THE BRIDGE (DIE BRUCKE) – Recommended for War Lovers

the bridgeAfter hearing about this much lauded film for years, I finally caught up with it at a film screening at the Goethe Institute in Atlanta. Unfortunately, the print was not 35mm as I’d hoped but a smeary-looking black and white, English-subtitled VHS magnified on a screen about the size of your local mall cinema. It was not a pretty sight but the film’s power still came through and considering the current state of the world, it seems as topical as ever. Not surprisingly, THE BRIDGE lost the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film of 1960 to Black Orpheus, a much more audience friendly film. And with the passing of time, THE BRIDGE has been practically forgotten. You can still find out of print PAL DVDs of it on Amazon but if any film could use the Criterion treatment, it’s this one.

THE BRIDGE (Die Brucke) is based on an actual incident that occurred toward the end of World War II in a small German village but went unreported in official army records. As the Allies were advancing across the German countryside, the local villagers and residents began leaving in droves. THE BRIDGE opens on the day before Allied troops are expected to arrive and the German army, in desperation, are hurriedly drafting teenage boys in a last ditch attempt to stop the invasion. Slowly the young protagonists are introduced to us as they go about their daily lives in the village, attending school, playing pranks on each other and behaving like typical teenagers. But as each one receives his draft notice in the mail, the lighthearted mood turns to one of increasing anxiety which the director, Bernard Wicki, tightens to an almost vise-like intensity in the final forty minutes of the film as the seven young schoolboys are left to defend a bridge from the oncoming American troops. Full of idealism and macho bravado, these unformed young men seem determined to prove to themselves and their elders that they are braver and stronger than the retreating German soldiers, many horribly wounded, who pass them by on their escape route out of the village. And in the case of two of the boys, their defiance is rooted in a deep anger and resentment of their fathers – one has abandoned his wife for his mistress, the other is a local Nazi party dignitary who flees town when danger rears its head. But of course, we know these young men are doomed, and when the first boy is killed by a plane’s machine-gunner, the gung-ho group are suddenly confronted with the reality of death. And so it goes.

bridgeposterBernard Wicki, who was twice nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes and directed the German sequences in The Longest Day (1962), was also a noted actor who made appearances in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Despair (1978) and Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984). THE BRIDGE may not be a perfect film and there are some unneeded melodramatic florishes in the depiction of some of the boys’ personal lives but overall the film is tightly paced and for American audiences the point of view is fascinating. By the time the schoolboys are in position for their final defense of the bridge (which the local German officiers were planning to destroy that day) our sympathies are with THEM, not the Allies who are depicted as a frightening array of oncoming tanks and armored jeeps. Although THE BRIDGE fits perfectly into the great tradition of anti-war cinema that includes All Quiet on the Western Front, Fires on the Plains, and Full Metal Jacket, it is also an elegy for young, wasted lives. These were mere schoolboys who were deluded by the Fuhrer into thinking they were dying for a good cause when they died for nothing.

It’s interesting to note the difference in the poster promotions for THE BRIDGE; the European ads take a more artful approach, stressing the stark and harrowing subject matter while the American release version plays up the sex and violence in typical exploitation fashion and totally misrepresents the film.

TheBridge

8 Responses THE BRIDGE (DIE BRUCKE) – Recommended for War Lovers
Posted By Eskimo Pop : March 4, 2007 11:18 am

I remember my older brother going to see this and talking about it with his high school pals. They thought it was a cool action film. Guess they missed the point.

Posted By Eskimo Pop : March 4, 2007 11:18 am

I remember my older brother going to see this and talking about it with his high school pals. They thought it was a cool action film. Guess they missed the point.

Posted By Taylor : March 10, 2007 12:28 pm

I think the Walter Reed Cinema in NYC showed this a few years back when they were doing a German post-war film retrospective so there is probably a good 35mm print somewhere. This is definitely a film Criterion should consider releasing on DVD. I saw it years ago and it's stayed with me all this time.

Posted By Taylor : March 10, 2007 12:28 pm

I think the Walter Reed Cinema in NYC showed this a few years back when they were doing a German post-war film retrospective so there is probably a good 35mm print somewhere. This is definitely a film Criterion should consider releasing on DVD. I saw it years ago and it's stayed with me all this time.

Posted By funkybone : March 18, 2007 9:01 pm

I have a dubbed version of this on VHS that I picked up at an estate sale.  The film is wonderful, although I wasn't impressed with the dubbing job.  Would love to see this one re-issued on DVD…

Posted By funkybone : March 18, 2007 9:01 pm

I have a dubbed version of this on VHS that I picked up at an estate sale.  The film is wonderful, although I wasn't impressed with the dubbing job.  Would love to see this one re-issued on DVD…

Posted By Bill Inglis : July 23, 2007 4:14 pm

My wife and I saw this when we were in college and it was first released.  It has stayed with us ever since.  We saw it as Viet Nam was rearing it's godforsaken head, and we wished all the politicians could have seen it.  It'd be a good idea for the politicians–especially those who have never served in the military–to see it now.  But that's my soapbox.  Criterion treatment would be good.  I'd like to own it. 

Posted By Bill Inglis : July 23, 2007 4:14 pm

My wife and I saw this when we were in college and it was first released.  It has stayed with us ever since.  We saw it as Viet Nam was rearing it's godforsaken head, and we wished all the politicians could have seen it.  It'd be a good idea for the politicians–especially those who have never served in the military–to see it now.  But that's my soapbox.  Criterion treatment would be good.  I'd like to own it. 

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