Saturday, December 10, 2011

De Vlaschaard (1943)

Boleslaw Barlog’s little-known film De Vlaschaard (meaning “The Flax Field”; also known as Wenn die Sonne wieder scheint) is yet another masterpiece from the best of decades for cinema: the 1940s. Shot with a camera given to detail, the film narrates an ages-old story of father-son rivalry in a world where land means everything; inevitably, women have not much role to play in this capitalist world where only the stronger is richer, except being a silent motivation or conscience to their lovers and husbands. A brilliant performance is given by the two Pauls, Klinger (the son) and Wegener (the father): these two men, who dominate the film, who cannot understand each other, are tied by relations of familial pride in each other, and yet resent each other’s ideas and way of doing things.

In spite of flaws like a happy ending where it looks out of place and terrible miscasting of the son’s love interest Bruni Löbel, who doesn’t at all look like a poor farm girl even if I forget her lack of acting skills, the film doesn’t fail primarily due to its tight structure: even if the camera lingers, the story doesn’t, and in a matter of 80-odd minutes an effective, realistic and sad story of many fathers and sons across ages is told. There is also no attempt to brush-stroke characters sympathetically, but rather the world is shown as it is.

Klinger’s character, while ambitious, unafraid to follow his own lead and even if his ideas do turn out to be right always, does turn out to be insensitive and selfish, unable to think outside of himself or his farm; the story is very well constructed, so that Klinger’s offer to go away from the farm if Löbel were to be turned out comes only at a certain critical juncture of the film, when he is full of frustration and rage at being unable to do things his own way. Klinger also comes across as a Rudin-like character, unable to fulfil his promises and yet giving them thoughtlessly.
On the other hand, while Wegener on the face of it resents Klinger’s advice, he does follow it furtively, and when he’s away, he does celebrate the intelligence of his son with his neighbours: for him, his son is just like his farm, and he hopes it is also a very good produce. The issue, however, is that human beings, especially the good produce, are not mute like flax would be: that humans are not owned like cattle. However, while both father and son are obstinate, Wegener is to the point of being obdurate, thoughtlessly so: and he does fulfil his promises, if just for the sake of recklessness.

Without pretentiousness and without claims to intellectual stuff, De Vlaschaard is a powerful film telling a real story and asking questions. The most poignant scene is to watch and imagine the corruption of Wegener’s heart in a world which lives by things like capital and thus-earned respect and morals: how the man has become blind to everything but these, how he estimates himself and his worth and his youth in only these. And maybe, Klinger with his fond love for his farm will follow in the same steps of decay.