Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Die Bruecke (The Bridge, 1959) * * *

The Bridge (Die Bruecke) (link to the DVD at Amazon) I stumbled across a mention of Die Brucke (The Bridge) while reading reviews of Stalingrad on, the German site. I was reading to find out what Germans were writing to fellow Germans about this movie. Most of the German reviews of Stalingrad were commenting on the depiction of regular German soldiers as regular people (not monsters) in an impossible situation where they were trying to do their job. But all also discussed the anti-war theme of the movie. In these reviews, three German anti-war films were always mentioned: Das Boot, Stalingrad and Die Brucke (The Bridge). And thus I came to watch this 1956 movie about a group of German teenagers at the end of WWII who end up 'defending' a little bridge outside their town.

As I have mentioned in other reviews of German films dealing with WWII, there is a current of deep bitterness about WWII in modern German culture. Immediately, post-WWII the sentiment was about what you expect in a defeated population -- wounded pride, denial of atrocities, and a glorification of the German youth that died. But in 1960s-1970s, the children born post-WWII came of age. The phenomena of the 1970s happened across Europe as well as in the U.S., and part of this era, as we all know, was a rejection and negative view of the previous generation -- their parents. In Germany, the same thing happened but on top of it there was the undeniable fact that the previous generation was viewed as complicit in terrible atrocities and aggression. It was not just a rejection of Nazism; it became hatred of Nazism and of the propaganda concerning everything that happened from after WWI to the end of WWII. One of the turning points, I've read, was a speech by then president in the early 1980s. In this speech, he argued against any harbored nostalgia or pride associated with the pre-WWII Nazi period and argued that Germans should see themselves as victims of Hitler's evil ideology. The idea that the German people were victims of WWII sounds a bit ridiculous to American ears, but part of rejecting the whole ideology of leading up to WWII was taking the view of Nazism as a poison that infected otherwise good people and viewing the deaths of Germans in the war not as heroic citizens protecting the Vaterland but rather as people slaughtered for a evil man's grand ideology. 'We thought it was about us, but it wasn't, Hitler didn't care about us, we were just pawns -- but worse, willing pawns.'

Much more than Das Boot or Stalingrad, Die Brucke seethes with anger about the poison of the youth ideology of Nazism. The story follows the class of seniors (17-year olds) in a small German town over the course of 3-4 days. The first 3/4 of the film establishes the group as boys -- making the initial awkward moves toward young manhood. We see them working on a science project with their teacher after school, we see them playing war, and we see them looking for treasures around by the river. But we also see them beginning to deal with adult issues. One boy has a crush on his housekeeper and flies into a rage on discovering his father in bed with her. This scene is quite comical because the boy sees himself as a man who the woman should be attracted to, while the woman sees him as a child. Another boy is trying to assume the role of man of the house at home (his father was killed in the war), but again we see the disconnect between his view of himself as a man versus the reality that he is obviously still a boy.

When the boys then receive their draft papers, it is not a surprise that they are all pumped up to go to war and defend the Vaterland. Their teacher makes impassioned pleas to the local commander to not send them to the front and argues that the ideology of "Fuhrer, Vaterland, and the hero's death" has betrayed the German people. The pleas fall on deaf ears, but fortunately for the boys, the officers are not reckless. Untrained, the boys would be useless at the front so they are sent off with an older soldier to keep them out of trouble to an obscure and utterly unimportant bridge. When their minder is unavoidably detained, the boys take it upon themselves to engage the enemy. These final scenes are a searing, searing indictment of the glorification of war and the waste of human life in the final days of WWII.


Notes: This video is difficult to find. I rented it from Scarecrow Video in Seattle. The translation not great. It captures the basic meaning of what they are saying in German, but that's it. However, the movie is still very powerful.

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