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229 18 Opfergang Aelskling Flodéen (Kristina Söderbaum), who is suffering from an unnamed disease, might recover if she were reasonable. But she does not want to be reasonable. “I want to live,” she explains to her doctor (Ernst Stahl-Nachbaur). “I don’t want to vegetate. I don’t want to think all the time about whether I am allowed to do something or not. I would rather live a shorter life.” Aels, as most people call her, is an unreasonable woman, and Opfergang is an unreasonable film. With Germany losing the war, its cinema got out of control. Permitting ambivalence from the beginning, it now allowed for a freedom of expression that for ordinary Germans would haveledtothedeathpenalty:atRolandFreisler’snotoriousVolksgerichtshof (People’s Court), defeatism was the most frequent accusation. Opfergang is not a final call for arms but an invitation to surrender and to enjoy surrender . Often viewed as escapist entertainment, Opfergang does mirror German reality insofar as its heroine lives for the moment. She may be dead tomorrow, so why should she pay attention to her health? She talks about death as if he were a friend with whom she has an appointment. From early on, German cinema had turned death into a leading character . Fritz Lang wrote Hilde Warren und der Tod (Hilde Warren and death, 1917) for director Joe May and directed Der müde Tod (Destiny, 1921) himself. In Frank Wysbar’s film Fährmann Maria (Ferryman Maria, 1936), Sybille Schmitz manages to save the man she loves by dancing with a very pale man in black whom the credits list as “der Tod.” These films, admittedly a minority, made death visible. Although Death is not visible in Opfergang, he is nevertheless a major character. A romantic love triangle on the surface, Opfergang actually is an early example of the Thesenfilm, Harlan’s first since Pedro soll hängen. This term is often translated as “message picture,” but that translation misses the point. A Thesenfilm does not teach audiences a lesson about social inequality the way a Warner Bros. veit harlan 230 picture did in the 1930s or a Stanley Kramer production did in the 1950s. A Thesenfilm works on a higher level, and Opfergang looks forward to the mysterious and often pretentious European art film. Opfergang contains discourses on the dichotomy between life and death as well as between life and art. Octavia’s (Irene von Meyendorff’s) father, Senator Froben (Otto Tressler, who rather looks like her grandfather), entertains the family during a hot summer morning by reciting a Dionysus dithyramb by Friedrich Nietzsche: “Die Sonne sinkt” (The sun goes down). He is wearing black. The fact that all members of the Froben family except Albrecht (Carl Raddatz) fear the bright sun, using curtains and blinds to keep their rooms dark, links them to vampires—toothless ones. While Albrecht waits at the Froben mansion, he looks at the emblems, glass paintings, and model ships exhibited in the entrance hall. Harlan dissolves from one object to another to convey the passing of time, which must be a torture for an active, energetic man like Albrecht. Below one clock an inscription reads, “Eine dieser Stunden wird deine letzte sein” (One of these hours will be your last). Aels is a living corpse, too, yet her first appearance is usually viewed as erotic. Tired of his family’s morbid Sunday morning activities, Albrecht needs fresh air and so takes a boat onto the lake in front of the Froben’s mansion. As he is sitting in the rowboat , a hand comes out of the dark water, catching a rope, and a blond woman visible only from behind lets herself be carried across the lake as she hangs onto the rope. In a mixture of Swedish and German, she warns him not to stop rowing because then her “Wellenkleid” (a dress made out of waves) will become transparent, and she would have to leave him. The “wave dress,” as she calls it, is transparent anyhow. She is completely naked, and despite a discreet camera position—she is filmed from behind, her head and shoulders obscuring most of her body—her left breast is fully visible. At last she says farewell, lets go of the rope, and turns around, and audiences recognize the face of Kristina Söderbaum. What makes her appear like a living corpse is the fact that in previous films Söderbaum drowned. Harlan never shows Aels entering the water, so the only conclusion...


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