This powerful and tragic German anti-war film pits a group of drafted schoolboys-turned-inexperienced-soldiers against the advancing Americans as WWII draws to a close.
Dir. Bernhard Wicki
1959 | West Germany | Drama/War | 103 mins | 1.37:1 | German & English
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some violence and disturbing scenes
Cast: Folker Bohnet, Fritz Wepper, Michael Hinz
Plot: A group of German boys is ordered to protect a small bridge in their home village during the waning months of WWII.
Awards: Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Oscars)
Source: Beta Film
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
I’ve never heard of Bernhard Wicki or what appears to be his most famous film, The Bridge, until the Criterion Collection put it out as a home video release.
With a 2K restoration, images and sound are sharp; in fact, the opening moments are already quite terrifying with the shrill sound of an air raid siren accompanied by an explosion in the river.
That is a foreshadowing of what is to come nearly an hour into the film. For the first 45 minutes, however, one might mistake The Bridge to be a youth movie, as several teenage boys grapple with school, their parents and attempt to flirt with girls.
There is, of course, the backdrop of WWII that still seems so distant to these townsfolk. The naïve boys pray to be drafted so that they can serve their ‘Fatherland’, and indeed their wishes do come true as the German army requires more men as WWII draws to a close, with the retreating Nazis suffering insurmountable losses.
“Whoever defends one square foot of German soil defends Germany!”
As the advancing Americans come closer to their town, the boys are turned into soldiers within a day, with close to no training at all. Wicki’s film is a tragic but powerful one, based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Gregor Dorfmeister.
The inevitable battle scenes are shocking to these boys as they come to terms with their premature mortality. Surely, this is no walk in the park like the ‘Cowboys and Indians’ that they play once in a while.
When the American tanks come into sight, one might feel an uncanny similarity to the final battle in Saving Private Ryan (1998) where instead German tanks appear. While Spielberg’s film is visceral and big-budgeted, Wicki’s modest anti-war film is no less bruising.
At a time when postwar German cinema was facing an artistic lull, The Bridge became internationally-renowned (even securing an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film), and subsequently inspired the good folks (the likes of Herzog, Wenders, Fassbinder, etc.) of New German Cinema in the late 1960s and 1970s. And as they say, the rest is history.