THE MAN I KILLED
Ernst Lubitsch is considered a master of comedic film. His “serious” films are less well known, even though these were particularly important to him. Such is the case with THE MAN I KILLED, a very unusual and widely forgotten film about coping with the consequences of war. The film begins with the celebrations marking the anniversary of the end of the war in France. Shots of parades and a memorial service are mixed with images of war and war invalids in a sanatorium. After the ceremony, a man remains in the church. While confessing to the priest, he takes the blame for shooting and killing a German soldier in close combat during the war. Since he is unable to find peace, he travels to Germany to find the parents of the dead man. The film forcefully poses the question of the individual’s responsibility, depicting a moral dilemma that is normally disregarded in representations of war. Accordingly, Lubitsch’s film was not a success, even though it was renamed shortly after the premiere and given the melodramatic and more conciliatory-sounding title BROKEN LULLABY.
Three French prisoners in a German camp plan their escape. One of them, the officer de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay), develops a friendly relationship with the prison camp commandant, von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim). They both share a similar aristocratic upbringing, educational background and notions of chivalry and honour. The two others, a young metalworker and a Jewish purveyor of gourmet foods, manage to escape. Renoir portrays a multifaceted concept of society, in which war, social classes and borders separate people. But friendship is stronger than classes, and classes are stronger than nations. Renoir was himself an aviator in the First World War and was able to utilise his own adventures and experiences in his film.
Director of the Film Museum in Munich
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