Actors: Folker Bohnet, Fritz Wepper, Michael Hinz
Director: Bernhard Wicki
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
Number of discs: 1
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Criterion Collection (Direct)
Release Date: June 23, 2015
Run Time: 103 minutes
You can always distinguish a war film from an anti-war film by the lack of discernible enemies on either side, or even more so when the country of the origin for the protagonists comes off worse than those they are fighting against. The Bridge was really the first post World War II German film to address the topic, and wisely spends most of the film focused on national critique instead of vilifying the invading/opposing troops. As well as being the first German anti-war movie, this 1959 classic was also the first of the country’s post-war films to be widely distributed internationally, even garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
The first half of The Bridge is far more a coming-of-age story than it is a war film, following a group of rambunctious young students in
Bavaria, . When there is news of
American troops arriving and the front line of the war approaching the small
town, all of the young men are suddenly given enlistment orders. With minimal training,
the boys are meant to be back-up for future battles, but end up at the front
due to confusion and coincidence. Separated from a compassionate commanding
officer intending to keep the boys out of the battle, they instead become the last
defense against the approaching enemy while standing their ground at a local
bridge in their town. Germany
Because the film takes its time in getting to the action, we are allowed to spend most of the film with the young men acting more like boys. They chase local girls, stash stolen alcohol for later consumption, and are even tossing rocks at cans as they wait for orders on the bridge. It is only in the final 20-minutes of the film that the harsh realities of war finally catch up to these naïve young boys, and playing war is suddenly a far more terrifying and complex endeavor than they had imagined. The pointlessness of their struggles is hammered in even further by the revelation that the bridge the boys are defending is intended to be blown by the German troops anyway.
As slow as the film is getting started, the final sequence with these young soldiers attempting to fight the invading American soldiers is as harrowing as many modern war movies. Tanks and troops approach the bridge after all of the other German troops have retreated, leaving only the inexperienced young men to face them. They are slowly picked off in the battle, each with a different reaction to the true nature of war. Even though they do plenty of damage in fighting back, the futility of the fight can be seen in the reaction shots from the young men. It is clear that their glorified vision of war don’t match up with the true violent nature of battle.
The new Blu-ray release of Bernhard Wicki’s film features a 2K digital restoration, along with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. There are also some new interviews to go along with a 1989 interview with Wicki and an excerpt from a 2007 documentary that featured behind-the-scenes footage from the production. Newly included is an interview with Gregor Dormeister, author of the autobiographical novel the film is based on, along with filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff about the film’s impact on modern German cinema. The package also comes with a foldout insert with an essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10
Historical Significance: 10/10