Deutschland bleiche Mutter – Germany Pale Mother (1980)

The German movie Deutschland bleiche Mutter aka Germany Pale Mother  is a heavy movie. Heavy, tragic and depressing but excellent.  Eva Mattes gives an absolutely outstanding performance.

When the movie begins we hear the deep voice of a woman recite a poem by Bertold Brecht, (you can read it here Germany – Deutschland), in which he calls Germany “a pale mother”. This sets the tone. The movie is literary and symbolic and deeply rooted in German culture. The story is to a certain extent told by Anna, Lene’s daughter. In a voiceover she narrates her beginning, how her parents met in 1939, just before the war, how they got married, how shy and awkward they were, how her father was sent off to the Eastern front and little Anna was born during an air raid.

When their house is bombed, Anna’s mother decides to leave for Berlin. We see her stand in the ruins, before she leaves, she tries to find something, anything but all has been shattered, broken, they don’t have much more than their lives and a few clothes.

In Berlin they live in the empty house of relatives. Hans is on leave and joins them but the stay is very difficult for all of them. Anna is jealous of the father she doesn’t know. Lene feels estranged and wants to be alone with her daughter and Hans is tired, very changed and disappointed.

The movie follows the lives of these three people until after the war when everything seems to be normal again but is not. Her mother contracts a very mysterious illness and a doctor advises to extract all her teeth. She becomes highly depressed and wants to die. Her husband is equally miserable and abandons her emotionally.

In the middle of the movie there is one long impressive scene in which Lene walks with Anna through the woods. She has left Berlin because she is afraid to die in an air raid. On the way she tells the little girl a story. It sounded quite familiar and I had an idea it was a fairy tale of the bothers Grimm.  I managed to find an English translation of it. The Robber Bridegroom is one of the bloodier fairy tales the Grimm’s have collected. There is a lot of symbolism attached to the forest in Germany. This started a long time before WWII but it culminated during the war. The scene of Lene walking through the woods and telling this gruesome tale to her little daughter is very oppressing. And what happens in the woods even more so.

In Germany Pale Mother director Helma Sanders-Brahms told the story of her own parents. It shows how much the life of the Germans was shattered, how they desperately tried to go back to normal which is symbolized by the coffee ritual in the sitting room. What made sense before the war has become some sort of cruel mockery. Things are changed forever.

Germany Pale Mother is German narrative cinema at its best.

I attached an excerpt of the movie. The full movie can be watched on YouTube.

The Diversity of Film Posters – Das Boot (1981)

Das Boot Poster

 

 

Das Boot - The Original Uncut Version Movie Poster

I’m always amazed about how different posters for the same movie can look, still I expected that there wouldn’t be so many different ones for Das Boot. I was quite wrong.

Which one do you prefer?

My favourite is no. 3.

Game of Thrones – A Song of Ice and Fire (2011) Epic Fantasy Starring Sean Bean

“Winter is coming. There is a war coming.”

I’m not going to bore you with any justification why I included Game of Thrones in my war movie blog. There are a few good explanations other than that I LOVE this series. I’m a sucker for epic fantasy, it’s my favourite guilty pleasure. Although compared to Lord of the Rings, this series has elements of Braveheart, King Arthur, 300, RomeCenturion and Gladiator. Game of Thrones is a large-scale genre blend that is like nothing I have ever seen on TV before.

I have just watched the first episodes and really love it. I haven’t read the books by George R. R. Martin yet (we are talking 3000+ pages) but I’m seriously tempted before watching more of the series.

The series starts with a scene in a snow-covered forest. A small group of men, the Night Watch,  encounters something unspeakable. Most of them will not survive the encounter. The only survivor is brought before Lord Stark (Sean Bean). The explanation he gives for what spurred his cowardly escape is strange, he says to have seen an ancient evil that hasn’t been lurking in the forest for 2000 years. Since he is not believed, he is sentenced.

Lord Stark is the master of Winterfell. The Starks are only one influential family in the divided world of Westeros. Intrigues and fights for the throne are constant, no family can trust an other one and even inside of one family there may be traitors. Winterfell lies in the North, King’s Landing, where King Baratheos reigns, lies in the South. Border between the North and the wild that outstretches far beyond the horizon is the Wall, a barrier made out of pure ice. The Night Watch is in charge of guarding the Wall. Being sent to the Wall is a questionable honor. The most able fighters are dispatched together with convicts, orphans and other outcasts.

In the first series we are introduced to four different families and the story moves between them. This is all quite fascinating and there are some interesting and complex characters to be discovered. What makes for an especially intense atmosphere is the threat of war and winter. This is a world in which seasons follow another rhythm than in ours. Winter can last longer than three years or not come at all for decades. It can be intense or light but it always brings unspeakable things, unrest and war. At the beginning of the series all the wise old men and women whisper to one another, they say that winter is coming and that it will be long and awful.

Do you like Lord of the Rings? Did you like Rome, King Arthur, 300 and Centurion? Are you a Sean Bean fan? Do you consider epic fantasy and action movies to be worthy of your attention? If so, I guess that you have to watch this stunning new HBO series.

Last but not least, this isn’t a series for prudish people. The episodes showing the Dothraki people and their wild ways and interactions with their women includes quite a bit of nudity.

Casablanca (1942)

Cinema doesn’t get much better than this.  Casablanca is one of the truly outstanding movies, a movie to watch and re-watch.

It is not, in the strict sense of the term, a war movie, that’s obvious, it’s a war-time movie or, if you like, a war romance.

It is one of the movies I have seen the most. At least four times. One of the viewings was a mixed bag as it was the Technicolor version. Casablanca is the prototypical black and white movie. The Technicolor version was really outrageous and sacrilegious. So watch out, if you have never seen it, the original Casablanca must be b/w.

Casablanca tells a tragic love story but more than that it’s incredibly atmospherical, it has some of the most famous movie lines, a haunting tune and two great actors, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman at their best.

Rick and Ilsa met years ago in Paris, at the beginning of WWII. We see their love story in flashbacks. When Rick decides to leave Paris with Ilsa, she simply doesn’t show up at the train station.

Years later they meet again in unoccupied Morocco. Rick is the hardened and cynical owner of one of the most popular bars in Casablanca. All sorts of people visit or hide in his establishment. Pretty much like all sort of people have come to Morocco for various reasons, most of them however hoping to get a visa for the US. There are also some nasty German characters swarming the premises.

When Ilsa and her husband appear in Rick’s bar, this is a shock for everyone. What happened in Paris, why did she not turn up and what does she want now? Ilsa and her husband try to get to America.
Will Rick help her or not? Will she leave her husband?

It is hard to imagine that anyone hasn’t seen this movie but, just in case, I’m not going to tell anything more.

Rick’s character is one of my favorite movie characters. I like the dialogue in Casablanca a lot. Rick is very cynical but has a point. He also illustrates that while women tend to get depressed, men tend to start drinking when life is too rough. He is one of those great monosyllabic movie characters with a “Don’t-you-dare-to come-too-close” attitude. I think it is precisely Rick’s character and Bogart’s great acting that prevent this movie of an unhappy love triangle to become mushy.

A movie like this would be unthinkable nowadays for many reasons. One can be summed up by the term “esthetic of smoking”. Not that I smoke but smoke rings look good in black and white movies, they add some mystery, just like fog.

Age of Heroes (2011) Sean Bean Starring in A Movie on the British Commando Unit in WWII

It would be very hard for me not to watch a movie starring Sean Bean and that is why I was looking forward to Age of Heroes a movie based on the true story of Ian Fleming’s Commando Unit. Lucky yesterday wasn’t one of my impatient days or I wouldn’t have finished it. It would have been too bad as the movie improves considerably after the first 15 extremely dodgy minutes are over. But, judging from the ratings on IMDb, people didn’t forgive the movie its beginning…

Age of Heroes follows a British special forces unit on a crucial mission called “Operation Grendel”. The men, being part of Ian Fleming‘s  so-called Commando unit, one of the first special forces units, have undergone a very hard training. They are led by a hard but funny training officer (William Houston) and their highly appreciated leader Major Jones (Sean Bean). Jones is one of the best leaders I’ve seen in a war movie. He is tough but just, clever, courageous and not without kindness. Part of the unit is the Norwegian born American Steinar (Axel Hennie, Max Manus). This makes a lot of sense as the mission takes place behind enemy lines in occupied Norway. The Commando unit will have to drop in Norway and get some German radars in order to analyze them. The whole operation has been planned and is closely supervised by Ian Fleming (James D’Arcy) in London. A lot of what he experienced during the war when he was an assistant of the Director of Naval Intelligence was later used in his James Bond novels.

Needless to say that this was a dangerous suicide mission and, typical for this type of endeavor, many things went wrong and people died. As we get to know the characters well before they go on their mission, we care for them. One of them is introduced early, in the unfortunately weird beginning that takes place in France, and we get to know and like the others in the British training camp.

All in all it was an entertaining movie if somewhat flawed. It is flawed because it reminded me of some recent Resistance movies and lack of originality is a flaw. But it was also flawed because the film makers seem not to have been decided whether they wanted this to be more of an action or more of a war flick. The story is a war story but the movie is told like an action film.

If you like Sean Bean and have never heard of the Commando unit, the precursor of the SAS, you will enjoy watching it and, due to the action twist it is quite gripping.

What if… A War Movie Related Distraction for Hot Summer Evenings

It’s hot and sultry outside and inside it isn’t much better. A little game might come in as a welcome distraction. I’ll ask a few questions which you may or may not answer. If you want to read my answers, you will find them after the questions.

1. What if all of the war movies would have to be destroyed but you could keep one, which one would you choose?

2. What if you could choose to make a war movie, which war would you choose for your film? 

3. What if you could replace one actor in a war movie, which actor in which movie would you replace?

4. What if you could wake up in a war movie, which one would you want to experience?

a) You can’t be harmed

b) You can be harmed

5. What if there would be no more new war movies, would you mind?

6. What if you could decide about a remake, which movie would you choose?

7. What if you could meet one war movie character in real life, who would you want to meet?

8. What if there was only one sub-genre of war movies, which one would you prefer?

9. What if you could have one book turned into a war movie, which one would you like to see on screen?

10. What if you could change one war movie, which one would you change and what would you change?

1. Black Hawk Down. There aren’t many better anti-war films out there and hardly any that will give you an idea of what combat might be like.

2. I really have a thing for the Napoleonic Wars and would probably make one of that period.

3. Nicolas Cage in Windtalkers. Maybe it would always be a shitty movie but it would certainly be much better without him.

4.a) Intimate Enemies but I don’t want to elaborate why.

4.b) Hope and Glory. I’m not romanticizing the Blitz but it’s a movie that has something very nostalgic.

5. No, I guess not. There are so many good movies out there and if there were no new ones, maybe it would mean that we do not have any wars anymore.

6. I’m not keen on remakes but if I really had to choose maybe The Longest Day as it would be a great opportunity for an all-star cast and a little bit of cutting would do it no harm.

7. Sgt. Elias (Platoon). Just love that character.

8. Infantry combat. It is the most harrowing.

9. One of the novels of Heinrich Böll, a post-war novel.

10. Yes, please, let me change We Were Soldiers. No more religious crap from the man with the double standard.

Europa Europa aka Hitlerjunge Salomon (1990) The Story of a Jewish Boy Hiding Among Nazis

Agnieszka Holland’s movie Europa, Europa is based on the true story of Salomon Perel. It is frequently mentioned as one of the top 100 war movies. It’s a harrowing and quite unbelievable story, still I have to confess that I did not like it.

The Perels are a Jewish family living in Germany at the beginning of the war. When anti-Jewish acts become more and more frequent, they are attacked and the daughter is killed. Salomon’s parents send the young boy and his brother to Poland where he should try to survive at any cost. He looses his brother early in the movie and ends in a Russian communist orphanage. Here he is given a passport and has to undergo some serious communist re-education. When the Germans invade Russia, the orphanage is attacked. They all flee and Salomon gets captured on the way by a Nazi patrol. All the Jews are shot immediately and it is only thanks to an extreme presence of mind that Salomon manages to make them belive that he is a true German and that he can be extremely useful as interpreter since he speaks Russian fluently. The soldiers take him along and he fights with them, helps them as a translator. He has to be super careful that no one sees him naked and this will stay a constant topic throughout the movie. The fact that he is circumcised would give his identity away.

A German officer hears of the young boy and that he is an orphan. He likes the bright boy and thinks of adopting him but first he sends him to one of the Nazi elite schools where he will be educated and trained. Here again, he has to be careful in order to not be found out. There are a few incredible scenes in the school. In one scene a teacher shows that one can see unmistakably, that, despite his dark hair, Salomon is of pure Aryan breed. The pupils are taught to hate the Jews and how to detect them. The absurdity of such scenes is incredible and Nazi madness made apparent.

Salomon is barely 16 years old and falls in love for the first time. Although the girl is willing “to do it”, he has to say no. The danger of being detected is too big.

It is incredible to think that he got away with it for so long. He blended in so perfectly, was such a good actor and so cold-blooded that they never even suspected him to be Jewish.

After the war Salomon finds out that his whole family died in a ghetto in Poland. He leaves Europe and settles in Palestine. At the end of the movie we catch a glimpse of the real Salomon Perel.

It took me a while to figure out why I didn’t like this movie. I didn’t like it because I didn’t like Salomon. I suspect that I found his behaviour cowardly. He isn’t much better than a collaborator. It disgusted me to see him act and talk like a Nazi. Sure, he was only a boy, he wanted to survive, he lost his family… I think sometimes it’s better to die than to sell out. Bit harsh, I know, but surviving is not everything.

I’d be really interested to know what others think of this movie.

Europa, Europa is part of the Children in War Movies List