Berlin Alexanderplatz (Phil Jutzi, Germany, 1931)


Tegel to Alexanderplatz

In preparation for Fassbinder’s sprawling  15-hour television adaptation of BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, I’ve been reading Alfred Döblin’s magnificent novel and looking at other adaptations. The 1931 version directed by Phil Jutzi is included in the Criterion box-set of the TV series. Jutzi joined the Communist Party in 1928 and, conveniently, the Nazi Party in 1933, and the ideological tensions and opportunism are evident in the film. I saw it last night and enjoyed it, though at 92 minutes it necessarily cuts out much of the novel’s plot and complexity.

It does capture some of the montage-y aspects of the novel, though you’d expect the film to be more inventive in this regard and it’s not. For Berlinophiles such as myself however, watching all that documentary footage in the film of Alexanderplatz as it was between the wars is a real pleasure. There is also a ‘People-on-Sunday’-ish interlude that well evokes the simple pleasures working people take even in very challenging economic times.

No government can forbid it…

The film has several songs, of which my favourite goes something like ‘Love comes, love goes, no government can forbid it.’ There’s a Weimar feel in the film’s attitudes to love and sex, and a depiction of a picaresque and dark Berliner humour. I also thought Heinrich George made for a very appealing if uncomplicated Franz Biberkopf. Döblin worked on the adaptation so he presumably sanctioned and had a hand in what was done to his novel. A not particularly good film of a great novel, though not without its pleasures.

The End

José Arroyo

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