Slatan Dudow (director)
75 minutes (length)
September 19, 2022 (published)
Berlin in the early 1930s: montage clips of newspaper articles inform us about the rapidly increasing number of unemployed citizens and their daily struggle to find any job. We are then introduced to the Bönike family and their own plight and despair over unpaid rent arrears. While Mother Bönike (Lili Schoenborn-Anspach) tries to maintain a positive mood by serving a humble meal, Father Bönike (Max Sablotzki), after yet again failing to find a job, starts an argument with his son Kurt (Adolf Fischer) and accuses him of being too picky about finding work and mostly rude and arrogant in his manners. Apparently, Kurt has also been rude to the landlord – which particularly annoys Father Bönike to see how the family owes nearly six months’ rent at this point. In contrast, his daughter Annie (Hertha Thiele) points out that these days being polite doesn’t get you anywhere either. She then gets up and applies lipstick before leaving the apartment while the father continues to scold his son… who sits at the table listening to his old man in a stoic manner without any attempt to defend himself. After the father leaves the apartment to meet friends at a nearby beer cellar and complains about the general state of things, and the mother also leaves the apartment to run errands, Kurt gets up, takes off his watch which he places on a small table, sets a few flowerpots (displayed on the windowsill) aside and jumps to his death. Neighbors find out about the tragedy before individual family members – to add insult to injury, the landlord, tired of the Bönikes falling further and further behind with their rent, sees no option but to d issue an eviction notice.
Fortunately, Annie’s boyfriend Fritz (Ernst Busch), who is also struggling to find a stable job, comes to the rescue by offering the Bönike family temporary shelter at ‘Kuhle Wampe’ – a tent camp on the Müggelsee (a lake near the eastern suburbs of Berlin) home to a colony of the dispossessed and unemployed. Annie is the only member of her family who actually has a job, even if it’s a mundane job at the factory. Nevertheless, it provides an income for the family but also more arguments with her ungrateful father who is constantly on her back to go out in the evening, especially because he fears that she will get pregnant and therefore does not hesitate to make it happen. happens, he will not hesitate to reduce his daughter to a pulp. Kind dad, this Herr Bönike! Sure, Annie gets pregnant but luckily her dad doesn’t beat her to a pulp, but soon after a marriage is hastily arranged despite Fritz’s initial hesitation and comments that he doesn’t want to ruin his whole life. future because of a pregnant woman. daughter. In the end, decency prevails and Fritz, the Bönikes and all sorts of wedding guests get drunk in a special tent. That’s when Annie notices that Fritz is the only one who isn’t happy and he replies that he’s not happy because he feels Annie’s dad’s bully pushed him to the wrong side. ‘marry. In response, Annie packs her things and goes out with her new groom on the wedding night, moving into an apartment inhabited by one of her co-workers. It is only during a “worker communist” sporting event that she meets Fritz again, who has now joined the ranks of the millions of unemployed. After reuniting, the two return home together by train. During the journey (this sequence was incidentally directed by Brecht himself), Annie, Fritz along with like-minded workers and comrades get involved in a fierce argument with middle-class and lower-class passengers. superiors – debating the global financial crisis and the fact that recently Brazil burned tons and tons of coffee beans and what a waste! One of the workers suggests cultivating a coffee plantation if Berlin (well, the climate would not be good…). The fight continues until another worker remarks that the rich will never change the world for the better, prompting a rich man to respond that if it’s not the rich, then who else can change. the world ? In the final scene, Annie and her friend Gerda (Martha Wolter) coldly remark, “Those who don’t like it!” before the tune of ‘Das Solidaritätslied’ (‘The Song of Solidarity’) kicks in – the anthem, so to speak, of the working classes, with lyrics written by Brecht and the tune composed by Hanns Eisler.
The film’s unique approach, i.e. the combination of real-life footage and cinematic action, works extremely well in demonstrating the plight of so many Berliners following the economic collapse after World War I ( with another even more devastating war looming just around the corner). Cinematographer Günther Krampf, who previously worked on masterpieces from the German Expressionist period, such as “Nosferatu” (1922), “The Hands of Orlac” (1924) and “The Student of Prague” (1926) is responsible for this striking camera work. . A year after ‘Kuhle Wampe’, he stood behind the camera for cooler Boris Karloff ‘The Ghoul’.
While Hertha Thiele is probably the most well-known face of the cast (having previously played the role of the tragic Manuela in the romantic lesbian drama “Girls in Uniform”), other actors were either popular at the time or simply extras whose ravaged faces say more. than epic dialogue. In the case of Martha Wolter (who plays ‘Gerta’), she was a member of the ‘Red Orchestra’ and a resistance fighter during the brutal Nazi regime. After the war, she became a member of the Communist Party of (East) Germany.
The scene during the wedding is an excellent example when it comes to showing the differences between the “rudimentary and coarse proletariat” (working classes) with their bad table manners and their complete absence of social graces, while in another scene, old father Bönike reads a newspaper article about infamous spy Mata Hari exposing her breasts during one of her exotic dances, with mother Börlike listening while mending clothes, really understanding nothing of Hari’s world.
KUHLE WAMPE or WHO OWNS THE WORLD? offers the following bonus material:
Commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin (1922); Introduction and Questions and Answers (1999); ‘Bread’ – 1934, 12min) – a political short film made to protest against social inequalities; ‘Beyond this Open Road’ (1934, 11min) – a modernist short film with poetic images of working-class leisure; ‘Housing Problems’ (1935, 16min) – a powerful documentary on the slums of Stepney; ‘Easter Valley’ (1937, 17min) – a documentary about a Welsh co-operative scheme run by unemployed miners; illustrated booklet (first pressing only).