Anthology Film Archives


October 2 – October 12

In the preface of “Cinema 2”, philosopher Gilles Deleuze articulates the idea that there is a clear break between the pre-1945 and post-1945 cinema – a point of rupture that reflects the way the experience of total war, occupation, liberation, and the horror of the camps rendered pre-1945 ways of perceiving the world obsolete. He writes, “Why is the Second World War taken as a break? The fact is that, in Europe, the post-war period has greatly increased the situations which we no longer know how to react to, in spaces which we no longer know how to describe.”

Originally intended to take place in April 2020, as a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, this series focuses on the fragile moment between the end of WWII and the solidification of the Cold War, with 1945 as what we might call “Cinema Year Zero.” It examines how cinema was utilized to bear witness to the horrors unleashed by the war, and explores its role in the process of rebuilding a physically and morally devastated world. Much of the cinema of this period displayed a compulsion to document and capture evidence, from newsreels to Italian neorealism to German rubble films and Hollywood thrillers (though the desire to forget was a perhaps equally widespread impulse). Each country touched by the war developed its own ways of coping with what they had endured. The cinema of the immediate post-war period is replete with individuals dealing with life at the most minute, personal level. Small acts of defiance and manifestations of the will to survive could exist in the face of terror, deprivation, and disorder. Cinema would also play an important role in the conversation about how (or if it were even possible) to begin again. Who should take power? What should the post-war values be? What should be done with collaborators and those responsible for war-time atrocities? Did the world need stability and a return to normalcy or revolutionary change to purge the elements that led to such barbarism? The films of this period were made out of an urgency to think through these issues from the societal scale down to the most intimate interactions.

The films in this series touch on some of the central issues left by the war: the guilt and responsibility of the Germans, the revelation of the camps and the Holocaust, displacement, survival in harsh conditions, “the myth of the Americans,” and an attempt to envision what a future world order might look like. The order that emerged out of the rubble was just one of many possible worlds. Exploring the cinema of this period shines a light on how complex and fraught these debates were.

Guest-curated by Sean Smalley, and co-presented with the German Film Office.

Special thanks to Noa Steimatsky, Sara Stevenson (German Film Office), and Olaf Möller, as well as to: Brian Belovarac (Janus Films); MichaƂ Benkes (Studio Filmowe KADR); Julian Bodewig (Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum); Harriet Bowers (Imperial War Museum); Emilie Cauquy (Cinémathèque française); Marco Cicala (Istituto Luce Cinecittà); Amélie Garin-Davet (Cultural Services of the French Embassy); Justin DiPietro & Phillip Iervolino (IFC Films); Tim Lanza (Cohen Film Group); Hiltrud Schulz (DEFA Film Library); Lynanne Schweighofer (Library of Congress); Claudia Schwendele (Beta Film); Jon Shibata (Pacific Film Archive); Richard Suchenski (Bard); and Emil Weiss.

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