Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Second Track

Who knew East Germans made films? And who knew they made films as stylish, paranoid, and fascinating as this one? While heavily referencing The Third Man—the last shots of both films are obviously similar, and both share comparable trajectories of moral disillusionment—Joachim Kunert’s 1962 The Second Track is ultimately a strange beast all its own. True, Kunert plays up the noir atmospherics nearly to the point of genre parody, but has there ever been any other noir to score itself with a harp? Imagine a sinister figure walking through shadows while a pastoral lullaby plays on angelic strings—reality just breaks down.

This incongruity of sound and image might seem like a flaw, but for a film defined by the dissonance of belief and reality it’s actually a rather smart tactic. Walter Brock, an employee in a train yard, witnesses a robbery, but when asked to identity the culprit, he mysteriously holds back from fingering the guilty party. Hidden Nazi pasts and buried crimes are exhumed, and even as the film remains a terse thriller, it also becomes a kind of social allegory—the younger generation discovering and repudiating the sins of the old. However, the film is too unnerving to offer any genuine cathartic release from the burden of Germany’s Nazi past, especially when Kunert twists audience sympathies so effectively by making us identify with Brock before unveiling the worst of his sins. The issue isn’t how a Nazi could be disguised as a decent person, but rather how a decent person could have the capacity to be a Nazi. Noir was always the best genre for finding the evil in everyone.

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