Between the lines: Konrad Wolf's 'Mama, ich lebe' and the dilemmas of betrayal
Wolfel, U. (2012) Between the lines: Konrad Wolf's 'Mama, ich lebe' and the dilemmas of betrayal. Studies in European Cinema, 9 (1). pp. 23-33. ISSN 2040-0594
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1386/seci.9.1.23_1
The article offers a close reading of Konrad Wolf’s anti-fascist Second World War film 'Mama, ich lebe' (DEFA, 1977). 'Mama, ich lebe', like all East German films about the Nazi past, deals with the re-founding of post-war Germany. Unlike the usual approach which focused on political redemption of the past crimes, Wolf’s approach explores rupture and failure of political agency as the pre-condition for a new beginning. The rupture is effected by the defection of four Wehrmacht soldiers who decide to cooperate with the Soviet enemy. Their betrayal of the national collective is ethically motivated and arises from their responsibility for the Soviet ‘other’. Its radicalness opens up a moment of utopian freedom and conciliation for the traitors. Yet the back side of betrayal is insecurity and confliction with regard to their role and roots. While the four meet their role as traitors with self-deception about their ambivalent position, they are eventually forced to acknowledge their position as one of self-defeat. Their ‘ethical betrayal’ (Parikh 2009) does therefore not lead to utopian fulfilment but to the traitors’ expiatory sacrifice as the only form of accountability and self-justification. In Wolf’s film antifascism as a tale of political redemption is thus revised and becomes a tale of necessary individual atonement.