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Review: Germany in Autumn

By Carl Bennett

Copyright © 1979 by Cinemonkey (Charles H. Johnson and D.K. Holm). All Rights Reserved. Reproduced by permission.

Online version
Copyright © 2001-2014 by Carl Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

Originally published in Cinemonkey 17, Volume 5, Number 2, Spring 1979, pages 25-26.

Note about this reproduction: Punctuation, spelling and typographical errors have been corrected. Breaks in words and paragraphs indicate the original publication’s page breaks for reference purposes.

Page 25

Germany in Autumn is a documentary by members of the New German Cinema (which includes Böll, Fassbinder and Kluge) as a fictionalized record of public reaction to the terrorist events of September and October of 1977. The film begins

Page 26

with footage of the funeral of industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer who was head of the Federation of German Industries until kidnapped and killed by members of the Red Army Faction. The RAF was associated with the Baader-Meinhof group of terrorists and had demanded that eleven political prisoners be released and flown to political asylum in another country or Schleyer was to be killed. Three of those prisoners, Andreas Baader, Gundrun Ensslin and Carl Raspe, committed suicide hours after news was released of the capture of the terrorists who hijacked a Frankfurt-bound Lufthansa jet in Mogadishu, Somalia. It is with the Baader, Ensslin and Raspe funeral that the film ends.

The bulk of Germany in Autumn is a fictionalized account of the effect the above events had in both emotional and political terms on the people of such a highly industrialized country as Germany. A series of loosely connected dramas and documentary footage explores the emotional and psychological effects of the news of the extremely well-executed kidnapping of Schleyer and of the suicides by the terrorists inside their maximum-security cells of Stammheim prison in Stuttgart.

A particularly effective segment tells of the extreme trouble friends has in finding a proper burial site for the three dead terrorists, and equates their trouble to the story of Antigone in a scene where a television editorial board is putting brakes on a production of the play because they read a call for political subversion into Sophocles’ account of Antigone’s defiance of decreed law to bury her dead outcast brother. The editorial board decides that the production is too timely and insists they are not exercising censorship by agreeing to finish the production, only to air it at a later, more politically stable, time.

Germany in Autumn was not put together to be aesthetically pleasing; it was necessary for the filmmakers to finish the production while the content was still pertinent. Unfortunately, due to their haste, much of the first part of the film, a section dealing with two roommates mulling over the significance of the events, is so underlit that one suffers eyestrain attempting to distinguish a character’s dark clothing from the dark background. At times the editing is unclear due to taking a jumble of material and piecing it together. This makes more than one dramatized section hard to follow. Germany in Autumn requires more than passive interest in either the filmmakers, the subject matter or contemporary German politics to be of interest.

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Deutschland im Herbst [Germany in Autumn] (1978)
West Germany Color 123 minutes
Directed by Alf Brustellin, Hans Peter Cloos, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Alexander Kluge, Maximiliane Mainka, Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus, Edgar Reitz, Katja Rupé, Volker Schlöndorff, Peter Schubert and Bernhard Sinkel.
Cast: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wolf Biermann, Horst Mahler, Armin Meier, Helmut Griem, Mario Adorf, Heinz Bennent, Joachim Bissmeier, Joey Buschmann, Wolfgang Bächler, Hans Peter Cloos, Horst Ehmke, Otto Friebel, Hildegard Friese, Michael Gahr, Vadim Glowna, Hannelore Hoger, Horatius Häberle, Dieter Laser, Lisi Mangold, Enno Patalas, Lilo Pempeit, Franz Priegel, Katja Rupé, Franziska Walser, André Wilms, Angela Winkler, Manfred Zapatka.
A Hallelujah Films / Kairos Film / Pro-ject Filmproduktion production. Screenplay by Alf Brustellin, Heinrich Böll, Hans Peter Cloos, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Alexander Kluge, Maximiliane Mainka, Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus, Edgar Reitz, Katja Rupé, Volker Schlöndorff, Peter Schubert, Bernhard Sinkel and Peter F. Steinbach. Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, Guenter Hoermann, Jürgen Jürges, Bodo Kessler, Dietrich Lohmann, Werner Lüring, Colin Mounier and Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein. Edited by Heidi Genée, Mulle Goetz-Dickopp, Juliane Lorenz, Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus, Tanja Schmidbauer and Christine Warnck.