Ulrich Weiß’s Dein unbekannter Bruder is a somber, thoughtful, graceful, compelling portrait of life in a tyrannical state. Relating this to issues of loyalty and trust, the East German film, based on Willi Bredel’s 1937 novel, is set in 1935 Nazi Germany and revoives around Arnold Clausen, who, released from prison, questions whether he should resume his underground activism in Hamburg. There is the risk involved, of course; but, also, imprisonment has deepened Arnold’s sense of isolation and individualism. Can he function anymore as the member of a group? He befriends Walter Kepler, who draws him back into the Communist resistance. When member after member is denounced, however, Arnold begins to suspect that Kepler is the one betraying them. Weiß has given this complex, convoluted material an exceptionally clear and haunting presentation. He has made a masterpiece.
The film opens at night, in what deceptively appears to be black-and-white; the street is abandoned; with white paint, two resistance members extol German unity—a suggestion of kinship between Nazi Germany and postwar Soviet-backed East Germany. The men rush across a bridge and are beaten up and hauled away by Nazi thugs. The atmosphere is one of fog and fear.
In daylight, color comes in. Executed by Claus Neumann, the color cinematography throughout is dark, sober, restrained and almost intolerably beautiful. Danger lurks everywhere—for instance, in a dance on stage between a woman and the thick snake wrapped around her, poised to choke the life out of her. In another gripping set-piece, a pack of hounds hunts a pheasant, which with a flip appears to be rushing for its life both screen-right and screen-left: another one of the 1935-1981 implied links, but also perhaps the most brilliant metaphorical conjuring of paranoia in all of cinema.
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