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.
So this is where the so-called "anti war movies" come in… Here is a list of my five all-time favourites:
5. Die Brücke / The Bridge (2008)
This film starts just before Word War 2 reaches a small German village in the final days of battles in 1945.
In the beginning, there some romance as internationally well-known German star Franka Potente plays a teacher who is seduced by one of her male students.
As the American troops are approaching fast and because all the grown-up men are out there already, a handful of 16-year-old boys (including the recently arrived refugee François Goeske) are set up as a “last reserve”.
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.
The historical film locations to recreate a pre-war German village were found in Kuldiga, Latvia and Lithuania.
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.
This classic movie was filmed at some of the original settings of the real Pearl Harbour on Hawaii as well as in Texas, California, and Indiana in the US.
My verdict: Simply a classic not to be missed!
3. Atonement (2007)
Obviously, there is a a huge Greek tragedy going on when jealous Briony, who is secretly in love with Robbie, finds out that her crush Robbie 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.
The Atonement film locations include Stokesay Court in Onibury, Shropshire, England (Tallis home), the Redcar beach, Redcar and Cleveland, England (evacuation of Dunkirk), and the Ouse Washes Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire, England (for late 1930s rural France). In London, the crew of Atonement filmed at St. John's, Smith Square, Westminster (Lola's wedding), and at University College London in Bloomsbury.
My verdict: Get out those tissues! This film has made me cry so much… but it's seriously so, so good!
2. War Horse (2011)
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 major feature film. So is German actor David Kross (The Reader) on the other side of the trench.
There are also some very beautiful scenes 0f the English countryside pre-war, which just adds to the sadness of the story when Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his horse both have to leave for war.
Most film locations for War Horse can be be found in the Southern English counties of Wiltshire, Devon and Surrey. For example, the small village of Meavy in Devon was used to double for the village in War Horse and Castle Combe in Wilshire was the setting for the horse auction scene.
My verdict: I just loved the cinematography and the film locations – 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" or "nationalist political education institution" in English).
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 through Netflix or DVD. Now.
In addition to the trailer, 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.
The film locations for Before The Fall were found in and around Prague in the Czech Republic.
My verdict: What truly counts when everything else is lost is real friendship!
What are your most powerful anti-war movies? Let me know in the comments below!