Herbstmilch (Autumn Milk) is based on Anna Wimschneider's best-selling autobiography by the same title, which describes her life as a Bavarian farm woman. Anna knew great hardships from childhood onwards. Her mother died in childbirth when Anna was only 8 years old, and the young girl was forced to assume the heavy responsibility of caring for her numerous siblings, the farm animals, and the household. In the film we see her father and brothers treating her like an unpaid servant, tossing their torn and dirty clothes at her when they come in from the fields. She dreams of something better, but her prospects seem bleak.
Enter Albert Wimschneider, a handsome young farmer. They first see each other in the midst of a Nazi rally in the village, and are immediately attracted. Forgetting the rally, they go to a café where they talk and get to know each other. Their relationship soon blossoms into love, and Anna longs for the day when her marriage to Albert will release her from the drudgery of her home life.
But immediately after the wedding, Anna's dream of marital bliss is shattered when she meets her mother-in-law. The formidable Frau Wimschneider still lives with her son, and she rules the roost with an iron hand. Far from welcoming Anna into the family, she sees her as an interloper, and treats her shamefully from the moment the girl enters the house. To make matters worse, Albert is soon called up for military service and is forced to leave her at the mercy of his relatives. With Albert gone, Anna is the only able-bodied person on the farm, and is expected to perform most of the back-breaking labor. Barefoot and hugely pregnant, Anna plows the fields behind a team of oxen and toils in the house under the glaring eye of Albert's mother. Even the birth of the child does not put an end to the cruel treatment, and Anna is almost at the breaking point when Albert finally returns from the war to set things to rights. The young couple cling to one another and dance for joy in the muddy farmyard while their child and Albert's relatives look on.
First-time director Joseph Vilsmaier cast his wife Dana Vávrová in the role of the courageous Anna, and a young Bavarian actor, Werner Stocker, as her suitor and future husband Albert. (The real Anna and Albert were involved in the making of the film, and both appear in cameos.) Herbstmilch won high acclaim for its director and stars. It garnered awards at several international film festivals, and earned Vilsmaier the 1989 German Film Prize in Silver for his direction, while Dana Vávrová took home the Gold Film Prize for Outstanding Individual Achievement for an Actress. Stocker and Vávrová also won the 1989 Bavarian Film Prizes for Best Young Actor and Actress. Two years later Vilsmaier cast them as the leads in his post-war saga Rama Dama, and their obvious onscreen chemistry soon prompted critics to refer to them as a Traumpaar (dream pair), although the actors themselves joked about the title bestowed upon them and refused to take it seriously.
Herbstmilch was never shown in the U.S., but according to the Internet Movie Database it had a theatrical release in Britain under the title Autumn Milk, presumably with English subtitles. The only video I have ever seen is the German-language version in PAL format. I do not understand German, and I am certain that I must have missed many of the nuances, but thanks to the excellence of the direction and acting, I was still able to follow the story without too much difficulty and to enjoy the wonderful performances of the actors. I hope that one day this splendid film will be released on video in the U.S., so that American fans of Werner Stocker will have a chance to see it.
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(This page last updated 05/15/2004)