Germany Year Zero ★★★★

If you were to just look very clinically at the plotline of this slice of excruciating verité on a sheet of paper -- and we won't be doing that, because that's not how things work around here -- this would seem like the most maudlin motion picture imaginable, somewhere between Grave of the Fireflies and Bicycle Thieves in its absolutely crushing pessimism. When you sit and chew on it, though, there's a reason it seems more substantive: it's packed with so much detail of a particularly eccentric kind that it has the horrific ring of unmistakable truth, much like the director's earlier Rome, Open City. Despite its brevity (less than 80 minutes), it contains unresolved multitudes in its harshly ugly gallery of characters. Shot on location in bombed-out Berlin without a completed script, it tells the harrowing story of a put-upon young boy attempting to help his ailing family muddle through the aftermath of the war. There's no purity to encounter in this world, not even the hollow and sentimental kind seen in a number of other Neorealist classics, with all familiar totems of day to day life turned into variations of threat, death and loneliness. It's extremely heavy, but its toughness as a portrait of the long-term violence of war feels like a necessary angle seldom explored in WWII films, particularly not from within any of the involved nations.