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West Germany, 1955 (MIFF 1956, Programme 2)

Director: Robert Siodmak

The Rats opens in the atmosphere of postwar Berlin. Figures emerge from their symbolic darkness to stand before us with an almost agonising actuality. Two world wars, the disintegrating effects of destruction, ruin and partition have brought a human rat to nest among the decaying ruins of the city. The film opens showing a street in Berlin in the grey light of dawn. A solitary figure appears under the leafless trees of the Tiergarten, walking along towards the barrier between the Eastern and Western sectors. The young girl, silent, indifferent, somnambulistic is stopped by the sentry, who takes her to police headquarters. There, giving her name as Pauline Karka, she relapses into stupor. Only when Karl John and his wife appear to identify the girl, is she suddenly aroused, and attacks Anna John with ferocity. Anna, seeing that she must speak tells her story . . .

Both the play and the film go far beyond more social criticism to remind us of our eternal “human condition.” “We are all guilty” says Karl John, that is, we are not just the puppets of a malevolent or simply capricious Fate, but consciously willing and acting individuals, each free to make his own decisions. The sure direction, using alternations of tempo and contrast effectively and serenely, and assisted by the photography, evokes the atmosphere of the city, the nocturnal play of light and shade and the twilight melancholy.

The film was awarded the Grand Prix at the Fifth Berlin Festival held in 1955. By courtesy of the German Republic, a specially subtitled version of this film has been prepared for inclusion in the Melbourne Festival.

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