A Month of Watching German War Movies

In line with another event I’m planning on watching only German war movies and mini-series during November and to some extent maybe already during October. I’ve seen a lot of the best but haven’t reviewed them all so that should be a good opportunity to catch up.

These are the movies I’m planning on watching and rewatching.

Die Brücke – The Bridge (1959)

Das Boot (1981)

Klemperer  (1999)

Sophie Scholl (2005)

Speer und Er aka Speer and Hitler (2005)

Don’t hesitate to make suggestions. My Top 10 German War Movies can be found here.

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Habermann (2010)

The German/Czech/Austrian co production Habermann tells a chapter of German history which is easily forgotten. The movie is based on a true story and tries to exemplify the destiny of the Germans living in Sudetenland. This is one of those movies which touch on a historical fact which is so painfully absurd in its arbitrariness one can hardly believe it.

Habermann is a rich mill owner in Sudetenland. The tragedy of the Sudetenland was that it belonged to Czechoslovakia before the war but almost 90% of the people living there were Germans. When Germany decided to annex the Sudetenland in 1938 this posed a huge problem to people like Habermann who lived peacefully with the Czechs. Habermann’s best friend is a Czech (Karel Roden), many of his mill workers, his accountant and other people in important positions are Czechs. Being so friendly with the Czechs makes him look suspicious to the German authorities who take up residence in the small village in which he lives. When the despotic and sadistic Sturmbannführer Karl Koslowski (Ben Becker) arrives in the village, things go from bad to worse. He wants Habermann to get rid of the Czech workers, spies on him and the Czechs, bullies and controls him.

But the worst isn’t even known to Habermann and his wife yet. Although she grew up as an orphan and was  brought up by Catholic nuns, her father was a Jew. When Koslowski finds out, the tragedy cannot be averted.

Another dramatic story line circles around Habermann’s young brother you joins the Nazi’s.

There were a lot of things I liked about this movie and the story of the Sudeten Germans is a story which needed telling. The real tragedy for most only started after Germany lost the war and the Czechs turned against them. This drama is shown well but what I didn’t find too good is that there is too much emphasis on the character of Koslowski. Ben Becker is one of my favourite actors and I watch every movie he’s in. I think he is simply brilliant but he is also the type of character who just crushes everyone around him. He is often chosen to play a nasty Nazi villain and does that well, only giving him this role, putting so much emphasis on this characters, almost makes you think that the whole tragedy was linked to this one man while this was a collective tragedy and not just related to one sadistic character.

Still overall I think Habermann is well done, not one of the best but a very watchable movie and the actors, Ben Becker, Karl Roden, Mark Waschke as Habermann, Hannah Herzsprung as his wife, are really good.

Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

I’ve seen a few depressing war movies and the one or the other that affected me a lot, still I’d say the prize for most depressing war movie has to go to Johnny Got His Gun (1971 US). What a nightmare. If there ever was a movie which was completely unambiguous in its anti-war message, that’s it.

Dalton Trumbo’s novel Johnny Got His Gun was quite a success when it came out still no film director wanted to make it into a movie until Trumbo himself decided to do so. The result is unsettling.

Joe is a young man of 21 years when the US enter WWI in 1917. Patriotism and a feeling of duty, the wish to serve his country and democracy make him sing up. Once in France he is severely wounded, loses both of  his arms and legs and his face as well. They put him in a utility room in the hospital, his head covered with cloth. The doctor who is in charge declares that he is brain-dead. According to him he doesn’t feel or sense anything and isn’t much more than a vegetable really.

The scenes showing Joe in the hospital are black and white and they alternate with color scenes representing either dreams and hallucinations or memories. As the spectators soon realize, Joe isn’t brain-dead. He has a feeling for himself and slowly discovers the horrific state he is in. Together with him we realize at first that his arms are missing, then that his legs are missing too and later that there is only the top of his head and the brain left.

In the flashbacks we see his life before he signs up and in his dreams and hallucinations show how he tries to make sense, tries to find a meaning and some reason to live.

If it wasn’t for one nurse who is so shaken by compassion his live would be even more miserable than it is. She sees more than just a rump in him, moves his bed into the sunlight, touches him and tries to communicate with him.

The end is absolutely horrible. Joe finds a way to communicate with the people around him in using morse code. He tells them to expose him. As a warning, for people to learn. When the doctors see their mistake, that he isn’t brain-dead but knows what is happening to him, they lock him up, and deprive him of what little he had. He ends up as a secret and one can not even imagine what that means. Alone, abandoned and without the possibility to end his own life.

Johnny Got His Gun may be one of the most forceful anti-war movies ever but it’s really a very depressing movie. Not one I’m likely to watch again.

This was part of a watch along and I’m curious to hear other impressions or read other reviews.

Canadian War Movies? or A Failed Attempt to Write a List

One  aim of this blog is to raise awareness of all the many conflicts that have been fought on this planet and another one to introduce people to movies from many different countries. My war movie lists are one of the means to achieve this. I’ve done a few lists on movies from different countries like Australia, France and Russia and thought it would be interesting to make such a list for Canada. Canadian soldiers are often depicted in WWI and WWII movies but I couldn’t think of a lot of Canadian movies.

I have been looking really hard but all I came up with are three movies, two of which I have reviewed. I haven’t seen the third, War Witch aka Rebelle, as it’s from 2012 but it looks interesting.

Passchendaele (2008) (My review)

Incendies (2010) (My review)

War Witch aka Rebelle (2012)

Additionally I found two War Romances for which Canada is one of several co-producing countries. I’ve seen Closing the Ring and as far as War Romances go it’s not bad at all. It’s a Richard Attenborough movie starring Shirley Mac Laine and Christopher Plummer and some other interesting actors. I might review it one of these days.

Head in the Clouds (2004)

Closing the Ring (2007)

But is that possible? Are there not more Canadian war movies?

The Duellists (1977)

More than anything else Ridley Scott’s directing debut, The Duellists, tells the story of an obsession. I’m glad Guy (Phoenix Cinema) suggested it as I wasn’t aware of the movie and found it oddly captivating and very beautiful too. Plus I find duels fascinating. I can’t really say why.

Based on the short story The Duel by Joseph Conrad The Duellists tells the story of a lifelong enmity. Two officers of Napoleon’s army, d’Hubert (Keith Carradine) and Feraud (Harvey Keitel), pursue each other for years and fight one duel after the other. While the first duel might have made some sense, at least at the time, the following duels are less and less understandable. Although d’Hubert tries to reason with Feraud, the latter becomes more and more obsessed as the years pass by.

The movie has a lot more to offer than a fascinating story and two interesting characters. It’s visually stunning and brilliantly acted. I couldn’t even say which of the two actors I liked better. Carradine as d’Hubert who seems more complex, more humane or Keitel as Feraud who is relentless in his pursuit of d’Hubert. If you like sword fighting you will adore The Duellists anyway as the choreography of the fights, as many reviewers have commented, is excellent.

The movie starts in 1800 and ends around 1815. After almost every duel the men lose sight of each other for a few months or even years as they are often posted in other places. They sometimes meet under quite improbable circumstances, once for example while retreating from Moscow where they fight a group of Cossacks together.

The code of duels was quite complex, I suppose every country had its own set of rules. I felt we learned quite a lot about the rules in France at the time. What made it especially dramatic was the fact that if one of them had been promoted but not the other one it would have become impossible to go on fighting. So every time d’Hubert is promoted he hopes the folly is about to end, only to find out later that Feraud meanwhile has been promoted to the same rank.

The Duellists has been compared to Barry Lyndon but I don’t think they are that similar. Be it as it may, I’ feel more inclined to rewatch The Duellists, I thought it was more captivating. And I really must read the novella soon.

The Lost Battalion (2001) WWI TV Remake

The Lost Battalion is a US made for TV movie based on a true story that happened during the last weeks of WWI. It’s seems to be a remake of the 1919 movie The Lost Battalion. I haven’t seen the film from 1919, so cannot comment on how well it’s been remade.

Set in 1918 The Lost Battalion tells the story of the 77th American division which got caught behind enemy lines in the Argonne Forest, in France. Major Whittlesey is assigned one of those incomprehensible suicide missions of which there were so many during WWI. Together with 500 men he is to attack the German forces in the Argonne Forest. Additional forces are sent out to give support through the flanks but before even arriving on the assigned post, they retreat.

Out of a sense of duty Major Whittlesey and his men hold out despite the fact that they have no food, no water, no ammunition. The siege lasts 5 days and costs the life of 300 men. Most of the men are from New York, they are Irish, Polish, Italian and Jewish immigrants which, according to Whittlesey, contributed to the success as they are known to be reckless fighters.

I know this is a movie that quite a lot of people like but I must honestly say, I found it quite boring. It’s combat intense and seems quite accurate but the story isn’t told in a very suspenseful way. There are no outstanding characters either. It has a few additional flaws which I’ve noticed in other TV productions and which bothered me after a while. The wounds look garish instead of horrible wounds because the color of the blood is an intense orange. The acting was average but not too painful.

Still, I suppose it’s a worthy effort as we don’t see a lot of WWI infantry combat movies from a US perspective and according to the film this battle helped break through the German lines and ultimately was a key factor in ending the war. That certainly deserved to be told. If accuracy is the most important thing for you, don’t miss it. I prefer a well-told or interestingly filmed story.

War Movie Watchalong – Johnny Got His Gun – Sunday 23 September

The poll has decided and the movie we are going to watch and discuss is:

Johnny Got His Gun (1971 US)

It was quite close. Johnny Got His Gun received 5 votes, The Bomber – Ballada O Bombere was following with 4 and The Hurt Locker with 3 votes.

I think it’s a good choice and I’m looking forward to the discussion.

If you’d like to join and have a blog, please post on the same day, if you don’t have a blog, just watch the movie and join the discussion.

The discussion will take place on Sunday 23 September 2012