This 1961 DEFA production in black and white tells of the surprise attack by a Nazi unit on the radio station at Gleiwitz on the Polish border in 1939. This attack, which was blamed on Polish forces, served as Hitler's reason for marching into Poland, starting the Second World War. Cool and impartial, the film reflects on the possibilities and techniques of provocation. It shows how facts and opinions can be manipulated and how people are made to accept lies, murder and war. The film narrowly escaped censorship, but quickly disappeared after only a few weeks in East German cinemas. It is a fine portrayal of one of Germany's darker days with an excellent cast including Hannjo Hasse (Helmut Naujocks), Herwart Grosse (Gestapo Chief Mueller), Hilmar Thate (Concentration Camp prisoner), Georg Leopold(Wyczorek) and Wolfgang Kalweit (Kraweit). DEFA (Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft) was the public-owned film studio in East Germany during East Germany's history. Informative and entertaining.
Falling foul of Nazis and communists alike, East German director Gerhard Klein didn't have a particularly prolific resume, but on the evidence of 1961's The Gleiwitz Case it would have been interesting to see how his career would have developed had he been born in less censorious times. A short (67 minutes) and sharp reconstruction of the manufactured international incident the Nazis used as an excuse to invade Poland, it's very much of its time, a somewhat fragmented but stylistically fascinating film that it's hard to imagine being made in any other decade.
From the very start the film offers a world slightly askew and not quite right, the Nazi newsreel that opens the film viewed at a off-kilter angle and accompanied by abstract, at times almost childishly manic-tempoed circus music, subsequent scenes mixing Jan Curik's cold, harsh near-documentary black and white photography with more wildly stylised sequences like a train journey where focus, filters, odd angles and slightly sped up sound mirror the unreal and deluded mad optimism driving the nation heedlessly to war. Throughout the film alternates long, almost mechanically precise or symmetrical shots with short sharp shocks where the camera will lose control, even throwing in a lightning montage of the chief player in the plot's childhood and Nazi indoctrination before returning to the formalities, while characters are often only partially in frame - the top or the side of their head - as if they're not quite all there.
Even given its short running time, surprisingly little actually happens. In part it's because there are surprisingly few accurate details of the incident (which didn't go quite as smoothly as depicted here), but it's also because Klein and screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase seem as interested in a state of mind and a sense of place: Kohlhaase said that Klein was so talented he could make you know how a courtyard smelled, and there are scenes that really do capture the feeling and mood of a time of day on a remote country road while you're waiting for something to happen. Characterisation is as Spartan as the plot, mixing both national and personal self-interest and ambition outweighing all moral considerations - wars, after all, guarantee accelerated promotion for the career conscious young officer - while rarely going into specifics. Taking its cue from its characters, there's no room for consideration of consequences until the film's final moments: it's all about preparation and waiting. Yet somehow, despite how little there really is going on, it manages to be more than the sum of its parts and strangely compelling. The East German communist party weren't too pleased with the results, ironically feeling it too similar to Nazi cinema (clearly a deliberate aesthetic choice), but it's certainly a case worth reopening.
No extras on Network's DVD beyond a filmography, but a decent black and white transfer.