would have been Germany’s best and brightest.
Instead, a generation of future leaders was ground-up and consumed by
the National Socialist war machine. It
was not a war of their making, but they bought in nonetheless. Like the rest of their contemporaries, five
friends expect it all to end quickly, so they vow to reunite in Berlin for
Christmas. Of course, WWII will turn out
to be much more protracted, painful, and futile than anyone bargains for in
Philipp Kadelbach & Stefan Kolditz’s Generation
popular but controversial German television mini-series, which screens
theatrically in its entirety, starting this Wednesday at Film Forum.
Wilhelm Winter has already had a taste of war, returning home decorated. His
disappointing brother Friedhelm is not cut from the same soldier cloth. Unfortunately, the younger Winter’s
skepticism regarding the war will be vindicated in spades. Before they leave
for the Eastern Front, both brothers will spend a final evening with their
three closest friends.
(or “Charlie”) will also soon leave for the east to serve as a Red Cross nurse,
but she is ill prepared to face the grisliness of war, even during the
optimistic early months. She not so
secretly carries of torch for Wilhelm Winter, but has never found the right
moment to confess her ardor. Lt. Winter shares
her feelings, but refuses to act on them, believing it would be unfair to her
should he fall in battle. In contrast,
Gretta Müller and Viktor Goldstein are clearly an item, but they try to keep
their affair secret outside their small band of friends. After all, Goldstein is Jewish and Mueller is
an aspiring torch singer.
all five friends are in serious denial regarding the National Socialist’s
racial policies, especially Goldstein.
Unfortunately, reality will become inescapable. For mercenary reasons, Müller,
now known as Greta DelTorres also takes up with Dorn, a senior SS officer who
guides her career as a Reich approved songstress. He also promises to arrange safe passage for
Goldstein out of the country, but that is not how the SS dealt with romantic
rivals. Instead, Goldstein heads east as
well, under radically different circumstances.
in two separate parts totally 319 minutes, Generation
is a five headed epic that encompasses roughly five years of tumultuous
history. Yet, despite all its characters’ regret and longing, it is hardly a
romance in the Doctor Zhivago tradition.
First and foremost, it is a gritty war movie, emphasizing naturalistic misery
over Saving Private Ryan style
spectacle. It certainly makes the Eastern Front look like the colossally bad
idea it was. Tellingly, during the first
half, each shift in location is identified by its distance from Moscow, while
Berlin becomes the reference point for the second half.
course, from an American perspective, the Eastern Front is a convenient
location, because none of the primary characters ever fires a shot at a Yankee
GI. To their credit, director Kolditz and screenwriter Kadelbach (who also
wrote the Dresden miniseries, which
is worth revisiting in conjunction with Generation)
deal forthrightly with National Socialist war crimes. They never take viewers all the way inside a
concentration camp, but they spend time in the trains transporting prisoners
there. When the Soviets appear, it is
rarely flattering. However, the portrayal
of the Polish Home Army is sometimes questionable, never showing the extent to
which they were targeted by Stalin’s forces.
Generation is significant for the
extent it engages with complicity of Germans of diverse social positions in the
crimes of the Third Reich (far more so than Dresden). This is considerably closer to a 12 Years a Slave soul search than a
whitewash. Terrible things happen during the course of the film for reasons of
ideological intolerance and cruelty.
it is also an engaging narrative that balances the circle of friends remarkable
well. The five principles completely pull viewers in, convincing even the most
resistant to invest in their characters.
As Wilhelm Winter (who also serves as narrator), Volker Bruch is arguably
the strongest of the ensemble due to the commanding presence and anguished
conscience he projects. Tom Shilling nicely plays with and against him as the
resentful younger Winter.
Katharina Schüttler and Miriam Stein seem comparatively light weight as Müller
and Nurse Charlie, respectively, but they each have surprisingly powerful moments
of disillusionment and emotional defeat throughout part two. Ludwig Trepte slow burns well enough as the naturally
withdrawn Goldstein, but Aline Levshin is downright bracing as the Polish
fugitive he forms an alliance with.
As befitting a sweeping saga, there are plenty
of coincidences and near misses in Generation,
but they never feel forced. Throughout,
Kadelbach and Kolditz maintain their focus on the war and its dire consequences
for the five friends, as well as the wider society. It is a completely involving military drama
that trots along briskly. However, Film
Forum’s two-for-one admissions for parts one and two can conveniently be
applied to different screening dates.
Highly recommended, Generation War
opens this Wednesday (1/15) in New York.
Labels: German Cinema, German Television, WWII Cinema