Monthly Archives: October 2018

Grading Historical Movies: Elem Klimov’s “Come and See” (1985)

Note:  Students in Stephen Norris’s HST/FST 252, History at the Movies, are grading historical films and offering reviews on how assigned films render the past.  The seventh film assigned in this Fall 2018 version of the course, which focuses on European films about World War II, was Elem Klimov’s 1985 Come and See.

Overall grade from 45 students: A-

Review One

By Steven Waurio

Grade:  A

There are few films that force an emotional response as powerful as the response felt while watching Come and See.  Directed by Elem Klimov in 1985, the film uses a tragic storyline and horrifying imagery to act as an extremely powerful warning against war.  It presents the war in Belarus as experienced by Florya, a boy roughly 15 years old.  He begins eager and ready to do his part in the defense of the Soviet homeland, and quickly finds that he hadn’t the slightest idea what that would actually entail.  In a story of war completely devoid of battles or heroism, Klimov is still able to convey a realistic, visceral feel and emotion of war that makes for a painful viewing experience.  The film follows Florya through a series of horrors.  He endures a bombing that deafens him, discovers that his family has been massacred, emerges from Nazi gunfire as the sole survivor, and witnesses the systematic defilement and murder of an entire village.

At a time (the mid-1980s) in which serious questions about the shared complicity of German soldiers in war crimes and the USSR’s failure to prepare for Nazi invasion were being asked, Come and See makes bold arguments.  It presents every German soldier as directly involved in and supportive of the Nazi cause of systematic extermination.  And, through a complete omission of Soviet leadership, it suggests that the Soviet government had little to no role in the defense of the homeland–that it was regular citizens who bore the full extent of the Nazi invasion. This implies that it was Soviet negligence that allowed the horrors experienced by Florya and other citizens to happen.

The most important function of the film, however, is to warn against all future wars.  Its title, Come and See functions as a demand to viewers.  Rather than blindly buy into the narratives of war that are put forth by governments around the world, the film’s title demands that viewers “come and see” the truth of war, stripped of its supposed heroes and glory.  When these narratives are stripped away, all that’s left behind is a sense of meaningless horror and terrible suffering.

Review Two

By Emma Darby

Grade:  A-

In all honesty, it is difficult to describe the emotional taxation caused by watching Elem Klimov’s Come and See. The continual insanity and decline in the life of Flyora is exhausting to watch because the audience’s heart as we watch him become broken. We become witnesses to the horrors of war.

It’s intriguing to compare the difference in how the war is perceived by young Flyora as the film progresses. In the beginning, though warned that he will regret his decision to hunt for an abandoned gun, the war seems to be an exciting new game for him to play, something that he and his younger friend imitate and find as a life goal. His mother protests and he finds himself overjoyed to be dragged out into the wilderness and posed like a good Soviet soldier. However, the realities and trauma of the war become quickly apparent, the plane that is seen early on continually reappearing and following him, bringing along tragedy and horror. Glasha’s character shows the physical trauma of the war, her body seen as a commodity and her view of herself as one to be taken over and over again. Though later, a woman looking very similar to her is viciously gang raped and beaten, adding to the new and rawer understanding of the war in Flyora’s eyes. Suffering allows no nobility through this understanding, any sort of push back meaningless in the overall loss in the war. The use of first-person camera angles creates a stronger sense of attachment to Flyora, as well as including moments that makes one feel as if they themselves are Flyora (such as when he is partially deafened), adding to his role as a witness to the atrocities. The slow death of light within Flyora’s eyes becomes more and more evident as he trudges onward, the death of his family, village, and hundreds of adults and children alike follow his journey.

The amount of emotional truth within the film is simply staggering. The continuous loss of life and the darkness of the film are overwhelming and almost sickening.  It never stops, truly. There is no end to the terror, no end to the pain that Flyora must go through. Watching the enemy soldiers claim they were forced into their actions, even the one who orchestrated the mass shooting and burning of hundreds of children and adults in the church and utilizing the idea of the clean Wehrmacht is enraging, painful, and the emotions in the bystanders are felt within a viewer. Flyora’s moment of revenge brings about a questioning of the birth of evil and just where and how did Hitler get where he was.  Flyora’s loss, both physically, mentally, and emotionally, all portray a unique and personal account of the war, making it so real, it’s almost difficult not to feel afraid of what’s going to happen to the viewer if they get too close to the screen.

Review Three

By Madeline Phaby

Grade:  A-

Come and See, a 1985 Soviet film directed by Elem Klimov, is a thoroughly chilling and unforgettable account of the destruction of multiple Belorussian villages by German troops during World War II. The narrative is mainly shown from the perspective of Flyora, a boy who is forced to witness unimaginable atrocities at a shockingly young age. The juxtaposition of youth and war, two entities that are essentially opposites, is much of what makes this film so memorable – and difficult to watch.

Flyora is conscripted by the Soviet partisans, and he willingly and enthusiastically joins the forces, leaving his horrified mother and two young sisters behind. After being left behind at the camp while the partisans moved on, he meets Glasha, a girl who immediately takes a liking to him. When the camp is bombed by Germans, Flyora’s hearing is permanently damaged, which is demonstrated by sounds being distorted for the rest of the film. Klimov’s decision to include this element provides the viewer with a more acute understanding of the trauma experienced by the boy and thus enhances the realism of the film. The two then return to Flyora’s home village but find it to be destroyed. Glasha realized that the boy’s family has been killed along with several other villagers, but Flyora has a delusional episode in a nearby bog and denies that they’ve been killed. The depressing sequence of events in which Flyora is told by multiple other villagers that his family is indeed dead and therefore finally realizes that they’re gone is only deepens the boy’s troubles. Throughout the rest of the film, Flyora witnesses Glasha (or a woman who looks like her) suffering irreparable mental damage from being raped by a group of German soldiers, a church full of people being inundated with grenades and gunshots, and the killing of a group of Germans by his original partisan troop. All of these events are nausea-inducing for the viewer, but the thought of an innocent child having to see such atrocities firsthand is absolutely gut-wrenching and provides a deep truth about the truly barbaric nature of war.

This film does not sugar-coat a single aspect of Flyora’s experiences, which is precisely what makes it so brilliant and yet also so horrible. It was not an easy thing to sit through, but the real events that inspired it were a million times harder to live and die through, which is clearly Klimov’s point. The brutal truth of the Khatyn massacre and similar occurrences is one that needs to be known, no matter the level of discomfort produced.


Grading Historical Movies: Helma Sanders-Brahms’s “Germany, Pale Mother” (1980)

Note:  Students in Stephen Norris’s HST/FST 252, History at the Movies, are grading historical films and offering reviews on how assigned films render the past.  The sixth film assigned in this Fall 2018 version of the course, which focuses on European films about World War II, was Helma Sanders-Brahms’s 1980 Germany, Pale Mother.

Overall grade from 45 students: B

Review One

By Aleah Sexton

Aleah Sexton

Grade:  A-

Germany, Pale Mother, the 1980 West German film directed by Helma Sanders-Brahms, is a riveting post-war depiction of how the lives of civilians, soldiers, and children were negatively impacted by the war. The film highlights destruction, chaos, desentization, and the daily struggle to survive in a world blanketed by trauma. The film follows the life of Lene and her daughter Anna, who is born during an air raid. The audience sees the downward spiral of Lene’s marriage to Hans, who is immediately drafted for refusing to become a member of the Nazi Party. The strained marriage is a reaction of Hans on the frontlines, and his once gentle nature turns to aggression and anger. Lene struggles to raise Anna as they roam the German countryside and experience the destruction the war has brought. The film goes beyond the upheaval during the war, and focuses on coping with life after the fact. Sanders-Brahms shot war outside the frontlines and captured the ripple effect of how the loss from the front affected entire communities back home. German complicity to Nazi indoctrination is another matter the film highlights. Lene does not help a Jewish neighbor in need. Hans does not refuse to kill innocent Polish civilians and French partisans. However, are their stances comparable to the horrific deeds of the Nazis? This question became an issue for all Germans during this time, and the film attempts to create interpretations of how complicit an ordinary civilian could be.

The metaphorical truth the film captures is evident as Lene, Hans, and Anna attempt to piece their lives together as a familial unit after the atrocities each experienced. Based on Robert Rosenstone’s thesis of historical films, I would situate Germany, Pale Mother as a dramatic feature film with some representation of the documentary film, as well. The dramatic film “aims directly at the emotions” and “individuals are at the centre of the historical process”. Germany, Pale Mother certainly created emotional responses from the audience, due to the intensity of the episodes and the individual traumas each character was forced to endure. In terms of the documentary film, this presents “a linear, and moral story, often deals with large topics through the experience of a small group of participants”. Although this film was not directed as a documentary, there was some documentary footage cut into scenes. Germany, Pale Mother signifies a documentary because of the plotline the audience followed. It was centered on three individuals, and their stories could have been reality for thousands of Germans. The pain suffered from Hans and Lene appeared authentic, and the issues they grappled with could be a looming truth for many.

The impact of the film created a conversation about how familial life post-war is truly uprooted from the agony encountered in the midst of national chaos. The audience witnesses the dramatic relational shift between Hans and Lene after Anna’s birth. Lene and Han’s initial attempts to keep the family as a unit is far too unrealistic as they both quietly face their own demons. The viewers watch as suppressed trauma and desensitization from Lene and Hans come to fruition, as suicide seems to be the only option. These internal battles, Sanders-Brahms suggests, affected all Germans after 1945.

Review Two

By Adam Ring

Grade:  A

Helma Sanders-Brahms manages to do something extraordinary in her film – she presents, on surface level, a typical story about a German man having to leave behind his wife as he departs to fight in World War II. The brilliancy happens when this story is examined primarily from the perspective of Lene, his wife back at home. By taking this angle, Sanders-Brahms is able to communicate her central message: war is hard on everyone, but especially difficult for women back home. In fact, they can be the single biggest losers in the end, without ever having stepped foot on the front.

Lene’s startled reaction when she hears Hans is being conscripted into the war is not surprising at all—most wives would respond that way. Quickly, however, the audience learns Hans is not cut out for war like many of his fellow soldiers are—this can be seen when he expresses incredibly shock and sadness after witnessing innocent civilians being gunned down. When he returns home on a brief leave, the plot quickly changes. Hans, initially seen as someone fairly carefree and lighthearted, questions his wife’s pureness after accusing her of cheating on him. Even though he quickly takes it back, that initial statement sets up a downward-spiraling narrative that will slowly lead to Lene’s mental and physical decline.

As the movie progresses, Lene and her daughter Anna begin to suffer more and more. Most children grow up struggling to remember their earliest birthday; for Anna, she witnesses her own mother being gang raped by two drunken men. While she is much too young to process the full extent of the rape, the fact remains that an event like this permanently alters a child, and they are left to deal with the lingering memories for the rest of their lives. A theme of trauma after trauma begins to emerge—and the most interesting part is that most of the trauma witnessed is not caused by guns or tanks, like so many other war movies depict.

This family is like a ticking time bomb: each day becomes progressively more stressful until the entire situation collapses on itself.  At the very end of the movie, in response to Lene locking herself in the restroom, Anna offers the single most profound and revealing statement in the entire movie: “It was a long time before Lene opened the door. Sometimes I think she’s still behind it. And I’m still standing outside, and she’ll never come out to me”. In this case, the physical door is a metaphor for the illusionary door Lene is casting between herself and Anna. This is a textbook example of a mother completely giving up on life.

All of this is troubling to watch, and many may question why a director would even begin to make a movie that ends in such misery. The answer can be found by examining the impact Sanders-Brahms wants the audience to leave with. Why does any of this matter? In essence, the purpose of this movie is to show an often untold narrative of war—that being the toll it has on mothers and children. The director does this brilliantly. While the movie is sometimes hard to watch, the way it unfolds is purposeful, and each scene naturally leads to the next. This film tackles it all—it contains an important message, emotional scenes, real-world applicability, and a fearless exposure of the true terrors those left behind at home are forced to cope with.

Review Three

By Megan Drown

Grade:  B-

As if the Nazi Party and the sins of the German people weren’t abhorrent enough in contemporary films about World War II, Germany, Pale Mother serves as a testament to the revoltingly passive nature of two apolitical Germans during the war and their pathetic inability to come to terms with their complicity in genocide during the post-war reconstruction of their Fatherland. Opening on a sinister reflection of a Nazi flag while the camera pans out to reveal two men rowing on a river, the narrator asserts “I can remember nothing about the time before my birth. No blame can be attached to me for events before my birth. I didn’t exist then.” While establishing her innocence in the face of the horror the film would later reveal, the narrator’s words haunt the audience while the ensuing dialogue between the two men affirm their perverse nature.

A woman, Helene (Lene), and the protagonist-to-be is catcalled by the two men as she walks next to the river. After harassing her and watching her fend off a menacing dog, the two men – Hans and Ulrich – admire her from afar.

“She didn’t scream,” Hans says.

“A real German woman,” Ulrich replies.

“With black hair?”

“Pure Aryan. Her family is all blonde. She’s the only one with black hair. Seven beautiful sisters.”

Immediately the ideal of German beauty and racial purism characterizes the attitudes of the male-dominant German society.  Their complicity, and in fact accountability, for the extermination of Jewish people is undeniable, even in spite of scenes in which Hans, a soldier of the Wehrmacht, is adversely affected by his acts of violence against Jews later in the movie. However, the complicity of women in creating and maintaining the systematic extermination of Jews evokes a more ambiguous reaction from many in the post-war era.

Normative gender roles called upon women to be complacent, unquestioning, and supportive of their German husbands in Nazi Germany by taking responsibility for the home and raising the children while their husbands were off at war. This film certainly portrays a passive woman, Helene, who marries Hans, and embraces her role as a German wife and mother. She unquestioningly supports Hans as he is drafted into the Wehrmacht, in spite of her apprehension of the Nazi party, and she fulfills her role as a mother as she gives birth to a child and raises her throughout the horror and destruction of war. She also does not object to the arrest of her Jewish neighbor and complacently accepts the violence and paranoia of her husband when he returns from war to visit wife and daughter.

While the film largely serves as a mundane reflection of the tragic experiences of women during Nazi Germany and post-war Germany, it does not fail to express women’s complicity in the war and the consequences they must suffer because of it. These consequences, perhaps, culminate in the final scene of the movie, in which Helene, half-paralyzed, addicted to alcohol, and emphatically depressed, tries to kill herself. Though locked in the bathroom, until, at last, she re-emerges to embrace her sobbing child, the film ends on an incredibly somber note as one wonders if Helene and her daughter, Anna, might have been better off if Helene had, indeed, killed herself.

Grading Historical Movies: Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Ivan’s Childhood” (1962)

Note:  Students in Stephen Norris’s HST/FST 252, History at the Movies, are grading historical films and offering reviews on how assigned films render the past.  The fifth film assigned in this Fall 2018 version of the course, which focuses on European films about World War II, was Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1962 Ivan’s Childhood.

Overall grade from 45 students: B

Review One

By C.J. Carney

Letter Grade: B

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood illustrates the historical truth of war’s destructive tendencies and the emotional truth of how death impacts a child’s innocence. The film focuses on war’s destruction of childhood innocence as we see during Ivan’s dream sequences. The film’s emotional truth is delivered through the impact the war has on Ivan’s emotions, which turn from happiness to vengeance. We see Ivan’s intense desire to avenge his family’s deaths. We also glimpse Ivan’s happy childhood in his dreams, but that happiness is twisted by the destructive nature of the real world of war. Even the dreams have a dark undertone at the end of each sequence to show how that his childhood was lost because of the war.

Ivan’s Childhood tells the story of 12-year-old orphaned boy, who is all alone on the Eastern Front during World War II. The story is told in a non-linear fashion as throughout the film there are various flashbacks, with dream sequences, which provide details about Ivan’s childhood. Through the dream sequences and the conversations with other characters, it is evident that Ivan’s mother and the rest of his family were killed by the Nazis. As a result, Ivan joins the war cause in order to avenge the death of his family. Ivan is apparently a favorite spy for a Russian colonel Gryaznov, which is found out after Lieutenant Galstev interrogates him. As a result of this usefulness he become more involved on the front. There is also a subplot in the film between a military captain, Kholin and Galtsev’s affection toward one of the army nurses named Masha. In many ways this subplot interferes with the film’s historical interpretation: throughout most of the film it is very hard to get emotionally attached to the characters and the subplot with Masha doesn’t contribute to the message or the truth that the director is trying to convey. The central message of the film revolves around Ivan and his childhood experiences represented in his dreams.

With the non-linear plot, Tarkovsky’s message in the film can be interpreted in various ways. The plot starts with Ivan, then it shifts to the romance of Masha and the two Russian military officers, then it shifts to the Ivan preparing for a mission, then to the mission itself, and then finally to the war’s aftermath where we find out that Ivan was hung by the Nazis. However, the overall message that Tarkovsky is trying to convey is the war’s corruption of youth and its destruction on childhood innocence. Ivan’s innocence has been utterly destroyed by the war:  every aspect of a normal childhood has shattered. The film itself is therefore not a straightforward story as much as it is a compilation of images showing the war’s destructive tendencies. In the end, though, the basic message is clear enough:  this destructive war ruins childhood too.

Review Two

By Paige Ross

Letter Grade:  B-

Ivan’s Childhood tells the story of 12-year old Ivan Bondarev who has lost his entire family to World War II and is now in search of a way to gain revenge against the forces that destroyed his life and his childhood forever.

The four main characters struggle with what to make of Ivan and his role in the war effort as well as his desire to be a part of the front lines, a soldier fighting for his country. While the adults in Ivan’s Childhood are tempted to view the boy as nothing more than the lost and destroyed boy he is, Ivan’s trauma has aged him and creates a kind of warped maturity combined with a sense of stunted childhood innocence. The film illustrates the painful and all-consuming nature of wartime trauma on its victims and includes flashback/dream sequences to give the audience a glimpse of Ivan’s embattled mind and past. The film also provides a more extensive look at the trauma of war as inflicted on a child. Ivan’s Childhood is shot utilizing tremendously innovative cinematography, including long shots, close-ups, and leading lines, as well as a gritty landscape primarily shot at night or during periods of darkness. The desolate landscape of the front lines including elements such as barren and broken trees, swamps, and flatlands helps to further immerse the viewer in the destruction of war and the bleak atmosphere it creates. What Ivan’s Childhood does effortlessly, is to bring the conflicts and consequences of war into a physical realm, and one that seems somehow more realistic, uncomfortable, tangible, and “true.” Many of the most poignant moments in the film revolve around carefully crafted shots or strategic filming (i.e.: the motif of the wall in the church that carried the final words of those about to be shot by the Germans with the plea “Avenge us”).

While the film is shot beautifully and innovatively, in ways that even contemporary films often neglect to utilize, Ivan’s Childhood is a chaotic mixture of calm and disorder, with much of the film’s action revolving military pursuits and the internal drama of the soldiers, rather than focusing on the main subject: Ivan. Additionally, the flashbacks are disjointed and hard to follow, creating a kind of unintentional confusion for the viewer as to the events that transpired. Ivan’s Childhood also does not give the viewer any strong personal ties to the main or supporting characters in any real or emotional sense. While one obviously feels pity and sorrow for Ivan and his traumatic past, it is difficult to engage with him on a deeper-than-surface level. Lastly, some of the conflicts or subplots (i.e.: the pseudo-love triangle between Masha, Galtsev, and Kholin) included in the film provided nothing more than an extraneous distraction from the main subject (Ivan) and his thoughts, feelings, and significance and prevented further/deeper emotional engagement.

Review Three

By Sean Mullee

Letter Grade:  A-

Ivan’s Childhood, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, depicts the scarred life of an orphaned child scout who finds himself in the care of several USSR officers on the front line. As Ivan insists on helping with reconnaissance against the Germans who killed his family, the story interweaves with elaborate dream sequences painting a better picture of Ivan’s life.

This was Tarkovsky’s first feature film, and the story is based on a novella named Ivan. The film is strangely beautiful with loads of contrasting imagery all used to demonstrate the unease of the front and the difference between reality and what could be for Ivan and the other civilians of the war. The murky bog that Ivan wades through at the beginning of the film is starkly different from the almost magical shots of a birch forest. The camera work is also superb, with many interesting long shots and angles that were experimental for the time and helped to inspire generations of directors to come. The best example is during a scene in a birch forest involving Kholin, a Captain and father-like figure to Ivan, and Masha, a frontline nurse. The bright backdrop creates a deceptively positive aura around the scene, and as Kholin pulls Masha across the trench, the camera drops from eye level to within the trench and levels out as they cross to the other side. This shot is interesting not only to the eye, but helps create a sinking feeling as Masha is forced into a kiss she never meant to give. Countless other pieces of smart camera work, along with phenomenally acted characters, make Ivan’s Childhood a powerful film that captures history through a lens. By this point, war films are no longer just static images in greyscale, they have artistry to their shot composition and structure.

The film is also successful at portraying the war in an accurate and truthful. Tarkovsky was himself a child during the war, roughly the same age as Ivan, and used some of his memories as images in the film, including those in the dream sequences. The film also wrestles with some overarching truths from the USSR during the war, mainly responsibility and burden. For the entirety of the film, Ivan struggles to be taken seriously in his pleads to help the war efforts. Ivan feels it is his duty to help the USSR, calling those who do nothing during wartime “useless.” He also feels responsible for bringing justice to the Germans who killed his family and avenging their deaths. Meanwhile, Kholin and the other Soviet soldiers feel they must protect Ivan, sending him to school away from the frontline to be safe, reasoning that his fighting should be over and that he has served enough. These basic beliefs conflict and the characters toil to get their way, with Ivan ultimately being allowed to help as a scout. At a base level, each character feels they have a burden to care for, and their paths to carry them cross and create turmoil, reflecting the upheaval of war itself. Overall, Tarkovsky’s masterpiece is a shining collision of poetic artistry and historical significance.

Grading Historical Movies: Bernhard Wicki’s “The Bridge” (1959)

Note:  Students in Stephen Norris’s HST/FST 252, History at the Movies, are grading historical films and offering reviews on how assigned films render the past.  The fourth film assigned in this Fall 2018 version of the course, which focuses on European films about World War II, was Bernhard Wicki’s 1959 The Bridge.

Overall grade from 45 students: A-

Review One

By Adam Ring

The Bridge

Letter Grade: A


Some of the most revealing aspects of war can be seen while examining how children respond and react to it. Bernhard Wicki’s film does a particularly noble job at capturing how teens’ attitudes and perceptions of war evolve over time, based upon whether they are outside observers or actually the ones fighting it.

At the beginning of the movie, the audience is introduced to seven boys, all whom attend the local school in a small German town. What is particularly interesting is how they all seem indifferent to the seriousness of the war—like it is just something that is happening in the world, but not directly affecting their lives. Sure, they become excited and fascinated when a bomb explodes near the bridge leading out of the town, but the main idea here is that all the boys seem to have more pressing matters going on. For example, Karl has a crush on his father’s assistant and becomes mortified and jealous when he catches them sleeping together in bed; Klaus, another boy, is shown to be someone who is oblivious to his classmate’s constant flirting; Walter has a deep hatred of his father, who is fleeing town with another woman after sending his wife away “to safety”. Why does any of this matter? Because— filmmaker Bernhard Wicki wants to introduce these children as just the average schoolboy, caught up in normal and typical drama. This makes what is about to happen to them all that much more impactful.

When the boys receive notice they will be drafted into the war, their reactions further reinforce their naivety—all of them seem excited, to the point of making jokes about going off into battle. They still cannot comprehend the seriousness of World War II, but this is understandable given their age and “distance” from its’ most salient impacts. Sigi’s mother seems to be the one to freak out the most, but Walter and Karl are both so mad at their fathers it is hard to assess just how worried their parents are, if they are even worried at all. Interestingly, the boy’s teacher seems to be the one most looking out for their well-being, and that can be seen when he acts the commanding officer at basic training if the boys could avoid battle.

Sure enough, the boys are placed to guard the bridge near their town, and their attitude is still aloof. It is interesting to hear them talk about how German deserters should be shot, which is quite a mighty statement to make considering their ignorance and lack of any real battle experience. The climax in the movie is when Sigi is shot dead by an American plane, which finally is enough to scare the crap out of the boys and make them realize what they are really getting into. The saddest part about Sigi’s death is that it was arguably caused by the boys making fun of him, which made Sigi avoid taking cover out of wanting to appear brave. The film really gets raw when the boys are in the “trenches” and getting fired at by the Americans. As more of them die, the boys now have come to fully realize the horrors of war, but at this point—it is too late. At the end of the film, out of the seven boys, only Albert remains.

At the end of the day, this movie was good taken on a scene-by-scene basis, but it becomes amazing when the audience begins to understand Bernhard Wicki’s main takeaway point—war is bad…period. It causes death and destruction on unimaginable levels. Most of the time, many of the deaths are in vain, and forgotten shortly afterward. But as bad as war is for grownups, it is even more horrifying for children. Nothing is more terrible than children dying from war, especially when most of the death that occurs could have been prevented if the kids had taken it seriously. But that’s just the point—kids are kids.  They don’t see the world as clearly as adults do, and in this case, at least for the seven boys this movie focused on—they paid a dear price for it.

Review Two

By Megan Drown

The Bridge


Letter Grade: A


Die Bruecke, a West German film directed by Bernhard Wicki, provides a powerful statement on the wastefulness of war and its destruction of youth. The film follows the stories of seven schoolboys who are enlisted to fight after the Volkssturm (when all German males aged 16 to 60 were called up to fight) during the last days before Germany’s surrender to the United States and the Soviet Union. The boys are tasked with defending a bridge that, unbeknownst to them, is later to be destroyed by the Wehrmacht. Acting as pawns in the Wehrmacht’s game, the boys defend the bridge to the death fighting a trivial battle that would later be deemed insignificant by the military. The deaths of six of the seven boys during this battle serve as a sharp reminder of the sacrifices suffered by Germans at the hands of cowardly politicians and at their own complicity in empowering the Nazi regime.

From the beginning of the film, Wicki craftily develops each character, emphasizing their confrontations with their growing sexualities and their complex and often disturbing relationship with their parents. A good embodiment of a character who is perhaps the most afflicted by his troubled relationship with his father and his sexual desire for a young woman is Karl. Karl is ridden with sexual fantasy over Barbara, who works for his father and is having an affair with his father. When he learns of the affair, he hysterically slut-shames the woman, loudly telling her to get out of their house. When his father reacts he acts disappointed in his son, and tells him to go back to Kindergarten. Ultimately, this troubled relationship between father and son, leads Karl to kill an American soldier who while yelling in words of appeasement in English, says the word “Kindergarten”, the only word in which Karl understands. Believing this to be a misnomer, Karl defiantly shoots the American, and in turn dies himself as the American bleeds out.

The scene in which Karl shoots the American for yelling out the word “Kindergarten” is farcical but also tragic. When Klaus, his former classmate turned soldier, pleads with Karl to shoot the American again as he suffers and bleeds out on the battleground, Klaus doesn’t realize that Karl is, in fact, dead. Klaus then becomes delirious as he shouts at Karl’s dead body telling him “I didn’t mean to hit you, Karl,” and “Hit me back, Karl!” Meanwhile, their comrades Hans and Albert are in the trench beside the pair, being the lone defenders of the bridge after most of their comrades and childhood friends have died, Hans runs out of his trench and into Klaus’s to mollify the aggrieved kid. However, Klaus’s delirium causes him to ultimately run into enemy fire and subsequently die.

In the end, this film renders a meaningful past through its tragic reveal of war through children’s eyes. The motifs of troubled parent/child relationships and emerging sexualities exposes the costs of the war fought by Germany and the youth of these schoolboys who have not even had the opportunity to experience love and intimacy before their untimely deaths.

Review Three

By Joseph Snyderwine

Grade:  B+


The Bridge is a powerful movie with an explosive final act that easily could be a considered the ultimate rejection of German militarism. It’s an ambitious film that both makes a dramatic point about the cost of war while also attempting to tell the story of seven German boys. The strengths and the weaknesses in the film both lie in the portrayal of the boys. The seven boys represent different swaths of society, from Sigi, a poor son, to Walter, the son of Nazi leadership. The problem is that while focusing on so many different parts of society the film doesn’t really have time to flesh out all of the characters that well and it is quite difficult to keep track of who is who especially in the film’s climax where the boys take on an American tank brigade. The film also has to fill out a variety of other characters, including the Officer Heilman and their teacher. While the film does an excellent job establishing this many characters it still churns through them. This film also as very odd pacing as a result of this with so much of the film being used to establish who everyone is which leads to a brutal third act where the boys die so quickly.

Overall the film still has remarkable emotional strength. We see the journey of the boys from schoolboy jingoists to proud soldiers to the ending where only Albert makes it out alive. By focusing on sixteen year old children the film is able to realistically portray the emotional trauma of the soldiers who were sent out at the last parts of the war unready to die. The film juxtaposes an exciting battle sequence with the response of the boys sobbing in a trench as they realize they are going to die just as their friends did.  The film directly challenges Germany militarism during an era when West Germany was in the midst of the conscription debate, by reminding the audience of the last time Germany was at war the audience of 1959 saw a sobering reality that they must work to never repeat. As a way of conveying this truth the film portrays war in a brutal graphic variety where it shows blood and damage from the weapons used both by the boys and on the boys. While the film lacks depth for many of the characters its message still strikes true.