Date: Fri, 30 Apr 2004 18:27:57 +0200
From: Ivan Mansley <ivanman>


Part 2: A Stranger's Eyes, Juan 1960/61

I have been trying to think of an apt metaphor for this episode, which is so full of detail and has so many themes and narrative threads. It is like a vast plum pudding mixture, from which almost anything can be plucked, but sometimes, immersed in its ingredients, it is hard to discern the finished product. Reitz very helpfully provides the viewer, every now and then, with first person summaries from Hermann and Juan, which remind us of what has gone before and the position they have reached.

Let us look at the title for a moment. Juan, as a non-German in a strange land who has learned the language from a dictionary and reference book, obviously sees everything through the prism of a stranger's eyes. He is an outsider, looking in and despite his poise and multifarious talents he is insecure. In a scene towards the end of the episode, Josef shows Hermann a portrait of his mother who had died in the air raids of 1944. Her eyes are almost blank, enigmatic; Josef refers to how the artist has conveyed a sense of the times in her eyes. She is, of course, a stranger to Hermann and to us. Finally, we have the magnificent scene at Fraulein Cerphal's, where Clarissa, accompanied by Volker on the piano, sings "Zwei Fremde Augen", which has obvious relevance to the just developing relationship between Hermann and Clarissa. I found this moment absolutely entrancing. I do not have a copy of the words [they are not in my Bella Musica booklet] but the theme is the fleeting nature of time: "You can't stop time" and the importance of love: "You see a stranger. He could become your friend". Meaningful glances are exchanged. It sounds corny, but, in fact it is beautiful.

It seems to me that the focus of this episode, despite the title, is not Juan but Hermann and his relations with two women, in particular; Renate and Clarissa. The actress, Franziska Traub, plays Renate brilliantly, for she has to act a fairly shallow, almost ugly, character, who is out of her depth amongst all the gifted students, and who basically has very little to offer. During the scene in the jazz pub and later at Frau Cerphal's she drifts about, alone; twice, she interrupts Hermann's conversations with Clarissa and all she wants to know is when they are going home so she can have sex with him. She is a sad and lonely figure. If she ever thought she had captured Hermann she knows by the time they get back to her apartment that she has failed. She asks him, "Are you thinking of the lovely Clarissa?" He obviously is, but she is determined to have her man! "It needn't be love", she cries, and Hermann obliges. You feel he does this almost out of pity, and in order to prove to himself that he is not made out of stone. He leaves her naked and sweating on the bed. After he has been robbed, Hermann rejects her sympathies as being like his mother's. Much later Hermann turns down an invitation to stay with her and her parents at Christmas, as she stands clutching the arm of a new-found friend. People are constantly ignoring her and turning their back on her, and yet the actress manages to imbue her with a certain humanity and almost dignity.

Clarissa, on the other hand, is certainly beautiful and talented, and also, perhaps, even more of a complex character than Hermann himself. Hermann has admired her from afar, at the foot of the stone staircase in the Conservatoire. He has talked about her with Juan. He sees her name as deriving from Klara and Klarchen: "Names that haunt me". As Hermann and Juan wait at the door of the beer-hall and Clarissa passes, Juan remarks enigmatically: "Beware of beautiful women". Hermann knows that Juan has accompanied her to her mother's home in Wasserburg and wants to know whether they have slept together. He had described jealousy as "spiritual poverty" in conversation with Clarissa but we know he is jealous of Juan. In the marvellous scene where they leave Cleman's beer cellar together, Hermann demands to know, "How was it with Juan?" This is by far my favourite scene from this episode. All the complexities of Hermann and Clarissa are revealed through beautifully simple dialogue eg. You hate men / I think they hate me / Und ich / I like you / But you're wary / Ich auch. They are discovering each other. We have two faces in close-up which eventually meet in a passionate kiss. ["You are like a hedge hog, all prickles / Our prickles are internal"]. They have self-knowledge! I did misinterpret the end of the scene, however. Hermann's summary reveals that he had run away. I had thought that Hermann was expecting to be invited in to Clarissa's apartment and that Clarissa had turned away to continue climbing the stairs but I was wrong.

Juan, like Hermann, attracts women. One can tell that the Principal of the drama school is entranced by him. Clarissa takes him home to meet her mother, although he, more or less, invites himself. Clarissa is rather ashamed of her mother in a way. She describes her as a "simple woman" and we see a restless, rather stupid woman, in whose eyes we perceive a sadness and bewilderment. Her daughter is becoming a stranger to her [see Hermann's mother]. I wondered if there was anything sinister about her patron, Dr.Kirchmeier, whom we do not see in this episode, "who loves her more than his own daughter."!! Juan later comments about a mystery man in the background. On the return journey from Wasserburg Juan and Clarissa kiss passionately [compare Hermann later] but they have agreed to "forget love". Earlier, on the journey down, there was a nice, little moment, when Clarissa is telling Juan about her mother, their arms lie along the window ledge but their hands do not quite touch. We know there is a gulf; that their relationship will not work.

Reitz interweaves the lives of Clarissa, Juan and Hermann and also shows us likenesses between them. All three have lost their fathers. We have seen what happened to Otto Wohlebben in "Heimat"; Clarissa's father died in action and Juan lost his in an earthquake in a copper mine. All have problematic relations with their mothers. The idea of Juan and Hermann as doubles is a very interesting one. When Juan wonders if he is going mad Hermann replies, "Of course not. I don't belong either". He summarises that Juan's drama was to be too talented and that they were both in Munich to study music, although I noted that Juan claims to have other motives in coming to Germany but he does not tell us what they were. Clarissa has vowed never to marry ["Believe me I mean it"] as Hermann has vowed never to love again.

I would like to mention Herr Edel's death and the reaction to it. Herr Edel had been seen in the jazz cellar spouting views on music, free-loading other peoples' wine and confessing to be an alcoholic, even if a controlled one. Reitz is very good at directing these scenes of continual movement, of people drifting from group to group. It all seems so natural. Clemans joins Gisela [Is she Anton's daughter?]. Clarissa leaves her table with Volker and Jean-Marie and joins Hermann. She is concerned about him and her concern reveals great tenderness. It is as if they are already in love. She wants to mother him, just as Marianne had wanted to do earlier. Herr Edel is later found lying, frozen to death in the snow. All the students are shocked. Is this the first contact with death that most of them have had? Clarissa is very shocked, screams, and runs to a phone [practical girl!] and then, trembling, hugs her two lovers. It is a most moving moment and you feel the anguish and the momentary harmony of three souls, struggling to make sense of life and death and their own emotions.

My last paragraph concerns the loss / theft of Hermann's suitcase and its final recovery. It puzzled me when I first saw this episode and it puzzles me still. What exactly is supposed to have happened? When Hermann goes to Frau Moretti's to claim his room we see a man scuttling about in his underwear and she appears to be in a state of undress. His room has gone and his case has gone. Has Frau Moretti stolen the case for a lover? Evidently she recovers his belongings and sends a message via Gabi. It cannot have been burglars! His case and advance rent are returned, advice is offered, and Hermann is declared to be a genius. No explanation is offered. She must have repented her evil deed. "You comforted me, young man". Hermann's charm has won the day again!

I loved the concert of Volker's "Wacht Auf" in its own right, not just as part of the film. Juan did not like it or understand the words but Ivan liked it. I noticed Reitz's fascination with the audience and its reactions [see cinema scenes in "Heimat"].

I hope my introduction helps viewers. I did find it difficult to write, to see the episode as a whole and not in little bits!

Ivan Mansley [Cottage in Lake District, April 29th 2004.]