YESTERDAY GIRL (Alexander Kluge, 1966)

With parentheses around her name suggesting (in addition to her imprisonment) how bereft of context Anita G., a Jewish East German migrant, is left by the “parting from yesterday” that she is constantly impressed to pursue, writer-director Alexander Kluge’s Abschied von gestern—(Anita G.) launched the New German Cinema, which confronted West Germany’s attempt to deny the past its due, including Germany’s recent Nazi past, in favor of starting afresh with the “miracle” of economic recovery. Important, astounding, exhilarating, Kluge’s first feature drew inspiration from the nouvelle vague, especially Jean-Luc Godard’s films starring Anna Karina, whom Kluge’s Anita G. is often shot to resemble.
     The film also contests the tyranny of linear narrative, proceeding by shots rather than novelistic scenes, and displaying (delightfully) tracking shots, jump-cuts, sound erasures and comebacks, cartoonish insert, a bit of war with toy soldiers, absurd banter, the time-condensation of romantic relationships through montage, etc. Perhaps casting his sister, Alexandra, in the lead role (which she enacts beautifully) helped Kluge to maintain the film’s human(e) focus in the midst of his dazzling technical devices.
     One of the principal events is the theft of a co-worker’s cardigan sweater, for which Anita G. stands trial. It is the judge who, after asking for Anita G.’s personal history, dismisses this (“the events of 1943-44”) for having no relevance to the course of her conduct. (Her Jewish family’s property, of course, had all been confiscated by the Nazis.) Why did she steal the sweater, the judge asks. “I was cold.” He reminds her it was summer. Anita G.: “I get cold even in summer.” The defendant thus enrobes (or ensweaters?) a pertinent joke in the appearance of courtroom responsiveness, for her remark implies the verboten past.
     Gorgeous black-and-white photography by Edgar Reitz and Thomas Mauch.

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One thought on “YESTERDAY GIRL (Alexander Kluge, 1966)

  1. This is a fantastic film, and your writeup does a good job of capturing its bold, utterly fresh spirit. Kluge’s debt to Godard is especially obvious here, sure, but at the same time he’s already laying claim to his own style, and especially his own set of concerns. The film’s stylistic pastiche only enhances its examination of the limited options for a girl like Anita in a society like this, a society intent on forgetting its own ignoble past.

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