Berlin Alexanderplatz – Part X: Loneliness Tears Cracks of Madness Even in Walls (1980)

Part X opens in Eva’s elegant flat—not the one she lives in with Herbert, but the one her wealthy gentleman has installed her in, the one Franz stumbled upon that day selling shoelaces, way back when he had two arms—to which Mieze has been invited. Has Mieze ever even dreamed of a life so opulent? Doesn’t she want a place like this, too? She just needs to find herself a rich gentleman like Eva’s and get Franz to stop hanging around political meetings with that good-for-nothing Willy and those stupid communists who don’t even have enough money for a pair of pants to cover their asses . . .

Part X closes on Franz, alone in his dismal room, sobbing his heart out after Mieze has left with her new gentleman (Adrian Hoven), rich just like Eva’s, who has rented her a nice apartment and is taking her away for several days. (“It’s my job, Franz. I have to do it,” whispers Mieze, before slipping out.)

Closing intertitle: The serpent in the soul of the serpent.

What does this mean? Although I would have assumed serpent references at this point would be reserved for Reinhold, it’s impossible not to think of Eva here, original sinner that she is. And indeed, everything Eva has done this episode—encouraging Mieze to find a wealthy gentleman to “keep” her, thereby severely limiting her time with Franz; getting Mieze to demand that Franz stop seeing Willy or attending political meetings, so he’ll have nothing to do and be wholly dependent on Mieze for his livelihood; yelling at Herbert for suggesting that Franz curtail his boozing lest things end up as they did with Ida; planting the seed of curiosity in Mieze’s head about finding out who is responsible for Franz’s accident, and maybe seeking retribution; getting Mieze to agree to let Franz get Eva pregnant (yes, you read that correctly)—all these things are directly linked to Franz’s abject loneliness and misery. Is this Eva’s game, to ruin things for Franz so he’ll come crawling back to her? Is she even aware that this is what she is doing?

Eva mentions that her gentleman would like her to have his baby, but she doesn’t want one with him. She wants to have Herbert’s baby, but she’s pretty sure he can’t have one. Or Franz’s. Stunned silence from Mieze who, after a few long moments erupts in a shriek. She starts hugging and kissing Eva indiscriminately, overcome, it turns out, with joy. Mieze thinks this is the most wonderful thing she’s ever heard and ends up making Eva promise that she will have Franz’s baby.

Boy, is Franz in for a shock—a series of them, in fact. First Mieze nervously tells him about her new gentleman, who’s found her an apartment—she’s been meaning to break the news to Franz, but just didn’t know how. Big red flag for Franz: “He’s rich and he’s married. And you’re pussyfooting like that? There’s something behind it!”. Franz immediately assumes that Mieze wants to get rid of him. Isn’t this pretty much what happened with Ida? So when she tells him Eva’s coming over in a few minutes to make a baby, Franz goes through the roof.  Mieze explains that she can’t get pregnant herself—she’s been to three doctors who’ve all said the same thing—so this is the only way they can have one. This seems to assuage him, and he agrees to sleep with Eva, yet again.

Meanwhile, Franz is still trying to make sense of it all. He’s tried being independent and straight and he’s tried being a crooked hot shot and neither has worked out so well, so now he’s flirting with left-wing politics again. It started out as a lark—Willy enjoys taunting the lefties for sport—but Franz seems to be taking it more seriously now, even if he’s not quite on board. How could he be? He’s not even a worker anymore.

How is Franz to live? Back at the bar, Willy proclaims that “anyone in his right mind must believe in Nietzsche. Do whatever gives you pleasure. Understand? Anything else is drivel.” Max doesn’t want to hear about politics, either: he just wants to live, that’s all. (“I don’t give a hoot about your Marxism.”) What matters to him is whether or not he can get a loan and for how long and how much. That’s what’s important in this world.

“You make it all sound so simple,” says Eddy (Jan Groth), a joiner with a sick wife at home (her uterus has joined with her rectum—god only knows what he’s talking about—collapsed pelvic wall, maybe?). But it isn’t that simple, not when the doctors say your wife is just suffering from nerves, and you’ve got a daughter crippled from rickets at home, and you live with the permanent threat of layoffs when orders are few (a threat which does not extend to management, he notes), and the medical examiner says your rheumatism is not eligible for subsidized treatment. But the worst part of it all? The kids are only learning as much as their parents did in school. Imagine that. How can anything ever change? Eddy doesn’t need Karl Marx to explain any of this to him, either. Nobody needs Karl Marx to figure that out.

Franz, who’s been listening quietly, pays the tab and leaves. Outside, he’s not sure where to go next so he just starts walking. The camera tracks along with him, block after block as he wends his way amongst the hotshots and the working girls and the newsboys, rarely cutting, in what is possibly the most beautifully choreographed scene of the entire series. And indeed, choreographed is exactly the word for it: this scene owes more to the musical than it does to conventional melodrama, consisting largely of a sort of duet between Franz, muttering snippets of the conversation in the bar, and a young newsboy who utters the same lurid headline over and over, sometimes at a shout, other times quietly, almost plaintive. Theatrical and musical, it made me think immediately of Brecht (it would totally work on the stage):

Franz, singing to himself, walks a couple of blocks, finally sits down on some steps across the street from a newsboy in the foreground.

[cut to]

NEWSBOY: Child molester scandal! Czech Jew abuses 20 boys! No arrest made. (quieter now, approaching Franz) Child molester scandal. Czech Jew abuses 20 boys. No arrest made.

[cut to]

FRANZ: (close up) Her uterus has become joined with her rectum. They operated on her, but it didn’t help internally.

[cut to]

NEWSBOY: (close up) (almost conversationally) Child molester scandal. Czech Jew abuses 20 boys. No arrest made. Child molester scandal. Czech Jew abuses 20 boys. No arrest made. Scandal. Child molester scandal. Czech Jew abuses 20 boys.

[Franz gets up, approaches. Camera tracks to a 2-shot, following Franz, circling around the lad]

No arrest made. What’s up? Something bothering you?

FRANZ: Why do you ask?

NEWSBOY: You’re acting so strange, walking around me. Out with it if you’ve got a problem.

FRANZ: (Still walking around him – camera still tracking) Nothing really. It’s just that I used to sell newspapers myself.

NEWSBOY: So what?

FRANZ: That’s what I said. It’s nothing really. (Smiles, walks away – camera still tracking as Franz walks back the way he came)

NEWSBOY: Scandal! Child molester scandal!

FRANZ: And the kids learn exactly the same as we did. You can imagine what comes of that.

[Still walking, camera still tracking]

And with a nervous illness you’re perfectly fit. Anyone with a nervous illness is perfectly healthy.

[Franz enters a shop. Cut to]

NEWSBOY: (Close up) Czech Jew exposed as child molester! No arrest made!

[Cut back to Franz coming out of the shop with a bottle of booze in hand]

FRANZ: And nobody needs Karl Marx for that anymore. But it’s true neveretheless. (sings a little) Taxi!

NEWSBOY: Child molester scandal!

FRANZ: What does a bowlegged person do in the country?

NEWSBOY: Czech Jew exposed as child molester!

FRANZ: (Climbing into taxi) What do I care about politics and all that crap? It’s no help to me. Take me to Tegel!

[Taxi drives off , camera tracks back to newsboy as he walks toward camera]

NEWSBOY: Czech Jew exposed as child molester! No arrest made!

Of course the logical next stop is Tegel, which sits, impassively, at the very center of the riddle that defines Franz’ Biberkopf’s existence. Franz, too drunk to make any sense out of anything, lies down to sleep on a park bench, where he is roused by a not unkind policeman, with whom he engages in a slightly comic dialog before hailing another taxi. Back home, before passing out, Franz, incoherent but insightful—notice how his most poetic insights always seem to come when he is barely conscious?—concludes thus:

A newspaper has a lot of letters, and the letters are black. A car is black, and the trees are red. Blood is red. But freedom is not order. Order is black., black like the car. And black, like the car, are the letters in my newspaper.

Franz, it seems to me, is beginning to see the nature of his predicament more clearly (he doesn’t need Karl Marx to do so, either, although I do think the meetings have helped). Intuitively, he is beginning to grasp the order of things: Pums’ men in their black cars, Tegel, the newspapers that hawk lurid stories to fill the time and imaginations of ordinary folk (not to mention the suckers who sell them for a pittance) are all on the same side of the equation, all part of the same system in which Franz is trapped like a fly. (There’s a very strange scene in this episode involving a spider, which I haven’t been able to fit in for lack of a clear and cogent explanation; let’s just say that the image of being trapped like a fly is not entirely without context here.) I wonder if he’ll have a chance to benefit from this dawning understanding before it’s too late.

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