Wolfgang Liebeneiner – Liebe ’47 (1949)
from German Postwar Films: Life and Love in the Ruins by Wilfried Wilms & William Rasch
(…) By the time Liebeneiner’s film appeared in theaters, the genre of the “returnee film” (Heimkehrerfilm) and the “rubble film” (Trümmerfilm) had become the stuff of ironic commentary. In Robert Stemmle’s Berliner Ballade (1948), the imaginary Berlin of 2048 is juxtaposed with “archival material from 1948” and a voiceover expresses the likely dismay of many in the audience: “not another Heimkehrerfilm!” And in Rudolf Jugert’s Film ohne Titel, a screenwriter, an actor, and a director debate what kind of film will attract audiences. If anti-Nazi films that explored questions of guilt were unpopular, they agreed, then the “rubble film” and the “returnee” film would certainly not fill movie houses. Once tragedy, these genres were now the subject of satire; their time had come and gone.
As one reviewer of Liebe 47 put it, “it is the theme, the atmosphere, the ambience of war and postwar that [audiences] are rejecting.” The past the film depicted was “too present and not yet removed enough to spark historical interest . . . It is a time of spiritual restoration. We’ve had enough upheaval.” “Should we now start to rip open old wounds?” Critical reviews and low box-office receipts suggest that when Liebe 47 asked the question, the answer was no. Anna and Beckmann told a story that began in 1943—when Beckmann lost his knee cap at Stalingrad and Anna lost her virtue in a hail of bombs—but by 1949, Germans had progressed “from Stalingrad to currency reform,” and there were many indications that for West Germans, the postwar years were over (…)
(…) One review of Liebe 47 concluded that “we should all have seen [this] film.” Not many West Germans took this advice, but nearly sixty years later, we would do well to follow it. “In ten or twenty years,” commented another reviewer, films like Liebe 47 would “perhaps earn recognition as documents of the past.” As the contributions to this volume testify, he was right. Liebeneiner’s “quite fantastic film” is anything but “perfectly ordinary” and it is a “document of the past” that can tell us much about the immediate postwar years—in which prominent figures in the Nazi cultural hierarchy could make pacifist films, women claimed a right to tell their war stories on equal footing with men, men were rocked by a “crisis of masculinity,” and rubble defined the real and figurative landscape of postwar German cities.
The film’s commercial failure yields evidence of another sort, suggesting that four years after the bombs had ceased to fall and the shooting had stopped, these were parts of a past that West Germans no longer wanted to see at the movies.