In the midst of our ongoing Two Germanys on Film program, nestled on the second half of this Saturday night’s double-bill, you’ll find Not Reconciled. The title alone could itself be a spot-on summation of the series’s themes. But its lucid density and brute materialism make it something of a UFO among everything else in the series.
This debut feature from self-exiled French filmmakers Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet (though she isn’t here credited as an official co-author) clocks in just under an hour and can simplistically be described as the story of a middle-class German family stretching from 1910 to 1965. But this adaptation of Heinrich Boll’s Billiards at Half-Past Nine, though it touches on both World Wars and is rife with familial strife, stands apart from most inter-generational sagas. For one, by Straub’s own admission, the film removes anything in the novel “that could be qualified as picturesque or anecdotal, psychological or even satirical.” To call its approach a “new narrative structure,” as Berlinale programmer Enno Pantalas did when he secured it a morning screening outside the main 1965 festival, certainly hones in on what most saliently disturbs many a first-time viewer. We are thrust, from the film’s very first moments, into a current of images, stories, voices, places, and times. It’s certainly hard to get one’s bearing at first, so our program note for the evening will lay out in some detail the film’s altering plot planes and ancillary characters. That said, the unpredictability of Not Reconciled is entrancing. Its layered rhythms have the locked mystery of an aphorism; the editing is nearly sculptural in its concrete presence. You soon start tuning into the diverse timbres of slamming doors, shades of white wall starkness, and diagonal variations. A film that could certainly benefit from the deeper absorption afforded by a home-video edition (though none exists yet), Not Reconciled‘s specifics may be elusive at first, but the film’s tonal undercurrent is hauntingly persistent.