Five Berliners meet at their local bar. It’s 1941, and on the eve of Germany’s debilitating campaign in the Soviet Union, they are all looking forward to their respective journeys and, more importantly, to the time when they reunite for another celebration. Generation War, now out on DVD via Music Box Films, is a critically acclaimed look at war’s unsentimental ravages on humanity, as seen through the eyes of these once hopeful youths.
Wilhelm (Volker Bruch) is a steel-eyed lieutenant who’s bound to rise up through the ranks. His main burden lies in watching over his wide eyed brother Freidhelm (Tom Schilling), a soldier whose sensitive soul may spell his immediate death on the front lines. Greta (Katherina Schüttler) is a talented singer with designs on traveling the world, but first she must ensure her Jewish boyfriend Viktor (Ludwig Trepte) leaves Berlin on his own accord. Charlotte (Miriam Stein) is the kindest of the close knit crew, and her compassion serves her well as a Red Cross nurse.
Generation War contains various tropes you’ll find in a sweeping war epic, as you’ll get a taste of bittersweet love (Charlotte and Wilhelm have a slow, burning desire for one another), brutal warfare, and unspeakable tragedy. Part of the narrative’s excellence lies in its first rate execution of each of the character’s respective journeys. There are no pat happy endings or life affirming revelations to be gleaned from our protagonists, as their sole mission is survival. Their manifold decisions, which often occur within the blink of an eye, result in unexpected transformations from the friends, and some of these changes are not for the better.
Director Philipp Kadelbach frames his storyline with an even eye, and although Generation War’s portrayal of violence will shock some viewers (the killing of a young girl at the hands of a Nazi major is particularly jarring), it’s this unyielding aesthetic that serves as one of the film’s biggest strengths. Cinematographer David Slama and Kadelbach also make for a great team – whether we’re following the politics behind Charlotte’s hospital work or out on the battlefield with the two brothers, the sequences are shot in a kinetic and visually arresting style which keeps you glued to the screen. Even though it clocks in at 279 minutes, Generation War moves at a surprisingly brisk pace and is a must see DVD (especially if you’re a war film fanatic).
Special Features: The DVD offers up A 20 discussion with Generation War screenwriter Stefan Kolditz and producer Benjamin Benedict. “Many of the reactions that we got from families, were that the generations of children and grandchildren started to talk with their parents who’d been silent about it for long, or to look for traces of their fathers or grandfathers, though they were already dead,” said Kolditz, who spent three years researching the project, during the session. “An essential process has been initiated, and eight years before, when we first talked about it, that was exactly our intention. And it worked.”
The DVD also contains a 12 page booklet which contains thoughts from producer Nico Hoffman (“Generation War” is my most personal production and is the product of a long cherished wish to relate the wartime experiences of my parents,” he says) and screenwriter Stefan Kolditz, and an essay from Sara F. Hall (Associate Professor of Germanic Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago).