Movie Night: Die Brücke

“It’s hard to think of a better illustration of the end of the European theater of war free of the pernicious and ubiquitous American boo-yah of so many countless war films.”

From 1959: «Die Brücke (The Bridge)». Sure it’s an anti-war war film. But it also works as horror: you know what these teens are about to suffer as the film moves from happy school days with worries about English class, liquor, a boat and some girls to its inevitable conclusion, and you want to shout, “Don’t go in that basement [on that bridge]!” For a first-time film director, Bernhard Wicki sure knew what he was doing. This is German cinema at its finest.

The synopsis:

“A group of German boys are ordered to protect a small bridge in their home village during the waning months of the second world war. Truckloads of defeated, cynical Wehrmacht soldiers flee the approaching American troops, but the boys, full of enthusiasm for the “blood and honor” Nazi ideology, stay to defend the useless bridge.”

TMDb

I paired it with Ich war Neunzehn, the East German/Russian film about a 17-year-old Red Army lieutenant’s last days of the war north of Berlin. It’s hard to think of a better illustration of the end of the European theater of war free of the pernicious and ubiquitous American boo-yah of so many countless war films. With these two films, you get rare perspectives of both the end of the war and of the beginning of the peace; Die Brücke illustrates the final gotterdamerung of the Reich and Ich war Neunzehn illustrates the post-gotterdamerung of East German communism overseen by Russian propaganda.

While I still dearly love Der Untergang (2004), it and so many other films tell the same old stories of the major characters of the war. These two films however show what life was like for millions of ordinary people. Die Brücke barely mentions Hitler and Churchill, and they are far off and far removed from the school boys’ mundane cares. Ich war Neunzehn doesn’t mention Stalin. They both allude to the systems of fascism and communism, but that’s not the focus. The result in both cases is refreshing. Instead we see real human beings surviving or dying without madeup actors with little clipped mustaches and their historical names in print below to tell viewers this madeup actor is Hitler or Stalin or Churchill.

David M. Keyes of «Cinemaphile» describes Die Brücke this way:

“The bridge persists as a stubborn link between a decaying empire and imminent liberation, defended enthusiastically by seven young men on the precipice of mortal danger. They wear masks that distort their notion of the inevitable, but not merely out of ignorance; they have been molded by the vehement enthusiasm of nationalism, which remains unchanged even after buildings have crumbled and soldiers have been erased from the battlefields. Most of them are all too eager to step in as defenders of their treasured Reich, though the faces of their parents reflect a more anxious concern.
“In one notable moment, for instance, one of the mothers tearfully pleas with her son to ignore the drafting letter he has received, insisting that he flee to the country to stay with relatives. He declines, grinning the whole way, which places emphasis on the underlying conflict: can these teenage boys be faulted for being slaves to the pure and idealistic, even as the possibilities of triumph seem lost in a haze of downtrodden confessions? Perhaps it is more sobering to see them as symbols of the uncultivated, especially under the rule of the Nazis: because this essentially made them the most expendable in an impending fight against enemy combatants, an obligatory defeat only aggravates the wound created by their destructive occupation.”

Cinemaphile

I’ll come back again and again to this one, and to Ich war Neunzehn; next time, I’ll view them back-to-back on the same night.


Die Brücke. 1959. Criterion Collection. German with English subtitles. Bernhard Wicki (d); Manfred Gregor (novel); Folker Bohnet, Fritz Wepper, Michael Hinz, Frank Glaubrecht, Karl Michael Balzer, Volker Lechtenbrink, Günther Hoffmann, Cordula Trantow, Wolfgang Stumpf, Günter Pfitzmann, Heinz Spitzner, Siegfried Schürenberg, Ruth Hausmeister, Eva Vaitl, Edith Schultze-Westrum, Hans Elwenspoek, Trude Breitschopf, Klaus Hellmold, Inge Benz, Til Kiwe, Edeltraut Elsner, Vicco von Bülow, Georg Lehn, Johannes Buzalski, Heini Göbel, Alexander Hunzinger, Alfons Teuber (a).

Movie Night: Ich War Neunzehn

“Konrad Wolf’s 1968 feels like a real 1945; he takes us back to his youth and we’re submerged in the fog that he had to navigate through once upon a time.”

From 1968: «Ich war Neunzehn (I Was Nineteen)». Mesmerizing. Intense. Now in my top ten of all time. Yes, it’s Ostie/DDR propaganda sucking up to the Russians. And it’s very well done, transcending the (now deceased) confines of the DDR strait jacket.

The synopsis:

“April 1945: Gregor Hecker, 19 years of age, reaches the outskirts of Berlin as part of the Red Army’s scouting team. Having fled Germany with his family when he was eight, he is confronted with the dilemma of having to fight men from the very country he was born in. Through dealing with challenging situations (e.g. he is appointed commander of Bernau, talks to many disillusioned Germans, and is once and again attacked by scattered groups of German soldiers), he grows more confident that not all hope is lost for post-war Germany.”

TMDb

As a reviewer at DVD Talk puts it, ” The DEFA was responsible for some very creative films, but it was still under the auspices of a Communist GDR, so there’s the inevitable Stalinist propaganda. The Russians are naturally portrayed as the heroes of the war, and made to be the biggest victims of the war. ” The reviewer, Daniel Siwek, goes on:

Konrad Wolf’s 1968 feels like a real 1945; he takes us back to his youth and we’re submerged in the fog that he had to navigate through once upon a time. It spends a lot of time repeating it’s points and questions, but when you consider the subject matter, isn’t that the way it really is as well? It’s hyped as one of Germany’s greatest films, and while I’m no expert in Deutsche cinema, I can understand that it’s definitely a film that deserves to be examined and appreciated.

DVD Talk

Well worth having it in a collection and re-viewing it every once in awhile. Russian/German with English subtitles.


Ich war Neunzehn. 1968. Criterion Collection. German/Russian with English subtitles. Konrad Wolf (d). Wolfgang Kohlhaase (w). Jaecki Schwarz, Vasiliy Livanov, Rolf Hoppe, Galina Polskikh, Jürgen Hentsch, Kurt Böwe, Hermann Beyer, Mikhail Gluzskiy, Jenny Gröllmann, Wolfgang Greese, Johannes Wieke, Fritz Mohr, Otto Lang, Aleksey Eybozhenko, Anatoliy Solovyov, Klaus Manchen, Walter Bechstein, Afanasi Kochetkov, Dieter Mann, Wolfgang Winkler, Martin Trettau (a).