Alongside documentaries that showed us coronations of sovereigns or cities destroyed by bombing, numerous feature films were also produced during World War I to tell us about the war experienced away from the front.
Far from the front
In the first part of this special, we saw how documentaries made during World War I could present very precise characteristics, sometimes resulting almost antithetical, even though each of them was made with propagandistic aims. Yet documentary cinema was not the only way to document the war and all its aspects. In fact, alongside films that showed us coronations of sovereigns or cities destroyed by bombing, there are also a series of feature films that tell us about the war experienced far from the front.
These are propaganda films intended to convey a kind of behavioural model mainly concerning both housekeeping by women and the upbringing of children. And so themes such as the separation of lovers, fear, nostalgia, but also resignation in everyday life immediately become the main characters.
Particularly exemplary among these films is Das Kind meines Nächsten, made by Einar Zangenberg in 1918 and particularly loved even by Empress Zita of Bourbon-Parma. Das Kind meines Nächsten actually tells a rather simple story: the young blacksmith Alois is in love with Martha, the daughter of the merchant Breindl. His son, Hermann, is in turn in love with his father’s accountant. Everything changes, however, when World War I breaks out and the two men have to go to the front. While they are away from home, their girlfriends continue their everyday lives, devoting themselves to housework and childcare, waiting for their return.
Particularly interesting in this respect is the hybrid form of the film. In addition to scenes filmed for the occasion, in fact, there are also documentary scenes shot on the battlefields or in several cities destroyed by the war. Reality and fiction come together to create something new and to convey an important propaganda message. Here, however, the real focus of the film is another. In Das Kind meines Nächsten, the director wanted to focus first and foremost on the lives of women away from the front and how children were educated at the same time.
And so numerous kindergartens, nurseries and playgrounds are shown to us with all their potential: within them, children could play happily and carefree and their mothers could finally devote themselves to their work. Everyday life thus began to take on an almost pleasant pace, thanks also to the special attention paid to the landscapes and natural beauty observed by the protagonists on their way to work. Men were busy defending the nation, women had the task of making sure that life went on as well as possible.
And this strong propaganda message present in Das Kind meines Nächsten is also present in numerous other propaganda films made during both World War I and World War II. The guidelines were clear. The image of Austria that was to be conveyed to the people and the world was a very specific one. And during the war there was little space for imagination and any personal initiative.