Thursday, August 21, 2014

Stationmaster, The (Der Postmeister) (1940)

Director: Gustav Ucicky


With the outbreak of the Second World War the motion pictures business took a hard hit in the very artistic cinema region of Europe. As battles spread over the continent it was uncommon to see as many films pass over boarders as they had years prior and more common to see the demonization of enemies in movies to be used as propaganda. With the Austrian/German motion picture The Stationmaster (Der Postmeister) there is seen a curious production where Germany depicts Russians in a positive light; curious because Germany and Soviet Russia were historically known as bitter enemies through the war. German was known for demonizing its enemies while under the power of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler which makes this drama stand out as a fascinating film to come out of Germany and be a rather well received picture.

The Stationmaster is a German drama about the relationship of a Russian father and his grown-up, beautiful daughter and her fear that she will disgrace him when leaving home to be with a man she loved did not result the way she planned. The film tells the story of Dunja (Hilde Krahl), the young and very beautiful daughter of a poor Russian stationmaster, the title character played by Heinrich George. Told in flashback by a sorrowful Russian officer named Mitja (Hans Holt), he tells of his story of lost love. Dunja was seduced to move from her father’s humble home to St. Petersburg by another officer, Minskij (Siegfried Breuer) with the reluctant blessing of her father in hopes of her marriage to this rich gentleman. However once in St. Petersburg Dunja discovers Minskij had no plans with her other than a physical relationship, which drives her away and falls in love with a young and kind Mitja. When her father received hints that she had not married as planned he angrily sets out to shun his daughter as a whore. To avoid upsetting her beloved father Dunja pretends all things are as he thought they should have been and stages her wedding with Minskij, much to the delight of her father. Sadly during her wedding celebration Dunja is forced to shun her real lover in Mitja publically to save face in front of her father. After she sends her father home overjoyed from the wedding, Dunja is found grief-stricken from what she had done to Mitja and saddened by her state in life killing herself leaving Mitja forever saddened by the loss of his great love even a decade later.

As with many European pictures The Stationmaster is a complicated story with sophisticated drama that is overall esthetically pleasing to watch. The complicated relationship of Dunja shares with her many loved ones makes her a tragic character in this drama that centers on not wanting to shame her adored father. In European cinema, especially from countries such as France, Germany, or Italy, it would not be uncommon to see such deeply emotional moral plays, but what makes The Stationmaster stand out from others was its time and place in European history as war had engulfed an entire continent and beyond.

Even the German-Russian treaty was a shame.
Produced by the German founded Austrian film company Wien-Film formed after Germans forced the closure of independent film studios in 1938, this government sponsored company adhered to stick orders of the Nazi regime. Soviet Russia would ultimately be an enemy of Nazi Germany and their attempts to control Europe, but in late 1939 the two countries signed a treaty ensuring non-aggression between each other. This allowed the successful Austrian director Gustau Ucicky to produce the picture about a Russian man and his daughter as it was a peaceful film set in the peace seeking Soviet Union. To further add to the peace of these two nations the actor playing the film’s title character, Heinrich George, was a devoted Communist and sympathized with the Soviets although he was known for performing in many pieces of   Nazi propaganda. This pact between the two nations would last until June 1941 when Hitler would invade the Soviet Union, thus ending the treaty and setting coarse the struggles between the two powers.

In retrospect The Stationmaster feels out of place as one nation made a peaceful picture about an enemy nation during that war, but film tells us just how at peace these two countries were with each other at that time. The picture was very well made, with great production value and superb performances. Unlike films out of Hollywood, this feature deals with more mature aspects of the world, including racy scenes with lustful groping and another with a lengthy dance of a topless woman, manifesting just how much more open cinema was beyond the realm of the American industry.

The Stationmaster was a well-received picture in the Austrian-German markets and even went on to win the Mussolini Cup for best foreign feature film at the 1940 Venice Film Festival. Venice was home to perhaps the world’s most prestigious international film festival at that time, showing just how well received the picture was throughout Europe. The Venice Film Festival would however be deemed historically tainted for its results from 1940-42 being heavily influenced by fascism meddling declaring later the win voided in the festival’s records.

For contemporary audiences The Stationmaster marks an interesting time in European cinema, allowing a look into the history of world events during 1940 when much of the world was at unrest. For these 90 minutes Germany and the Soviet Union looked to be peaceful allies as it produced an emotional drama filled with tragedy. Motion pictures were to change and very soon as the world would not sit well with each other for many years to follow.

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