Friday, 6 August 2010

Hans Fallada (Rudolf Wilhelm Ditzen)

Hans Fallada (1893 - 1947)

A few years ago, the US-based Melville Publishing House had a small number of novels by German writer Hans Fallada - among them Every man Dies Alone - re-translated into English which heralded the rediscovery of Fallada by the Anglo-Saxon world.

Looking at the decades between Fallada's death in 1947 and today, it is easy to forget that Fallada's books once were as popular abroad as they were in Germany. One of his best known novels, Little Man What Now?, was an immediate success in both the UK and the US when it was first published there in 1932, and already two years after its publication Universal acquired the rights and turned it into a film starring Margaret Sullavan with Frank Borzage directing.

Margaret Sullavan and Douglass Montgomery in Universal's Little Man, What Now?

Sadly, after his death, in the UK and the US Fallada disappeared almost completely into oblivion while in his home country, Fallada remained a well known writer though no longer a widely read one. A lot of his decline in popularity has, particularly as far as the US and the UK are concerned, I believe, to do with the fact that he was one of those writers who did not emigrate during the Nazi reign. Other, so called 'inner emigres', included Erich Kaestner, Ricarda Huch and Nobel prize laureate Gerhart Hauptmann. However, although Fallada's position towards Nazism and its leaders may at times have been ambiguous, as the war wore on Fallada's stance towards the Nazis did shift to almost open opposition as evident in some of the works he wrote while being in incarceration in 1944, making no bones about his opinion of Hitler's regime, much to his own detriment.

It may well be the fact that the black-and-white picture, dividing Germans into either Nazis or opponents, read: emigrants, which prevailed over the past 65 years or so, has begun to shift, resulting in a new evaluation of those Germans who sat out the Nazi years at home rather than emigrating. This, in turn, may have prompted the rediscovery of writers such as Hans Fallada.

And what does all this have to do with film?

It appears that Stefan Arndt of X-Filme (Goodbye Lenin; The White Ribbon) in conjunction with Vincent Perez - who is of German descent - have just acquired the rights to what arguably is Fallada's best and most significant book, Jeder stirbt fuer sich allein (English title: Alone in Berlin; American title: Every man Dies Alone).

American edition of Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone/Alone in Berlin

Alone in Berlin/ Every Man Dies Alone is based on the real-life story of Otto and Elise Hampel, a married, Berlin-based, couple, who were executed in 1943 for resisting the Nazis. Archival documents about the Hampels were passed on to Fallada by a returning emigre, Johannes Becher, who rightly deemed it important to make the fate of the Hampels accessible to a wider audience. Indeed! None other than concentration camp survivor Primo Levi considered Alone in Berlin to be the best existing book about the German Resistance.

A previous film version of that book exists in the form of a German made-for-television movie dating from 1975 and starring Hildegard Knef, no less. I have long been thinking that more than any other of Fallada's novels Alone in Berlin does indeed merit rediscovery, not to mention a remake for cinematic release. It'll be interesting to see what Arndt's X-Filme and Perez will make of it.