The outspoken German director Helmut Käutner made his first movie in 1939, but he never toed the party line. As war raged and Germany roared, he made one film after another that displeased the Nazis and was banned. That record served him in good stead after the fall of the Third Reich, and Käutner became one of West Germany's most important filmmakers. But success didn't mellow him, and he never shied away from sensitive subjects or controversial positions. His no-nonsense 1955 drama Himmel Ohne Sterne (Sky Without Stars), set in 1952 before concrete and brick barricaded West from East, rails against a divided Germany from the first frame to the last. A young factory worker sneaking across the border to visit her son meets a West German guard. Käutner contrasts the purity of their intense, impossible affair with the capriciousness and corruption of their respective governments (represented by soldiers, never civilians). The movie nails the early yearnings of West German materialism, as well as the betrayals, suspicion, and favoritism that bedeviled East Germans. Käutner indulges in a polemical ending, but his remarkably rich screenplay and virtuoso direction are more than adequate compensation.
Sky Without Stars screens as part of the Helmut Käutner: Film Retrospective Part 2.
Sept. 25-Oct. 9, 7 p.m., 2007