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Film Review : GENERATION WAR Part 1 & GENERATION WAR Part 2

We are overjoyed to have contributor/filmmaker Michelle R. Jackson’s no-holds-barred review of GENERATION WAR.

 

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Generation War Part 1 & Generation War Part 2

A Review By Michelle R. Jackson

 

Generation War, a three-part German television miniseries about five German twenty- somethings whose lives are profoundly altered by World War II, begins a US theatrical run as a two-part theatrical release. Originally seen by 7 million viewers in Germany and Austria in March 2013, Generation War received a mixture of considerable acclaim and criticism for its depiction of the negative impact of Germany’s role in WWII on its own young people.

Mainstream films depicting Germany’s role in WWII, notably Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) and Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002), leave little doubt of the enemy in WWII – German Nazis. Generation War’s writer, Stefan Kolditz, and producer, Nico Hofmann, highlight an alternative perspective. Following the complex journeys of five friends with visions of a bright future, Director Philipp Kadelbach searches the humanity of a young German generation corrupted by a war beyond their control. Kolditz remarks that “Every generation was young once, even if the next generation has a hard time imagining that their parents and grandparents were once as young as they are…Five everyday Germans—neither heroic resistance fighters, nor fanatical Nazis—who lived through one of the most brutal wars found by humankind…Are we ourselves really so different, so incorruptible?” Kolditz seeks to prove that today’s mankind is not so different from those ensared in the web of Nazi Germany.

Generation War, or Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter, (literally “Our mothers, our fathers”) follows the paths of Wilhelm (Volker Bruch), Friedhelm, (Tom Schilling), Viktor (Ludwig Trepte), Greta (Katherina Schuttler), and Charlotte (Miriam Stein) on the eve of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in Berlin 1941. After a night of reveling together, vowing to reunite at the end of the war the next Christmas Eve, the five friends go their separate ways. Brothers Willhelm and Friedhelm join the Eastern Front as Wehrmacht soldiers; Greta pursues a singing career with the hopes of becoming the next Marlene Dietrich; Charlotte becomes a nurse in the Red Cross, and Greta’s Jewish lover, Viktor, confronts an increasingly antagonistic Germany.

The goal of the filmmakers of Generation War to demonstrate the destruction of German young people’s innocence and adolescent dreams by Nazi Germany and WWII permeates every frame. The once ambitious Wilhelm transforms from a proponent of the belief of Germany’s swift and certain victory to a deserter of the Wehrmacht and a murderer of his platoon leader. Friedhelm, a reluctant soldier and perceived coward by his fellow soldiers, dies as a heroic soldier who sacrifices himself to save a company of Volkssturm soldiers. The once bright-eyed Charlotte, a loyal nurse, responsible for the arrest of a Jewish medical doctor by the Gestapo, dissolves into a helpless witness to the deaths of soldiers and aides, unable to save them. Greta, at once an ambitious, arrogant but clueless singer believing a future as the next Marlene Dietrich, dies opposite a firing squad in prison for “subversion of the war effort.” Tricked and sent to a concentration camp, Viktor escapes, joinimg a group of Polish Aria Krajowa until the group discovers his Jewish identity. As the war ends, he returns to Germany only to discover that those he loved most are dead. These five stories represent the war’s effect on German young people: it stole and crushed their hope, it destroyed their dreams.

Juxtaposed with other WWII films, which emphasize a collective German culpability and cruelty; Generation War offers audiences a sympathetic tone to familiar history. Generation War does not veil German culpability in WWII. Wilhelm’s eyes and actions bear witness to callous acts of murder by German soldiers. Yet even in those instances, the viewer must consider what they might do under similar hostile circumstances. Kolditz hopes to elicit the question “Are we ourselves very different?”

The inundation of familiar images from Nazi Germany — swastikas, piles of emaciated Jewish bodies, internment camps, symbols of Nazi fanaticism — are noticeably absent from this miniseries. There are little to no images of Adolf Hitler. The absence of such emotive images in this film underlined the loss of adolescent German hope. Avoiding Hitler and only alluding to the massacre of millions of Jews seems to be the point – it is a reminder that young Germany was also a victim of the war. Such an absence might be expected in a homegrown miniseries but it robs the theatrical version of an epic sweep by forgetting the context. The lives represented by Willhelm, Friedhelm, Charlotte, Greta, and Viktor are like a soap opera. Many are they who suffered during WWII, including Germany’s own people. But there was a huge tragedy, an atrocity that the German war machine perpetrated. A film which selectively bears witness, which does not evoke the true tragedies of WWII, the holocaust, the systematic planned extermination of an entire people, but instead focuses on the betrayal of the loyal German, evokes mixed sympathies.

Production design has the strongest impact. Cinematography is crisp, but not outstanding. Editing is too sentimental. As a film, although it builds momentum with some lovely set-pieces towards the end of Part 1, Generation Part 1 remains a laundry list of clichés, as perhaps befits its television origins. There are no similarities to Italy’s superb offering THE BEST OF YOUTH, which took a generational sweep through current history through the eyes of several young people caught up in tumultuous times, which also started as a miniseries. Nor does it deliver the searing personal intensity of Bergman’s SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, which also began as a miniseries, albeit of a close personal subject. Given a choice, find one of those when you have five hours or more to spare.

There is now a wave of challenging German filmmaking, primarily films from the Berliner Schule —

see   http://wp.me/pOvMO-14H 

including Christian Petzold’s BARBARA  (now available on Netflix), which confronts the new Germany after the destruction of the Berlin Wall and speaks to that German identity or new sense of self. Those are the works with which one can discover and explore new German film. This bittersweet nostalgia-tinged miniseries is not part of that crowd.

Generation War Part 1 & Part 2 opens in American theaters on January 15, 2014.

New Yorkers can find it at the Film Forum cinema.

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January 16, 2014 - Posted by | CULTURE, FILM, HOLIDAY GUIDES | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Total disagreement! I think the reviewer misses the point of the series. This film was primarily meant for German television and German audiences. The fact that death camp atrocities or Hitler are not seen (although there are glimpses of Jews being dragged out of their homes, several brutal murders and executions are graphically depicted and we learn that one of the main character’s parents were “taken” and their apartment given to an Aryan family) is not meant to trivialize these horrors. In focusing on five optimistic and naive friends, initially untouched by the devastation that follows, we see what they see. The story seeks to give voice to those who were neither fanatical Nazis nor dissenters, who gradually found themselves drawn into a quagmire of death, fear and regret. Those who survived -the “Our mothers, our fathers” of the original, brilliant title- lived to silence their guilt over decades, often taking their shame to their graves. Their story, in my opinion is superbly rendered. Clichés? Maybe because thousands of lives were marked by the same situations, the narrations may repeat themselves through the years.
    If Ms. Jackson has friends or relatives in Germany, it may inform her reviewing to ask about their reactions to the series. I watched the Blu-Ray in Germany with close friends (including a Jewish couple), whose families could relate directly to what the series portrays. Their reactions were not at all those of mere soap-opera viewers.
    Despite the excellent alternatives Ms. Jackson recommends, watching “Our mothers, our fathers” is by no means wasting five hours (the total lenght mentioned suggests that the 3-part series has been fortunately left uncut for its theatrical release). And if it is accessible rather that “challenging”, that means it is thankfully devoid of the narcissistic affectations of the “Berliner Schule”, which would rob the story of much of its impact.

    Comment by Luis Saltiel | January 17, 2014 | Reply

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    Comment by Mentors Sc | August 13, 2014 | Reply


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