New reviews, interviews, and features via RSS or Email.

Sponsored Links

The Bridge (Die Brücke)

(1959) *** 1/2 Unrated
103 min. Allied Artists. Director: Bernhard Wicki. Cast: Michael Hinz, Folker Bohnet, Fritz Wepper, Karl Michael Balzer, Gunther Hoffmann, Frank Glaubrecht, Volker Lechtenbrink.

/content/films/4809/1.jpgPerhaps no trope in the anti-war-film genre appears more consistently, or more effectively, than that of a fresh-faced innocent—a boy, really—incongruously armed and facing the very real possibility of a short, sharp shock to end his young life. This "lambs to slaughter" motif has a close cousin in the "doomed batallion" tale, usually unfurled in dramatic-irony fashion, forcing audiences to watch helplessly as soldiers fight (valiantly or otherwise) against a no-win situation. Both tropes get an early workout in Bernhard Wicki's The Bridge (Die Brücke), a post-WWII German drama that achieved international success (including an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film) in 1959.

Cannily adapting Gregor Dorfmeister's autobiographical novel, Wicki establishes disspiritingly compromised life during wartime in a small Bavarian town (in the vicinity of Bad Tölz, where the events that insipired the story unfolded) while laying down omens of impending disaster. In brief snatches of dialogue, the adults speak ruefully of their conditions, and the powers that be responsible for them, but Wicki and his co-writers Michael Mansfeld and Karl Wilhelm-Vivier spend most of their time shadowing six schoolmates with an average age of sixteen (a uniformly resonant ensemble comprised of Michael Hinz, Folker Bohnet, Fritz Wepper, Karl Michael Balzer, Günther Hoffmann, Frank Glaubrecht, and Volker Lechtenbrink). Each of these blithe and bonny lads has legitimate concerns, but none fears what should be the worst of them: rather, they eagerly anticipate the draft notices sure to arrive soon and, they hope, before the war ends and they miss their action. Their homefront preoccupations include spring's awakening of romance and sexuality—in one case most cruelly dashed when a boy finds his crush in bed with his father, the drudgery of school—troop movements mockingly disrupt an oral reading of Romeo and Juliet, and the eternal push-pull of love and respect for parents they also resent, for their constrictive sheltering or, more bitingly, their moral failings.

That teacher (Wolfgang Stumpf) of Romeo and Juliet goes behind the boys' backs to advocate on their behalf with the Volksturm, the German national militia endemic to the last months of the war. It's a noble fool's errand, but while invisible to the boys, it provides a useful perspective for the audience: American audiences then and especially now might understandably miss the contemporary relevance. When the film was released in West Germany in the fall of 1959, the latest German conscription was only three years old, and still active (the West German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, having been formed in 1955). Wicki's unambiguous anti-war stance makes the film not merely a wistful, tearful glance back, but a present critique questioning the policy of making war.

Wicki later supplied the German passages of Fox epic The Longest Day, and though he may be best known for that (if at all) on these shores, The Bridge stands as his humble opus. After wisely devoting the film's first forty-five minutes to small-town domesticity, the public and private lives of teenage boys, Wicki drafts his heroes into whirlwind training (less than twenty-four hours) on their way to the titular location—of no strategic importance—they will absurdly defend, partly due to a tragedy of mixed signals that leaves them orphaned from their sergeant. Wicki transforms tight spending into a virtue with resourceful production values and sophisticated editing that enhances the impact of the action sequences, any one of which, in most films, would dwarf Wicki's entire budget here.

Well-drawn characters, based on Dorfmeister's own misbegotten friends, complete the sad picture of The Bridge and elevate it from intellectual outrage to emotional sting. That it is Hitler doing the exploiting has little relevance to the overriding theme of tragic history humanity remains doomed to repeat: sending naive young men—and, at some times and places, boys—to their ends.

Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink

Aspect ratios: 1.37:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: LPCM 1.0

Street date: 6/23/2015

Distributor: Criterion Collection

Criterion delivers a terrific special edition for the little known German film The Bridge. A/V specs are, typically, exceptional: aside from a couple of early shots that suffer from an odd warping effect (no doubt endemic to the source), the 56-year-old image is heartingly stable. The 2K digital restoration offers a clean, sharp image with inviting natural grain and depth, as well as perfect contrast in the black-and-white picture. The mono audio can't muster much dynamic range, but the soundtrack has probably never sounded so good as it does here: the battle scenes have potent effects, and the dialogue remains entirely clear, making for an effective and faithful aural rendition.

Criterion's invariably excellent supplements here include a new interview with author "Gregor Dorfmeister" (22:41, HD), who discusses the events that inspired his autobiographical novel Die Brücke (The Bridge).

Filmmaker "Volker Schlöndorff" (9:52, HD) also supplies a new interview, about the film’s impact on German cinema.

From the archives comes an excerpt from a 1989 episode of the German show Das Sonntagsgesprach (Sunday Talk), in which director "Bernhard Wicki" (14:36, HD) chats about his own relevant experiences of wartime, his career as director, and the making of The Bridge. We also get an excerpt from the 2007 documentary Against the Grain: The Film Legend of Bernhard Wicki (9:04, HD) by Elisabeth Wicki-Endriss, Wicki’s widow, featuring behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot and the Berlin International Film Festival, as well as more interview material of Wicki.

Lastly, there's a pamphlet with credits, tech specs, and an essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

Share this review:
Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink
Sponsored Links