Nerven was a modest critical success but a major box-office failure when it opened in Munich in December, 1919. The film was censored the following year, and a further truncated version was distributed internationally. Though a third of the footage of the original has never been recovered, this DVD release from the prestigious Edition Filmmuseum includes a 2007 restoration incorporating a truncated copy from a Moscow archive together with fragments from the United States Library of Congress and the Munich Filmmuseum.
Nerven is a saga about the families of two politically ambitious rivals: the populist, street preacher Johannes (Paul Bender) and the proto-fascist industrialist Roloff (Eduard von Winterstein). The cast of principal characters includes Johannes' blind sister (Lili Dominici), Roloff's wife (Lya Borré), his radical sister (Erna Morena) and her aristocratic fiancée (Rio Ellbon). Incidental characters of note include a faithful German Shepherd, a lovelorn gardener, a mother with a dark family secret, a psychiatrist with a dueling scar, and street mobs by the throng. Alas, lust, politics, or guilt, directly or indirectly, make nearly everyone miserable and crazed. Before the film is through one miscarriage of justice, one act of arson, two suicides, four murders, and various other desperate and deranged acts thin out the ensemble leaving only two characters to escape the earthly hell of civilization by renouncing everything and beginning afresh in the Bavarian Black Forest like Adam and Eve.
The pessimism of Robert Reinert who wrote, produced, and directed Nerven is all pervasive. Reflecting the doom and gloom of Oswald Spengler's bestselling book of political theory and prognostication, Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West, 1918), Reinert clearly believes that Europe is fatally decayed. For Reinert who can find nothing in modern society that can be saved, the only answer is sweeping away everything and beginning anew.
As agitprop for renouncing civilization and returning to the land Nerven is fascinating, but as silent melodrama it's stale. The writing, direction, and acting is highly stylized with ludicrously exaggerated behavior and cumbersome exposition, as evidenced by the images below.