Close Up

3 September 2017: East of War


East of War
Ruth Beckermann
1996 | 117 min | Colour | DCP
Followed by Q&A with the director

Ruth Beckermann’s film doesn’t duplicate the exhibition, but begins were it ends: in a commentary. Its subject-matter is less about history than remembering, less about the past than the present” – Jacques Mandelbaum

White-tile rooms, neon lighting; on the walls black and white photographs from the exhibition entitled Vernichtungskrieg (War of Extermination) documenting the atrocities committed by the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. Against this backdrop, Ruth Beckermann and cameraman Peter Roehsler have filmed former soldiers talking about their experiences beyond the bounds of "normal" warfare. With a mixture of helplessness, impotence, shame, opportunism and undiminished fanaticism, witnesses from that time tell of atrocities such as shooting Russian prisoners-of-war, the murder of Jews, and the rape and abuse of women. The differing accounts of these events demonstrate how selective perception was even in this most inhuman and brutal of environments.

This film seeks not only to contribute to the demolition of the myth of the "decent" Wehrmacht (as opposed to the evil SS) but also to illuminate the period in which the Second Republic was founded in Austria and to make a diagnosis of the present. It shows the fathers who worked to rebuild the country, who shaped today's society and who transmitted their ideas to their sons and daughters, and who now, more than fifty years on, at last attempt to articulate their experiences. The images of this war that take shape in the accounts of these "talking heads" have an immediacy and power to move rarely found in historical documents or fictional portrayals.

Part of our season on Ruth Beckermann, curated and introduced by Colm McAuliffe