Cinema Europa / 14th May / 19.00

Das verurteilte Dorf (Martin Hellberg, 1952)

After years as a POW in the USSR, Heinz Weimann returns to his home, Bärenweiler, a village somewhere in Bavaria; there, he just wants to start anew: in his old life as a farmer. Shortly after his return, on Thanksgiving, Bärenweiler’s mayor gets notified by the occupation authorities that the village will have to be vacated – as the US Air Force wants to build a new airfield there. The mayor doesn’t like any of this one bit, but gets disillusioned when his superiors don’t want to help him; ditto the local priest who’s also left alone by the bishop. Weimann, all the while, starts to organize the villagers who get beaten up by the police when they try to demonstrate in front of the regional parliament. Once word gets out about the desperate attempts of Bärenweiler’s citizens to resist the US and their FRG lackeys, the rest of the republic (and the GDR as well) starts to make its collective voice felt… Based on a news item about similar happenings in the village of Hammelburg, Das verurteilte Dorf became one of the most surprising and smartest efforts of early GDR cinema – especially when seen alongside other works equally intent on all-out agitation: it’s nothing less than the Heimatfilm version of  a revolutionary subject. All key characters well-established by then in the era-wise most particular of genres for FRG cinema are present: The outsider entering a tightly knitted rural cosmos (here a POW returning home; in the FRG it could just as well have been a refugee); the priest and the mayor as forces of order; an erstwhile love interest now married to the wrong guy; etc. Yet here, collective action arises where normally individual drama would prevail. Obviously, Das verurteilte Dorf was meant to be screened in the GDR as well as the FRG; the latter didn’t happen due to an intervention by the Interministerielle Ausschuß für Ost-West-Filmfragen. That Hellberg’s lone masterpiece would gain topical importance back home when citizens refused to relocate from their homes deemed too close to the border with the FRG, again, came as a surprise…