To us Germans, films surrounding the first and second world wars are of course particularly touchy subjects. We do appreciate it when the Germans are not only portrayed as the most evil people of all mankind, but as human beings, and if these films carry a meaningful message.
A message that stresses the pointlessness of all wars. This is where the so-called anti-war movie comes in.
So here is a list of my five all-time favourites:
5. Die Brücke / The Bridge (2008)
Sadly, this TV remake of the very popular 1959 original film is characterized by poor acting (sorry, François Goeske). Except for Franka Potente: She plays a teacher seduced by one of her students as Word War 2 reaches a small German village in the final days of battles in 1945. Because all the grown-up men are out there already, a handful of 16-year-old boys are set up as a “last reserve” to ward off the approaching American troops.
Brain-washed by the system, they are initially full of enthusiasm when they get their pointless task to defend the village's bridge. If this film teaches us one thing it's the pointlessness of war itself.
Unfortunately, I didn't find an English trailer, but only this TV trailer in German. It might be because 2008 is quite old now. I have definitely seen the whole film on Amazon Prime UK before and even on YouTube at some point.
My verdict: A good one for understanding the German side a bit better!
4. Pearl Harbor (2001)
One of my two favourite dramas from my early teens, or in other words the Titanic era (the latter probably being my most favourite film ever)! Two guys fall in love with the same woman, while they are away at war at different times. There is a mix-up. There is a love-triangle. There is the historical event of the Americans being attacked by the Japanese in WW2. And for once there is not a single German bad guy. At least not in sight.
My verdict: Simply a classic not to be missed!
3. Atonement (2007)
James McAvoy as Robbie is simply amazing as the suffering a) lover and b) soldier in WW2. So is Keira Knightley as Cecilia and a young Saoirse Ronan as Briony. Obviously, there is a a huge Greek tragedy going on when jealous Briony, who is secretly in love with Robbie, finds out that he has an affair with her older sister Cecilia. As a consequence, Briony tricks Robbie and destroys his reputation.
Then war breaks out and the never quite fulfilled, yet great love story between Robbie and Cecilia is told through the eyes of Briony – now a nurse and later an old woman overwhelmed by guilt.
My verdict: Get out those tissues! This film has made me cry so much… but it's seriously soo good!
2. War Horse (2011)
When this film hit the cinemas in late 2011, I was working part-time at Odeon, where War Horse was running for a long time. Therefore, I don't know if my fascination for this film is because I've seen it so many times. But it's just so beautiful, I could never get too much!
The music, the acting, the plot… telling the so far unknown story of all those innocent horses that were dragged into the conflict. Jeremy Irvine is great in his first big feature film. So is German actor David Kross (The Reader) on the other side of the trench.
My verdict: I just loved the cinematography, a true Spielberg masterpiece!
1. Napola / Before The Fall (2004)
Powerful storytelling, brilliant acting and huge emotions: To me, Napola (in English-speaking countries also known as Before the Fall) is the best German WW2 film ever made!
The story in short: In 1942, Friedrich (Max Riemelt) is a young boy from a working-class background. Because of his physical fitness level (he is a boxer) as well as his Aryan appearance, Friedrich is recruited to join an élite Nazi boarding school. These élite schools really existed and were called Napolas (short for Nazionalpolitische Erziehungsanstalt).
At the Napola school, Friedrich befriends Albrecht (Tom Schilling). Physically fragile and rather intellectually than militarily gifted (he writes poems and in-depth essays), Albrecht is the total opposite of Friedrich. Albrecht is also a complete disappointment to his father, who happens to be a high-ranking Nazi general.
There is a really sad “Titanic moment”, but before I reveal too much, see for yourself and get this film on DVD. Now.
Unfortunately, the English trailer is only available in a very low resolution, so I would also like to show you this really powerful scene, in which the boys have a grenade throwing exercise. One of the boys lets a sharp grenade slip through his hands, so it falls on the floor. Another boy, who had been terribly bullied the days before because of his bed-wetting flaw, seizes the moment to commit suicide – and thus saving the lives of the others, but also leaving them in complete shock.