In 1947, Roberto Rossellini was searching Berlin for a nonprofessional German adolescent to play the central character in this grim vision of a young boy adrift in the city’s postwar ruins. One night he visited the circus on a lark (“he was curious to see the trick-playing elephants,” his biographer wrote) and saw Edmund Meschke, “a real circus boy” who’d been raised by “a clown and a riding master.” He resolved to audition him—not least because he bore a striking resemblance to the 9-year-old son Rossellini had lost to appendicitis the previous year. A merciless view of a child caught between the designs of a pedophilic Nazi, shady black-marketers, and his own ailing family, Germany Year Zero divided audiences at the time with its stark intensity of focus. It’s since come to seem like perhaps Rossellini’s most radical, uncompromising, and personal film. 35mm print courtesy of Istituto Luce Cinecittà.
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