There have been a lot of films made about this long war, that took place in so many parts of the world. Many are so well known, that I have deliberately avoided including them here. So, no famous British black and white war films, no ‘Saving Private Ryan’, or ‘Bridge Over The River Kwai’. For those of you who enjoy war films, for whatever reason, I hope you find some new ones here, and that you are intrigued enough to seek them out.
Come and See. This is a Russian film from 1985. It is set during the German invasion of Belarus, and follows a young man, and a girl he meets, on their journey to join a band of partisans. It is not a film of great set piece battles, but does not shrink from depicting the horrors of the German atrocities carried out during this period. Over half of the film is a build-up to the final section, and concerns the confusion and terror experienced by the young couple, as they find themselves plunged into this unexpected war, after losing their families. It has to be remembered that this is a Soviet-era film, so portrays the German troops as little more than beasts. However, the situations depicted are all based on truth, so the actual behaviour of the real Germans was never less than questionable, to say the least. With strange surreal imagery, and odd, dream like situations, it is something of an ‘Art House’ film. It is also, very possibly, one of the finest films ever made. At any time, anywhere, about anything. This clip shows some stills from the film. You will get the idea.
Die Brucke. This refers to the 1959 German film, and not the more recent remake. Another compelling war film, with little action, and only one short battle. I saw this many years ago on a rare television showing, then tried to get the film for years, first on VHS, and eventually found a region 1 DVD. Reminiscent of the original version of ‘All quiet on the Western Front’, we follow the story of keen Hitler Youth recruits from a small German town. They cannot wait to get into the war, scared that it may end before they can do their part. When they are eventually enlisted, they go off to war expecting glory and medals, but they are sent off on a pointless mission, to defend the bridge of the title. All they find is betrayal, indifference, and eventual tragedy. It doesn’t matter that they are Germans. It is the story of wasted youth in any war, and it is told unflinchingly, and with great skill. Here is the German cinema trailer. The language will not matter.
Downfall. There have been many films made about the last days of Adolf Hitler, and the fall of Berlin, in 1945. Add to this the numerous documentaries, and it is safe to say that most of us are fairly up to speed on those events. Traudl Junge was a young woman of 25 at the time, and the last person to act as secretary to Hitler, up to the end in the bunker. In 2004, German director Oliver Hirschbiegel made this film, starring Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler. For the first time, we see these events from the German perspective, and from the writings of an eye witness. Ganz is mesmerising as Hitler, giving his role a huge weight, beyond what we normally regard as acting. The sets in and around the bunker, and the crumbling city beyond, are flawlessly rendered, and the desperation of all is plain to see. The cast are all excellent, and Ulrich Mattes, as Joseph Goebbels, particularly shines. With chilling scenes that stay in the memory, and a central performance that is so good, it is almost sad that it portrays such a monster; this is a truly magnificent piece of film-making. There are many video parodies, so here is one of the original trailers.
A Midnight Clear. In 1992, a cast of relative unknowns was assembled for this unusual war film, set during the Ardennes campaign, in 1944. Gary Sinese, Kevin Dillon, and Ethan Hawke, went on to greater things, and some of the reasons why can be seen in their earlier performances here. A small detachment of American soldiers stumbles across some German troops during the fighting. The Germans want to surrender, so a mock battle is staged, after which the Germans become prisoners. However, the truce is tested by events, and eventually breaks down, with a bloody outcome. Intelligent and different, yet still familiar in structure, this interesting film will leave you thinking about another side to war. Here is the film trailer.
Attack. Again set during the Battle of the Bulge, but as different as can be to the previous film. This dates from 1956, and stars screen baddie Jack Palance , on great form here, as Lt. Costa. He is as hard as nails, a brave soldier, and a good officer to his men. Unfortunately, the company is led by the cowardly Captain Cooney, who is only interested in his reputation. He pushes Costa’s platoon hard, giving them the most dangerous jobs, and risking the lives of all. Eddie Albert gives the performance of his life as the reviled Cooney; boastful and combat-shy, depending on others to complete the missions handed down from above. This is a gritty and always realistic film, devoid of sentimentality, and deals with the difficult decisions made by men in time of war.
So, five films set during World War Two, without a great battle in sight. No paratroops, or massed ranks of tanks. No casts of thousands, and sweeping panoramas. Just realism, different viewpoints, and things to make you think.