Ranking: #90/111

Director: Roberto Rossellini (Italy)

Genre: Post-War Social Drama

This incisive masterpiece of Neo Realism, shot in stark black-and-white photography amongst the actual rubble of Berlin of the time, provides a memorable and authentic portrait of post-war Germany. It contains some amazing, historic imagery and footage, such as a priest playing an organ in a church without a roof. Rubble and the signs of destruction are omnipresent.

Rossellini used mainly local, non-professional actors and deployed documentary-style camera-work, filming on location, to convey the raw reality of a country barely surviving after the mass destruction of World War 2. The main theme is the extensive moral corruption caused by war, which can even spread to innocent children. The people of Berlin are starving and morally disorientated. Petty crime is rife. Everything is for sale, including female bodies through prostitution, and the brutal black markets prevail.

Germany Year Zero adopts the third-person narrative point of view to present its uncompromising story of thirteen year-old Edmund Kohler through the boy’s eyes. At one point he is told to “stop living like a hunted animal”.

Edmund’s father is dying of malnutrition, deeply disillusioned with life. Shockingly, the boy later administers poison to him to put him out of his misery. Stricken by guilt, and avoiding his father’s funeral, the boy commits suicide by jumping off a bombed-out building. The message is that life has been stripped of all meaning beyond a brute form of survival.

This is a dark, unflinching social portrait showing the inward and outward devastation caused by war. For lovers of cinematic art, this is a work of great artistic integrity and courage, a milestone of Italian cinema.