Date: Fri, 28 May 2004 11:12:15 +0100
From: "Ivan Mansley" <ivanman>



For the very first time since the beginning of this project I felt, whilst I was watching this episode, that I was missing things by being non-German. Certain things had to do with language. For instance, when Evelyne is remembering her day, she recounts with amusement the old lady's pronunciation of "swan" and reflects that there are country people in the city. It is, of course, easy to see Evelyne's empathy with all those whom she meets. She really has a transcendent personality. There is Hermann's concert based on a German riddle designed to provoke Clarissa. There are cultural associations around the Faschingsfest which are probably peculiarly German. All the time I felt as if I was battling through a kind of fog with nuances about German life and character passing me by. Did this mean the content and themes were less than universal? I wonder what other non-German viewers feel.

Ansgar dies in a tragic accident towards the end of the episode, but it has been foreshadowed all the way through. There is no attempt at suspense. We know from the very beginning that Ansgar's wonderful love affair with Evelyne is doomed. Ansgar himself is obsessed with death. One of his earliest childhood poems was about death, as his mother reveals. He bequeathes some of his surviving poetry to Hermann with the words, "You can set them to music when I'm dead." He falls to the ground pretending to be dead when Olga fires the unloaded Winchester rifle at him. In addition, Hermann, in his commentary, declares early on: "I see a friend who was to die young" and gives us the exact duration of his love affair as 7 months and 4 days; a time in which Evelyne and Ansgar were never apart.

Ansgar earns money as a tram conductor and he dies when one of his feet becomes trapped in the closing doors of the tram and he is dragged down the street with his head and body being banged and traumatised on the road with Evelyne running after but being unable to save him. Just before they had been talking of going to the Carnival party and Evelyne had talked of him as a glorious Greek youth garlanded with laurel. Indeed, we have the death of a seriously flawed hero, for Ansgar is riddled with self disgust and injects himself with drugs to cover up his loathing of the world. He is a young man who has run out of time.

I mentioned that Ansgar's foot is trapped in the door and the camera give us a close-up of his boot. Do you remember the scene in the previous episode in the garden, where Ansgar lay on the ground with a glass of wine balanced on his upturned foot. Evelyne drinks from the glass in a happier moment. There are numerous references to feet in this episode. Did you notice? Other than foreshadowing Ansgar's eventual death I do not know what significance they have. When Evelyne declares her love, while they are in bed in the library, she massages or plays with his right foot. After Evelyne's singing lesson the camera focuses on Ansgar's feet as he walks along the stone steps carrying his conductor's satchel. We do not see his upper body. Did you notice that Evelyne had been singing from Wagner's "Rhinegold". One of the lines was something like doom and disaster await. She did not know that this would apply to her. After Hermann's riddle concert Frau Moretti collapses in a chair, as her legs ache after wearing high heels. "Oh my feet!" she exclaims. On the evening of the students' party we see the arrival of Helga and her best friend, Dorli from Dulmen, walking through the heavy but magical snowfall. The camera focuses on Dorli's glamorous court shoes as she steps in an icy puddle. I have just had an idea! Are we meant to think of the weakness of an Achilles' heel. One of Ansgar's weaknesses is his desire to fool around; this is what kills him because he is not paying attention. Feet, shoes, heel, fatal weakness, tragedy! Go figure, as they say these days!!

For the first hour of the episode I was interested but not terribly involved. I can place exactly where I became engaged by the complexity and depth of the emotions portrayed. It was when Hermann arrives at the Fuchsbau for the party, only to find Clarissa sitting outside waiting for him. She has not gone inside because she does not want to meet Helga, of whom she is bitterly jealous. From this point on the episode grows in strength and power. The love affair between Hermann and Clarissa runs alongside that of Evelyne and Ansgar and could not be more different. It is beset by all kinds of abandonments, withdrawals, jealousies, separation and coming togethers but it is no less deep. It is very, very troubled, however.

First, I have an apology to make. My memory had totally let me down. Hermann does receive Clarissa's vaguely addressed letter in which she declares she loves him but then she vanishes for 6 weeks and more. She returns home and we have all the business with Dr. Kirchmayer, "the mysterious man in the Mercedes" and the gift of the 18th century cello. This old man loves her and "suffocates" her, as she puts it. She is a deeply troubled soul. When she returns to Munich and meets Hermann, who is also now a very troubled young man, she pretends to be all light and cheerful. Hermann refuses to return her letter and accuses her: "You light fires everywhere and run away." Hermann is obsessed with her. She plays his cello concerto in Neuburg, Evelyne's home town [Why there?], and has won the music competition with it, whilst Hermann, the composer, gets virtually no attention at all. Could this happen today? I would have been bitter and angry also.

After his "Riddle" concert which was aimed at Clarissa, Hermann leaves and hands Clarissa a brown envelope which contains her letter and a piece of black material. I could not make out what this was. He takes it from a case. Is it a black scarf? Anyway it would seem to symbolize the death of their relationship. "I just wanted to return these", he says, as he thrusts the envelope at her. Then we have the scene between them outside the villa. It is beautifully done. Clarissa's confidence is fragile. Hermann reveals that he meant "love" when he talked of "friendship" in the snow at the time of Herr Edel's death. Hesitantly, Clarissa asks, "And now, is it all ....over?" and she is reduced to tears. "You have no idea", she says, and we can complete for her the words, "the depth of my love". One interpretation of her return home was to practise Hermann's cello concerto for 6 weeks so it would be perfect, as a homage to him. He does not see this, and Clarissa is in distress once more. I loved this scene. She is a vulnerable young woman. She tells Volker, "It's all over between the cello and me." She really means between Hermann and me.

The scenes between Ansgar and his parents, and between Evelyne and Ansgar's mother after his death, are bleak and utterly compelling. They are little masterpieces. As viewers we can see why Ansgar hates his parents so and yet we can sympathise with them a little. His mother pleads and wheedles; she calls him "pet" with every other breath. Ansgar is vehement and outspoken. "You stick like slime with your repulsive prayers". Ansgar's father is rigid and inflexible; he is a man of conviction. But like father, like son. Ansgar makes a mocking sign of the cross and declares, "I'm quitting your stage." In the second scene Evelyne returns to Ansgar's lodgings to return his few possessions and finds his mother there. The camera dwells on the dismal, dingy and spartan room. The grieving mother has upturned the room in search of her son's notebooks, even though in the earlier scene he had told her he had burnt them. She accuses Evelyne of being a thief and then has to discover a syringe. Evelyne tries to protect her by declaring that her son was not a drug addict but it does not really work. They part in acrimony; Evelyne is disgusted by the woman's mercenary feelings and her selfishness. When she cries "I want my Ansgar" Evelyne, that marvellous girl, is compelled to retort, "So do I, you stupid person." That such a beautiful romance should end with this bitterness and misunderstanding is ineffably sad and Reitz's direction and camera work reinforce this feeling of sadness and waste brilliantly.

I do have questions that I could not solve! Why does Fraulein Cerphal confide so intimately in Juan and tell him about Herr Gattinger's membership of the SS? Why does she want the painting carried downstairs to the party? Surely others might recognise the young Herr Gattinger, with whom she had once been in love. What did the cage of mechanical birds signify at the very beginning? Who was the fast asleep member of the audience at Hermann's comic concert? Was it Hartmut with the torch at Clarissa's concert? Who was S. Herman? There was a picture of an old Biblical looking figure of this name in the concert hall.

The breaking of the news of Ansgar's death is very well done. Dorli is in the middle of her stripping routine at the carnival party when Evelyne, almost unnoticed, makes her entry and pronounces the awful words, "Ansgar ist tod"!! She looks like an angel of death. All around her are masked and bizarre figures, now of nightmare. I was reminded of Edgar Allen Poe's short story, "Masque of the Red Death". Her grief is enormous but understated. She has one brief moment of utter anguish over Ansgar's leather jacket. I liked that. There was nothing too histrionic and overdone and over the top. In the final scene we see Hermann and Juan visiting Ansgar's grave in the cemetery. Did you notice the final shot taken from behind the crucifix, as if Christ is observing our two friends from high up, and, in the end, perhaps he is observing us all. I wonder if that was what Reitz was saying.

Ivan Mansley.