The Second World War is finally over, now the painstaking reconstruction begins. Not only do the rubble of the destroyed cities have to be disposed of, but also the remains of the Nazi dictatorship. British Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke), who is watching over the reconstruction in Hamburg, knows how difficult that is. And so he allows Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård), in whose house he has moved into quarters, to continue to live there, under the attic. Of these, however, is neither Morgan’s wife Rachael (Keira Knightley) nor Lubert’s daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) enthusiastic, especially at the beginning the relationship between the different residents is extremely bad. But over time everyone gets closer – especially Rachael and Stefan, who unexpectedly develop feelings for each other.
When films address the Second World War, they are mostly about beaming heroes, sadistic villains and of course the Holocaust. About the adventures and atrocities before the horror was finally over. But what then? How did it go after that? The Aftermath kicks in when the war has been over for a few months and it is now time to rebuild. For this we can and must endure some harrowing images at the beginning of the drama, of bombed cities as well as of Hitler supporters who want to sow violence and terror even after the end of the war.
The focus shifts so quickly away from the physical structure to the very difficult relationship between victorious and defeated: Similar to Trautmann recently, Germans and English are wrestling here about how to deal with each other. However, where the football biopic was based on a true story of how sport can become a means of reconciliation, the novel by Rhidian Brook provided the template. There are no real people here. And the film has no realism either, at least not with regard to the psychological component.
The scenario is quite constructed, but not without tension: As two families are more or less forced to share a roof in no man’s land, encounters, arguments and conflicts automatically arise. The constellation thus reflects what is happening out there in the city, where emotions also tend to boil. But at some point the film is no longer interested in it. What might have been a reflection on reconciliation turns into pure romance at some point. And not even a good one.
Stefan and Rachael will eventually get together is not a big surprise. As is so often the case, they are introduced here as opponents, whose friction at some point creates feelings. This not only happens automatically here, it also happens very quickly. Director James Kent obviously sees no need to allow attraction a little development. Rather, it is turned on and off. Like a bedside lamp. And otherwise interpersonal relationships are not a strength of the filmmaker, maybe they just don’t interest them. It happens what has to happen because the story dictates it, not because it would in any way result from the scenes.
If at least there was something about the characters that was worth telling. But no man’s land fails on this front either. The fact that the Germans are not one-sidedly declared to be the good guys and the English to be the rescuers is still somewhat sympathetic as an attempt to differentiate. But if the opposite of the other circumstances emerges from it – Lubert is such a good person that you fall asleep standing up, there is a nasty, condescending Englishman as a caricature – then nobody has gained anything from it. On the contrary, drama is a waste of time, including acting talent. At least there are some beautiful landscapes that go well with the later pathos. But that alone cannot be a reason to stop by here.
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