Tuesday, January 14, 2014

GENERATION WAR: Kolditz/Kadelbach's look at WWII German youth opens at NYC's Film Forum

First things first: GENERATION WAR, the lengthy new German entertainment that opens in New York City tomorrow at Film Forum is television. However, it is not American television but the European variety (specifically German), which raises it a few notches above what we get over here from our major networks. (Our cable channels are another matter.) Four-and-one-half hours long, the "movie" is shown in two parts, the second of which is by far the stronger. The first part, while it draws you in somewhat, seems a bit too fraught with both coincidence and the kind of predictable events that television loves so well. The longer second section is where the growth and change most occur, in which the characters deepen, events coalesce, the noose tightens and finally closes.

The subject here is also telling, and it must have been even more so for the German populace (it was an enormous success in Germany, in the manner, I am guessing, that both our own Roots and Holocaust series took American television by storm), for it involves five young friends (shown above) in the Berlin of 1941 -- kids, really -- as Hitler's war rages at its fullest, when it looks to many, and not just to Germans, as though the Fuhrer might indeed win his campaign and, with Italy and Japan at his side, conquer the world.

As written by Stefan Kolditz (shown at left) and directed by Philipp Kadelbach (shown bleow), along with the very big budget, the program looks quite good in terms of period, decor, costumes and all the rest. And because the cast, in both leading and supporting roles is made up of faces that most Americans will not know or have previously seen, rather than those of big-name stars (à la the current Butler movie), this lends the series another coat of veracity.

Because two of our five friends are soldiers and one of the two women is a nurse at the Russian front, Generation War is indeed a "war movie" for much of its length, and as such is a pretty good one.
The strangest thing for most Americans will be to experience this war from the German side, as the movie allows us to do. This forces us to identify with and to some extent root for these young people, and the effect is odd and disturbing. Add to all this the disturbances felt by the main char-acters as everything they know and have been taught starts to fall apart, and you have the makings of some-thing richly provocative and equally unsettling -- as well as something that we in American almost never get to see. Nor, I wager, have they seen this much in Germany. "What did you do in the war, Gramps and Granny?" is a question probably asked in Deutschland rather more often since the airing of Generation War.

The series moves back and forth from Germany to Russia and Poland, from the fighting to the hospital (above) to the Berlin homes of the Germans, and because one of our five friends is a Jew, we see antisemi-tism raise its ugly head in ways small and huge -- in all three countries (the Poles seem to hate the Jews every bit as much as do the Germans).

There are four tales going on simultaneously here. The first involves the two soldiers -- who are also brothers -- one a gung-ho hero type (Volker Bruch, above, right), the other (Tom Schilling, above, left ) a retiring, intellectual who wants nothing to do with fighting. Both change drastically over the course of the story.

The girl who loves the older brother and works as a nurse at the hospital on the Russian front is played quite well by Miriam Stein (above). Her story -- which takes a happy, healthy pro-Nazi into situations that will test her decency and leave her bereft -- is in some ways the most interesting and original of the bunch.

The other two characters are the young woman (Katharina Schuttler, above, right, and below) who wants a musical career -- which she gets, in spades -- and her boyfriend, Viktor (Ludwig Trepte, above, left), whom she tries to save via the sleazy Nazi official she uses to both further her career and save her lover. (Interestingly, it's the Nazi who ends up in the catbird seat, as happened, post-war, with so many of these killers.)

Ironies, big and small, pile up over the course of the series, leading to a dark, angry finish, in which our sweet kids, below, not yet even 25, have turned into empty husks. Those who are still alive, at least.

Generation War, from Music Box Films, opens tomorrow at Film Forum in New York City, and in the weeks to come will open in at least nine more cities across the country. You can see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters buy clicking here and then clicking on THEATERS halfway down the screen.

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