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Mama, ich lebe: Konrad Wolf’s Intermedial Parable of Antifascism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2023

Matthew Philpotts
Affiliation:
University of Manchester
Sabine Rolle
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
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Summary

MAMA, ICH LEBE has not received much more recognition from subsequent criticism than it did from its first viewers in 1977. Like its predecessor, Der nackte Mann auf dem Sportplatz (1974), it is one of Konrad Wolf's most subdued, leisurely and understated films. It is far less dramatic than its closest relative, Ich war neunzehn, of which it thus may superficially appear a pallid remake. Yet Mama reworks not only many of the same thematic materials as other of Wolf's films — the moral pathos of political decision, of redefining individual authenticity apart from nationhood, and the constellation of private and collective memories — but also similar filmic techniques. Among them would be the exploration of intermediality, of voiceover, audiovisual montage, and quoted photographs or stills, found in Der geteilte Himmel, Ich war neunzehn, Goya, and Der nackte Mann auf dem Sportplatz. Through these techniques, the GDR's foundational narrative of antifascism is refurbished via heightened medial reflexivity and subjectivization of viewpoint, meant to suggest authenticity of witness. Moreover, that narrative itself resembles a parable — which is one of the chief reasons for the film's neglect until now. What follows will begin by looking at the film's opening, then discuss its use of landscape and its episodic narrative. A longer concluding section will then draw together these specific observations in a theoretical model of parabolic narrative structure. In the process, we will see that Wolf's particular reworking of the GDR's antifascist tradition draws on a sustained tradition of German parable literature dating back at least to the Enlightenment, and that it is informed by a tension between art's moral and political engagement on the one hand and aesthetic autonomy on the other. Although Wolf's film proved too complex and oblique for viewers at the time of its release, it is these same qualities that give it enduring interest.

Opening Sequence

Intermediality is most in evidence in the film's opening few minutes, where — following the earlier radio play by Wolfgang Kohlhaase on which the script was based1 — the narrative takes its point of departure in a sepia-toned photograph of the four young men who will be its protagonists. The photo will recur twice again during the film, once around 34 minutes in, when it is anchored within the narrative as a freeze-frame, and once at the very end.

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Chapter
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Edinburgh German Yearbook 3
Contested Legacies: Constructions of Cultural Heritage in the GDR
, pp. 63 - 75
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2009

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