Generation War DVD
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Directed by Philipp Kadelbach
Produced in 2013
Main Language - German with English subtitles
While no one can criticise the exemplary fashion which the German people have faced up to the crimes committed in their name by the 1933-45 regime, German cinema has always been a bit more circumspect. While it's not shied away from tackling that era, the standard line has been to show the German people as victims of an unrepresentative regime, unaware of the crimes its rulers were committing.
Generation War - showing at time of writing on BBC2 - goes some way to correcting that. Originally broadcast on German television, it begins in 1941, introducing us to five ordinary young Berliners, friends involved in a conflict that they all expect to be over by Christmas. There is Wilhelm, a dedicated soldier, and his younger, more bookish, brother Friedhelm who are both going to fight at the Russian front. Charley is going to the front too, only she's working as a nurse. Greta intends to be an entertainer and is staying in Berlin with her lover, Viktor, although their affair is necessarily covert: Viktor, you see, is Jewish.
As the original German title (which translates as Our Mothers, Our Fathers) suggests, it's a story that has powerful resonances for an audience descended from the sort of people portrayed herein, especially since it doesn't whitewash what the German army got up to in Russia. No wonder it caused such soul searching in its native land upon its original broadcast.
It simply can't have the same impact for those of us raised on a very different history but even without the cultural baggage, it's a striking and powerful piece of work, compulsively plotted and expertly crafted. While the history of the war suggests the trajectories that the characters' lives will take, their stories unfold in frequently unexpected ways.
Given that it compresses four years into a similar number of hours, there are some inevitable elisions. Then again, this isn't a documentary; its subject is how individuals fared in the most terrible campaign in human history and in that it succeeds admirably. While it obviously evokes comparisons to Das Boot or Heimat, it's more than strong enough to stand on its own merits.
James Oliver on 23rd April 2014
Author of 176 reviews
A groundbreaking German TV drama, Generation War depicts the lives of five German friends from 1941-45: two brothers who become Wehrmacht soldiers, a singer, a nurse, and their Jewish friend. Described as a German 'Band of Brothers', the series drew record ratings for ZDF, sparked a nationwide discussion about the role of ordinary Germans during the Second World War, and was called 'a turning point in German television' by Der Spiegel.
Berlin 1941. Highly-decorated officer Wilhelm is off to the eastern front with his younger brother Friedhelm, a sensitive dreamer more interested in books than warfare. Deeply in love with Wilhelm is Charlotte, a young nurse who feels her duty calling and agrees to serve in the Wehrmacht, also on the eastern front. While talented singer Greta dreams of being another Marlene Dietrich, her Jewish boyfriend Viktor begins to realise that the lives of both he and his family will be in grave danger if they stay in Germany. As the war takes hold, none of the friends can imagine how the conflict will ultimately change not only them, but the rest of the world.
Publisher: Arrow Films
Length: 270 mins
Format: DVD Colour
Released: 12th May 2014
Cat No: FCD878