Berlin Alexanderplatz


Director: Phil Jutzi
Year: 1931
Rating: 6.0
Country: Germany

This film is based on a novel of the same name written in 1929 by Alfred Doblin. It is considered a major German fictional work about society, crime and human nature during the maelstrom of the Weimar Republic with an economy that has crashed, people going hungry, women selling their bodies, a nation still recovering from WWI and humiliated by the Peace Treaty - taking place in the insanity of Berlin which was an anything goes place (check out the documentary Sin Cities). Also of course lurking in the shadows is Nazism. The other film version of this book is the 1980 fifteen and half hour TV mini-series directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder which is suppose to be amazing but I don't see myself watching it any time soon. Perhaps the popularity of the TV show Babylon Berlin (which is great) will get people to revisit it.

From what I have read about the book, this film version definitely cleaned itself up but even then it delves into the underworld of crime, poverty, prostitution, desperation and hope that is as much about Germany at the time as the characters who inhabit the film. At the very end the main character looks into the camera and at the audience and tells them that no matter how often you fall, you get up again and again - the story of Germany in the 20th Century. Of course, neither the author nor the director knew that it would be Hitler that would soon be picking Germany off the floor and then destroying it and millions of people.

Franz Biberkopf (Heinrich George) reluctantly leaves jail after a four year sentence for killing his girlfriend in a drunken rage (in the book he is a pimp, she is a prostitute). He has decided that he will go straight from now on - lead a moral life and stay out of jail. He takes up with a woman he meets in a bar - though not said, she is clearly a woman of the night who also seemingly wants out of her life. But a crime boss wants to bring Franz into his gang and through trickery is able to implicate him in a crime. Tragedy follows.

Heinrich George is terrific in his role as Franz - large, unwieldy, stubborn, stout German working class as he downs beer after beer with gusto. In his life he was actually a Communist but managed to navigate the system and film industry after Hitler came to power and ended up dying in a Soviet prisoner camp in 1946. The other main character in the film is Berlin - and watching this film ninety years later it is perhaps of more interest to us than the story. Director Phil Jutzi allows the camera to simply capture the teeming street life of Berlin as it was before the horror. Shot in almost silent film style with stark cinematography, expressive close-ups - a little clunky as one would expect and episodic in nature - it is a fascinating peephole into a different era.