Germanic Languages | German Film & Popular Culture
G418 | 16601 | Robinson


Course Description:
Starting with a 16th century case of identity theft and con-artistry
and ending with tort litigation (“Schadenersatzklage”) in the face of
incomprehensible tragedy, this course explores the cinematic angle on
legality in modern Germany. Our approach will be both thematic and
cinematic. We consider what legality means when we displace it from
familiar contexts into other eras and other state forms. What does due
process (“ordentliches Gerichtsverfahren nach Recht und Gesetz”) look
like in a dictatorship? Is euthanasia or the death penalty, for
example, necessarily more objectionable in a Nazi regime than in a
liberal state? What happens when due process is in conflict with a
just revolt? When we judge an action in a vast crisis like that of
prewar German depression or postwar German division, what is more
important—individual intention or social circumstances? We engage such
questions, however, not as expert judges or morally impassioned jury
members, but as a scholarly film audience, asking how the drama of
legality is staged and filmed. Our criteria are as much montage and
monologue as morality and precedent. How, for example, do we represent
villainy or heroism—especially when our perpetrators seem to be
uncinematographic pencil pushers (“Schreibtischtäter”) or when motives
are mixed and unclear even to the accused? What soundtrack does the
pursuit of justice have and is different from that of the pursuit of
illicit gain? Do we admit narrative forms like comedy, irony and
tragedy into our representations of “the right”? Or, if doing the
right thing regularly stands in an ironic relationship to the idea of
justice, is a sincere, passionate portrayal of jurisprudence the most
reckless depiction of all?
We will view one film a week, seeing works by some of the most
prominent (or notorious) German directors, but also prize-winning
films from France, Japan, Canada and the United States. Readings are
in German and English. Discussions are primarily in German (with
English explication of technical terms). We will conclude by making 4
short films of our own.

Required textbook:
Anna Seghers, Der gerechte Richter und andere Erzählungen (Berlin:
Aufbau, 2000)
ISBN: 3746651786