Arnold Clasen reenters society after time away in a Nazi prison camp, and returns to Hamburg and a life of quiet solitary resistance, in the 1981 war-time drama Your Unknown Brother. Clasen immediately reconnects with his old love Renate, and embarks on a turbulent, dangerous friendship with resistance leader Walter, a man of ulterior motives, who is also in bed with the Nazi regime. Clasen starts to suspect Walter when many of his old comrades are seized by authorities. It seems everyone in the resistance, wh… comes into contact with Walter soon become property of the State, yet he remains suspiciously unscathed.
The film deals with themes of stark isolation and hopelessness, as well as an individual’s efforts in facing widespread fascism. It’s always at the top of its craft, but the action lacks that extra something to make it all seem interesting. On paper, the film will have foreign drama buffs salivating, but in execution, it fails to make its premise as intriguing as it sounds. With that said, I am hard-pressed to find any fault in the performances, and Director Ulrich Weiss really does know how to use camera, lighting, and sound effects, to his advantage. It just seems like the intangibles are missing – those unexplainable qualities, which pack all the emotional power, and allow a movie to transcend the average film within its genre.
The print isn’t in the best of shape, most likely due to the rough life Your Unknown Brother has had since its inception. East Germany would not allow Weiss to enter the film at Cannes, despite the invitation, and it’s no stretch to imagine their influence played a part in the film’s obscurity. Unfortunately, “obscurity” also too often means “not stored in the best of conditions.” How can it be when faced with such financial and societal hardships? Dirt and grain have not been filtered out to DVD expectations, and the colors are dreary. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio has been restored, but there’s little else I can say for it.
The audio presentation fares better, but is still subject to some hiss on the low end. The 2.0 track does have a nice full volume, however. Dialogue levels are crisp, as is background noise and all the subtle audio nuances, such as the opening credits, which are played out to the “ploink-ploink-ploink” of a dripping faucet. Sound comes through extremely well in many instances to convey the feelings of isolation and hopelessness the film wishes to invoke in its viewers.
The introductory essay and featurette Member of Resistance Irene Harloff Remembers are both interesting materials. The former adequately dissects the film and its history, while the latter provides one of those interesting historical sidebars that I yearn for from a disc, which delves into such subject matter. Rounding out the disc – newsreels, a photo gallery, and cast/crew biographies.
Further proving DVD will never go away until every movie ever made is available, Your Unknown Brother finally hits American shores in this (sort of) special edition. I have a feeling that, while far from perfect, the A/V is as good of a presentation as you’ll ever see for this film. The bonus materials add a few worthwhile touches, but the overall release is a disappointment in just about every sense of the word.
Special Features List
- “Member Of Resistance Irene Harloff Remembers”
- Photo Gallery
- Cast/Crew Biographies
- Introductory Essay