-Occidental alien forces—commit suicide in rather brutal fashions that really highlights the almost otherworldly desperation of their situation, one cannot help but reminded that time has run out and the so-called West is dead, or, at the very least, on its last gasp. Additionally, it goes without saying that the Nuremberg trials—a craven charade that involved the torture and lynching of men like philosopher Alfred Rosenberg for writing philosophy and propagandist Julius Streicher for writing sleazy yellow press propaganda, among other patent absurdities—were, as the late great Francis Parker Yockey noted while working as a lawyer there, a fiendish farce guided by a Judaic sense of justice and, in that sense, it is only fitting that a white European woman commits brutal literal/figurative eye-for-an-eye justice against her lover in von Trier's film.

As General George S. Patton—a truly honorable military man that, rather conveniently, died under beyond dubious circumstances after wisely criticizing America's nonsensical stance on the Soviet Union and support of so-called denazification processes—once wrote regarding the Nuremberg Show Trials, “I am frankly opposed to this war criminal stuff. It is not cricket and is semitic.”  After all, as Nietzsche once wrote, “Sin, as it is at present felt wherever Christianity prevails or has prevailed, is a Jewish feeling and a Jewish invention; and in respect to this background of all Christian morality, Christianity has in fact aimed at ‘Judaizing’ the whole world.”  In short, for better or worse, Befrielsesbilleder—a rather original film with a sometimes primeval paganistic spirit directed by a virtual novice with the flare of a master—deserves a special place in cinema history as a rare expression of a sort of ‘cruel humanism’ and almost transcendental pathos that dares to confront the harsh reality of the post-WWII German plight and go beyond good and evil whilst ironically flirting with Christian symbolism.  Undoubtedly, von Trier would master this approach while tackling the woman question in Antichrist (2009) where feminine irrationalism and betrayal also leads to a nasty time for a dude in the forest.



-Ty E

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