What ought one to watch if one wants to know about Nuremberg? Which films best capture the essence of the tribunal? We continue with our series of recommendations from famed film aficionado Lydia Maslova, who has collected a unique list to accompany the “Nuremberg: Casus Pacis” project.
‘Lili Marleen’ (1981, West Germany)
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Starring: Hanna Schygulla, Giancarlo Giannini
Rainer Werner Fassbinder named this film after the most popular German song of the Second World War: the screenplay is based on the memoirs of Lale Andersen, who sang the song.
In 1938, a German cabaret singer (Hanna Schygulla) has an affair in Zurich with a Swiss Jewish composer, Robert Mendelssohn (played by Giancarlo Geannini and based on Rolf Liebermann) who helps smuggle Jewish refugees from Germany with fake passports. The singer offers him her help but the composer's family thinks she is a Nazi. Forced to remain in Germany, the heroine becomes a crowd favourite with the song ‘Lili Marleen’, and even Hitler wants to meet her.
In ‘Lili Marleen’, Fassbinder - with his usual perception - shows the world through the eyes of his heroine who is torn between two opposing camps: the Nazi hegemony and the underground Jewish resistance which, of necessity, could be quite brutal in its bid for survival. On both sides, the subject of concentration camps becomes a bargaining chip: wealthy Jews ransom their heirs from the camps. The idea seemed anti-Jewish to many at the time, and it still does to some. However, ‘Lili Marleen’ is not anti-semitic but anti-bourgeois. The film still makes us think about universal human values which cannot be measured economically, and about the behaviour of every person in an existential situation.