A sleepy German village during the last stages of World War II abruptly awakes to the harsh and brutal realities of the conflict when the front moves onto their doorsteps, leading the local Nazi party boss, a SS colonel, to enlist into the army all boys from the local school over the age of 16, including those recently resettled after having been displaced from bombed out cities. The Werhmacht is, by this time, reduced to recruit young boys – mostly from the Hitler Youth Movement, and old men to keep the war effort going, as the convincingly pitiful state of the men retreating from the advancing Americans shows in convoy after convoy passing through the village, and the bridge that the school boys have been ordered to defend at all cost.
The boys are openly and cynically used as dead meat to allow for the remains of the German army, its generals and the party bosses to escape, hiding behind by then empty slogans about duty, the defence of the Führer and the fatherland. The trouble is that the youngsters, having been indoctrinated from an early age, still believed in all that, and paid dearly for it, whilst the adults cynically abandoned them so that they could flee, desperately trying to burn all traces of their crimes, their allegiance to Hitler having already been thrown away. The disintegration of a society is ugly, there is no doubt about it, and this film shows it in all its bestiality.
Extra tension is introduced into the battle scenes as doubts surfaces in some of the young defenders, mirroring those of the adults, and rifts appear between them which conspire against their chances of survival. Emotional interest is intertwined in the form of a romance between Albert, the protagonist, and Elfie (a very convincing Franka Potente), the daughter of the family where he was resettled, providing a sense of relief after all the despair of war.
The resistance in the bridge, for all its bravery and blood letting, the special effects of the battle scenes being convincing without being overbearing, ultimately was no more than a mosquito bite onto the flanks of the powerful American army - and the generals who sent the boys to their deaths knew that, as it is seen by the end of the film when, after an apparent withdrawal from their positions after having suffered heavy casualties during the battle, the Americans return in huge numbers and overpowering military hardware.
Attention has been taken to period details such as the clothing, hair styles, attitudes, and military hardware depicted in the film, although I have doubts about the uniform of the so-called SS colonel, Walter’s father, who greeted the party of displaced city people at the beginning of the movie: that uniform was not that of a SS officer, but rather that of a brown shirt, a different branch of Nazi Germany military and paramilitary units.
The acting of the main characters, particularly the young actors, is self-assured and restrained, passions being awaken when the story required it. However, I found the secondary characters to be stereotyped and cartoon-like and, consequently, not very believable; particularly the part of Walter’s father, one of the boy, a man who is the local party boss and universally detested in the village who shows his real self and moral cowardice when the Americans overran the village.The musical score was competently done, and what it was to be expected from most films. However, it is the kind of score that I find particularly unhelpful precisely because it is trying to be helpful as it hints on how the action will develop, distracting from the actors’ abilities to do so.
This breathless and dramatically gripping story shows that those who had most to gain during the Nazi years were, obviously, the first to flee, using kids as cannon fodder to cover for their escape, and it is convincingly filmed to its bitter end.
Dir: Wolfgang Panzer Germany 2008 100 mins Cert 15
Cast: François Goeske, Franka Potente, Lars Steinhöfel, Robert Höller, Florian Heppert, Daniel Axt, Toni Deutsch, Alexander Becht, Paula Schramm, Michael Lott.
DVD Release date: 5th April 2010
DVD RRP: £15.99
Metrodome Group website: http://www.metrodomegroup.com/
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