National identities

The characterisation of the protagonists is much more abstract than in Westfront 1918 and Die andere Seite. The protagonists are first of all exponents of nationalities, which lends the film a rather exemplary character. As was the case with Westfront 1918, in whose credits the actors were only designated by characteristics, the programme brochure for Niemandsland gives the names of the actors in combination with the nationalities that they repre sent.56 Remarkably, the name of the black actor Lewis Douglas is followed by the epithet African rather than French-African, despite the fact that he wears a French uniform. It is also remarkable that four of the characters in the film increasingly use their proper names as the narrative progresses - Brown, Durant, Kohler and Lewin - with the exception of the African, who remains without a proper name.57 The presence of a black character in the narrative may also be connected to the fact that the colour of the skin is a characteristic that divides people but which, in contrast to the national symbols, cannot be 'taken off'. It seems as if Trivas has tried to solve this problem by presenting the African as a superior human being, by which he tackles the false sense of superiority among white people, who are the most divided at the beginning of the film. In this way he levels the relationship between the races, not only white against black, but also Europe against Africa.

The Jew, who has also been placed at a distance from the other parties, may have been meant as the African's counterpart. Both of them fulfil a recon-ciliatory function. The African bridges the gap between the parties because he speaks his languages, the Jew because he has no language at all. In the film, both of them represent those who are oppressed on the basis of racial characteristics or who are considered inferior. This would tally with the anti-imperialist stance shown in the rest of the film.58 It is clear that Trivas has the African fulfil a role in his film that was the opposite of the African played in Pabst's film.

Despite the stereotypical approach, the film emphasises the notion that the differences are only relative. Nowhere in the film are they contrasted, except for the moment when a discussion about the causes of the war develops. Above all, Niemandsland shows that national identity is a construction that manifests itself in exterior symbols. If one discards these manifest symbols, the 'naked' man will appear, differences will be erased and motives for waging war will disappear. Trivas solves the problem of language differences via the characters of the African and the Jew. In contrast to Westfront 1918 and Die andere Seite, Niemandsland shows us a group of soldiers which is not only composed of various nationalities, but which also actually turns against the war. This last aspect becomes visible especially towards the end of the film. It also becomes apparent in an earlier part of the film, in the ruin, when there is desertion, initially involuntary but later as a result of a conscious choice. The idea of an international brotherhood, the main leitmotif in the film, is connected with an act of pacifism, refusing military service (even though this occurs after they have actually joined the army). Their refusal to continue to take part in the war is motivated by the discovery that the similarities between them are greater than the differences. At the end of the film, the relative passiv ity that characterised the situation in the ruin changes into a certain aggression towards the war, which is presented as an abstract antagonist in the last scene.

We can say that Niemandsland is in fact a Utopian treatise about war and peace. In this sense, the film is different from the other two films. Although the mise en scène is realistic, the narrative has more to do with fantasy than with reality. After all, the director has constructed a kind of model society -Kracauer mocks it as a 'community that has all the traits of the lamasery of Shangri-La'59 - in the middle of no man's land, where all differences have been resolved to make room for solidarity. The stereotypical protagonists and the idealistic presentation induce a certain distance in the way one experiences the film.

This abstraction of reality is further amplified by the way the director has edited the images. Not only do the shots in the first part follow each other at a very high pace, the film is also characterised by a highly associative style of editing, including rhyming images: the rotating wheels of the horse-drawn tram change into rotating machines; the wooden toy gun changes into a real iron gun, an applause by one audience changes into an applause by another audience; and a ball of barbed wire changes into the road network on a map. In addition, the movement within the images themselves further enhances the impression of velocity and rhythm. They are the representation of life in the large cities that were the starting point for the characterisation of the protagonists. These modernistic forms of representation could also be seen in Der Weltkrieg, while the images of city life evoke associations with Walter Ruttmann's film Berlin, die Symphonie einer Grossstadt (1928).

The images of the country, however, are an oasis of peace and quiet, loneliness and emptiness. Various kinds of associative editing can also be found in the shots that show a clouded sky or a vast landscape of fields. The former prefigures what is coming - after the proclamations, for example, follows a shot of the sun being obscured by clouds and in a later scene the sky is completely overcast - while the fields contrast both with the city and with the lifeless landscape of the battlefield.

Music also plays an important role in the film. The first part of the film is dominated by Hans Eissler's modernistic music and by songs by Leo Hirsch and Günther Weisenborn. As was said before, dialogue is of secondary interest in the film. The first part of the film, however, makes use of a voice-over. A male voice speaking as if he were dictating a letter for example indicates in what country we are. It is especially this interaction between image, editing and music which reminds one very strongly of the Russian film school.

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