Screenplay: Manfred Gregor (Novel), Karl-Wilhelm Vivier, Bernhard Wicki
Release: Criterion Collection
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Growing up in America, with a grandfather who was a POW in World War II, there were not too many moments when German’s were the good guys. Some of this is ignorance, but much of it was propaganda. Considering the rhetoric which has been elevated of late I think The Bridge is essential in which we can attempt to understand to points of view of the people, and the cultures, around us.
Bernhard Wicki’s astonishing The Bridge was the first major antiwar film to come out of Germany after World War II, as well as the nation’s first postwar film to be widely shown internationally, even securing an Oscar nomination. Set near the end of the conflict, it follows a group of teenage boys in a small town as they contend with everyday matters like school, girls, and parents, before enlisting as soldiers and being forced to defend their home turf in a confused, terrifying battle. This expressively shot, emotionally bruising drama dared to humanize young German soldiers at a historically tender moment, and proved influential for the coming generation of New German Cinema auteurs.
It is entirely too easy to get caught up in bullhorn education to a point in which cannot comprehend to nature of your enemies. I am no better at this than anyone else which is why I continue to educate myself. Make no mistake, though, Nazis are never the good guys, but their descendants should not be automatically lumped together with them instead of re-educated.
The thrust of The Bridge is that we see the lives of school-aged German’s who are growing up surrounded by fanatical adults living lives as role models to their children, no different than a Marine father and his son. (Again, Marines good, Nazis bad, examples are necessary.) In the film one of the boy’s mothers pleads with a commander to not take the children to the front line as an act of mercy; the boys are not wise enough to know better, nor would they be prepared to fight. With compassion the commander tells the boys to stay back and hold the bridge. They do. But the military intelligence did not expect that the bridge would be the next target of the opposition forces.
Growing up I was taught that these United States of America was the end-all be-all of what is right in the world. This indoctrination filled me with a feeling of patriotism and pride, just like it was designed to do. This had been the modus operandi for generations but in the 1990s, as communication started to globalize, and our world started to feel smaller, we were faced with seeing eye-to-eye with foreigners which did not walk with the same devilish stride that we were expecting. For example, South Koreans were, at times, surprised to learn that the citizens of the North did not have horns. The Germans or Muslims that I met are good and kind people. It is difficult to say that were are wrong to try and instill a national pride in our children, but when they do not offer a reference then we are not doing them any good.
That is why The Bridge is essential. The film can offer school-aged children a chance to see that national pride is typical but in some ways is just as misguided because of the actions of our adult leaders. The film can give us a chance to look at ourselves in relation to our so-called enemies, it lets us see their faces and see that they are the same as we are. The Bridge is not about national pride as a tool for indoctrination, it is a lesson that national pride increases the cost of our future with futile conflict and prejudice that will only kill our children.
I would pair this film with Saving Private Ryan, which is also essential. I don’t think national pride is a bad thing. Patriotism is a good thing. But globalism is also a good thing. There is a huge amount of information, culture, food, theology, and history which we can learn from, which we can use to be better. Steven Spielberg crafted an honest instances of pure patriotism. Both films show you the horrors of war from different sides, neither of which thought they were wrong.
- New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New interview with writer Gregor Dorfmeister, on whose autobiographical novel the film is based
- New interview with filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff about the film’s impact on German cinema
- Interview from 1989 with director Bernhard Wicki
- Excerpt from a 2007 documentary by Elisabeth Wicki-Endriss, Wicki’s widow, featuring behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot
- PLUS: An essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty
Director: 10 – Cinematography: 8 – Edit: 5 – Parity: 2 – Main performance: 7 – Else performance: 6 – Score: 7 – Sound: 9 – Story: 10 – Script: 8 – Effects: 7 – Design: 7 – Costumes: 8 – Keeps interest: 8 – Lasting: 10