Generation War – Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter (2013) German TV Mini-Series

Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter

I finally got a chance to watch the German TV production Generation War – Unsere Mütter – Unsere Väter. It’s a Mini-Series in three parts, each 1.5hrs long.

Berlin 1941. Five friends are having a goodbye party. Two of them, the brothers Wilhelm and Friedhelm, are going to the Eastern Front. Wilhelm, the older of the two, has been there before while Friedhelm is just joining up. Charlotte, called Charlie, will follow the troops to the East as a nurse. Greta and Viktor will stay in Berlin. Greta is an aspiring singer, Viktor, her boyfriend, is a Jew. The party is broken up by German soldiers. Somoen reported that the friends were listening to Jazz music, which is strictly forbidden, and they are said to have a Jew among the. They manage to get rid of the solidres but Greta, whose place it is, will be interrogated in the next days.

From that evening on the five friends split but will meet again several times over the next four years. This split allows the movie to tell the story of WWII from different points of view. First we have the scenes set on the Russian front. We see how the brothers change rapidly, becoming colder and more alienated, the longer the fighting goes on. Charlotte covers the point of view of the nurses on the Eastern Front. Greta will become the mistress of an SS officer, hoping to help Viktor get out of Germany. The officer will also help her to become a star. The officer however has no intention to help Viktor. He has him  arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Viktor manges to flee with a Polish girl. Together they escape and join the Polish resistance.

After the war, those of the friends who have survived, meet again in Berlin and drink a toast to those who died.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this series, I liked it but there were elements I found weird, and so I went and looked at a few reviews and was surprised how different the reactions were. The German viewers were cautious, some loved it, some hated it. The rest of the world seems divided. Polish viewers are offended and outraged, viewers from most other countries (Netherlands, New Zealand, UK, US . . . ) love it. The critics are divided as well. What happened?

I personally really liked the scenes set on the Eastern Front. They are the best and I found the portrayal of the two brothers and the situations they encountered believable. These scenes are almost as good as Stalingrad or Enemy at the Gates. The scenes with the nurse Charlie complement this part but are problematic. There is something that Charlie does, which has repercussions, that I didn’t find believable.

The stories of Greta and Viktor didn’t work. Greta’s story is quite clichéd. The young starlet who is promoted to stardom by an SS officer  . . .  The story of Viktor who survives the war joining the Polish resistance is the most problematic part and the one that really offended people. The Polish Resistance is shown as brutal savages who do not care about the fate of the Jews and who would kill Viktor if they knew that he is Jewish. I don’t know enough about the Polish Resistance but I agree, it’s a very negative depiction.

What the movie wanted to achieve is to show how normal German people got dragged into the war. Friedhelm, the younger of the two brothers, is by far the most interesting character. He hates the war, he is no Nazi, but he is changed profoundly.

So, these are the problems. Now, did  I like it? Considering that it’s a 4.5hrs production and that I watched it almost in one go, without noticing the time go by, I’d say, yes, despite of my reservations, I did  like it a lot because it’s extremely well done. The battle scenes look realistic, the actors are above average and the story is suspenseful and interesting.

I’d say it’s highly watchable and for those interested in the Russian front it is even a must-see, just bear in mind that it has problematic elements. It’s a good thing in any case that it led to intense discussions in Germany.

Here’s what I found on Wikipedia

Generation_War

Some German critics praised the series. [11] [3] The American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at the Johns Hopkins University explained the series tried to show how Germans were lured into Hitler’s war and judged it would “not filter the Nazi atrocities”. [12] The Daily Telegraphwrote Generation War explored “the seductive aspect of Nazism”. [13] The Irish Times stated the series was suitable to make its spectators more sensitive for the complexity of Germany’s darkest era. [14] The Hollywood Reporter compared the series to Band of Brothers.[15] In Poland many people got upset and accused the screenwriters of slandering the Polish anti-Nazi underground army of Armia Krajowa.[16] [3] [17] Polish ambassador Jerzy Marganski sent a letter of complaint to German broadcaster ZDF.[18] The broadcaster quickly provided amendments.[1][19] [3] Polish ambassador to the USA Ryszard Schnepf sent a written complaint to Music Box, who bought the rights to the series.[20] When aired in Poland it scored record ratings. A Polish internet project Your Mothers your Fathers criticizing the series has been started [21]. It was also broadcast inSweden where Generation War was one of the most-watched non-English-language international TV programs of all time.[22] Sue Deeks, the BBC’s head of programme acquisition, recognised the “a truly epic sweep and emotionally compelling narrative” of this series.[23][24]

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NaPolA Elite für den Führer aka Before the Fall (2004) Looking into the Mechanics of Black Pedagogy

To call this movie brilliant is an understatement. The German movie NaPola is quite an achievement. It perfectly illustrates the German concept of Schwarze Pädagogik meaning Poisonous or Black Pedagogy. Psychologists believe today that this harmful pedagogy was one of the root causes for the success of Hitler and the wide acceptance of Nazism.

NaPola is the story of two boys,  their friendship and “the pity of it all”. Friedrich (Max Riemelt) personifies the Nazi ideal to a high degree. Strong, able, intelligent. A talented young boxer. It doesn´t take long and he is recruited for one of Hitler´s NaPolA´s (National Political Academy) where the elite of German youth is trained, educated and above all fanaticized. NaPolA´s are in part boot camp, in part higher education. Once in school, he meets Albrecht (Tom Schilling), the son of a Gauleiter. Albrecht is the very opposite of Friedrich. He is  frail, sensitive and intellectual. His father, a fanatic,  obnoxious idiot hates his son´s guts. Albrecht personifies everything  he despises. Too small, too weak, too spiritual. Because Albrecht´s father is a Gauleiter, life at the NaPola is not so difficult for him  as he is protected. For Friedrich it is not difficult as he is very sporting and strong but many of the others show sings of being traumatized. Discipline, total obedience and endurance are the key words of this education. As unlikely as it seems, the two boys like each other a lot and become very close friends until the tragic end. The story of the two boys is exemplary for many stories of children and young people who were sent to NaPola´s. Towards the end of the war, when it was quite obvious that Germany was going to lose, Hitler sent all the boys from the Napola´s to the front where 50% of them died.

Everybody who knows me or follows this blog knows I am a sucker for great score. None other than Angelo Badalamenti (see all the scores and listen to his work on his fantastic Homepage) who did the scores for two of my top favourite movies Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway (Yes, they are not war movies.) did the score for NaPolA. It´s perfection. Badalamenti is no Hans Zimmer, he is far more subtle.

This is a 5/5 star movie and  a must-see for many reasons.

I would like to point out that whoever is interested in some psychological analysis of the Third Reich may find ample material in Erich Fromm´s The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness and Alice Miller´s For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence.

Further war movies with children or young people can be found on my list Children in War Movies.