Die Brücke (The Bridge)
When you see the cover of the DVD and read the blurb on it you can see why, especially if you have no real idea of the original film and story. However the film is very different and gives a very balanced and fair view, looking more at the German people caught up in this horrendous war and how innocent lives are destroyed so easily.
So, as they say, you shouldn't judge a DVD by its cover.
What begins as fear and uncertainty soon grows to a strong feeling of comradeship, of protecting each other against everything else. A strong feeling of patriotism rises in the kids and as the battle begins those feelings swell inside them and they believe that they are fighting for the Fuhrer himself.
Not only does it tell their story as their situation forces them to become men within a matter of hours, but it looks to the people around them and how they were affected. Their school teacher trying to save them, even to the last, the father and Nazi collaborator of one of the boys, and of the girlfriend of another.
When The Bridge begins it's clear that the production isn't a high end feature, actually it's a television remake of a well known German film of the story, a film that has received a good deal of positive critical comment for its realism and harsh portrayal of how war affects younger people, again showing all aspects of it rather than a good versus evil tale.
However, despite not being a high end production, the film does do a great job of pulling you into the madness surrounding war and the situation that the characters are in. A great deal of the success is down to the fact that it doesn’t try to be a big blockbuster and present a huge invading force, rather it keeps the events and story focussed on the characters and the situations around them.
During the scenes setting the stories and the characters you do feel that the film is racing ahead at quite a pace and there are a few nicely convenient moments that seem just a little too convenient, but considering this is a television film and needs to move forward to the main story, you give it enough leeway to accept the early pace.
The overriding reason that allows you to accept these two small flaws is the fact that you begin to be drawn to the characters and the emotional connections are made easily. There were a few simple aspects which made you see through the initial barriers of this being a story from the opposite side of almost all of the war films we see. This first is the kids themselves, the fact that they are going through the same growing up as everyone else did, or is.
Then there’s the way that the film opened with the displaced families arriving from the bombed city to the countryside, for me there’s a direct connection to the history of British families displaced by bombing, and it’s not really something we give a second thought to, but it too happened for German families caught up in the bombing by Allied air forces.
Finally, and perhaps where the biggest strength lies, is the way that the focus is on the characters and relationships before we go anywhere near the core of the story.
Once everything is established the film moves on to seeing the kids recruited into the army and the course of events that brings them to defend the bridge against the Allied invasion.
So while the first part sometimes feels a little fast paced, it does a great job of building a relationship with the lead characters and showing their relationships amongst each other and the ancillary characters.
Actually it's something that could have been focused on a little more in the second half of the film, for when the action begins we’re hopelessly caught up in the events giving us a strong feeling of how it might have been for those involved, but it could have given us more of how the changes to the individuals affected each other.
One of the aspects you really notice is how they become indoctrinated into fighting for the Fatherland, represented for them by the bridge itself. One naive comment later on from one of the boys questions the orders of a senior soldier. He screams at him in some hopeless demand for justification and disassociation, asking if the orders came from Hitler himself, the senior soldiers smirk at him knowingly. The boy believes that he is fighting directly for, and on the orders of, Hitler himself. To them, they really are defending the Fatherland from this one small spot.
Once the attacks begin there's a fair amount of emotional weight put into them, and you do start to feel some of the pain and terror that the young soldiers are experiencing, at least some of them are, for others turn into hardened, focused soldiers. Throughout it all that focus is more on the individuals than the overall action, although action does play heavily in the second half, it doesn't override it.
When the Allied force is brought into the story it does turn out to be all American, but they aren't presented as the villain of the film, to a big degree they are presented as the saviour and the force for good, and perhaps a little too much, but it doesn't then demonise the young German soldiers. The Allied soldiers also go through their own pain, often through painful and horrible deaths. Do bear in mind though, this is a television film and there's no great shock factor of blood and violence.
In the end of the film we see a lot of the futility of war coming forward in some strong moral messages, but the ultimate ending doesn’t fall too fowl of being a typical television ending, there’s still a strong ending that provokes an emotional and thoughtful response.
I was surprised by The Bridge. Originally I had thought that this might have been something I wouldn’t have been interested in, but it’s as much a message about war for anyone as many Hollywood blockbusters try and be.
It provides an interesting and at times emotionally strong film with solid performances from the actors involved, particularly the younger ones and the alluring and always great to watch Franka Potente. While some might be concerned that it could lose its focus and show its television roots, it manages to stay focused on the smaller story of these boys and their struggle to make it through their small part of the war.
On the other side there’s also a favourable message that suggests not all is futile, but doesn’t shirk from the negatives that the film needs to portray.
What’s probably most interesting from this is that I’ll want to seek out the original film and compare them now, for this version of The Bridge has piqued my interest.