Berlin-Alexanderplatz (Phil Jutzi, 1931, Germany)

One of three adaptations of Alfred Doblin’s seminal 1929 novel, Phil Jutzi’s Berlin Alexanderplatz is notable for having the involvement of Doblin himself, who collaborated on the script. In contrast to Fassbinder’s 15-hour television adaptation, Jutzi and Doblin compress the novel into a feature length film. The result is a “Cliffs Notes” version of the novel, reducing the number of characters from the novel and tightening the narrative. The film loses much of the subtlety of Doblin’s original text, but it is nevertheless a decent adaptation.
The film is most interesting in its proximity to the time when Doblin wrote the novel. Jutzi takes an almost documentary approach to Berlin, filming street scenes featuring non-actors. While this a far cry from Doblin’s Joycean mixture of street signs, newspapers, songs, in the novel, Jutzi does manage to capture the energy of Berlin in this era. One remarkable example of this documentary style is a scene in which Jutzi films sunbathers on the beach. Another excellent scene occurs when Franz Biberkopf is released from Tegel prison. He rides on a train car and we see his view of the city as the train passes, showcasing the chaos, energy, and street activity. 

The film is notably different from the novel in excising much of the Biblical imagery, including the fantastic visions Franz Biberkopf has, as well as the political context. While there are a couple of allusions to the trauma of World War I, the film skips over the political influences swirling around and influencing Franz in the novel - communism and Nazism. Despite this, the film feels remarkably modern, especially for being one of the first sound films from Germany. While the moral universe of the novel is rendered somewhat 2D due to the brevity of the adaptation, Berlin Alexanderplatz stands on its own merit.

7/10

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