A German film about WWII sounds like just another history lesson on the tragedy of war. Yet “Generation War” courageously reinvigorates the familiar story with the “I-need-to-know-what-happens-next” relevance usually reserved for a favorite TV show.
Enlisting its viewers on the fraying journeys of five best friends through the course of the war’s span, the film gives flesh and blood to a hard-to-relate to era. Rather than approach the difficult subject matter with grandiose pomp or melodrama, it reverses the model, focusing on specific, mini-moments these five characters experience. The realistic performances of the actors and the vivid personas of the characters make it impossible not to fall in love with them and fight with them.
All starting in Berlin with idealism and pretty faces, the characters follow different paths through the five years. The story masterfully links them all together at unbelievable and unpredictable points. Yet, the plot never becomes too incredulous since the character’s motivations are constant and believable.
The action, story and cinematography are so engrossing that the two-part, 4-and-a-half-hour mini series feels short. It quickly jumps and weaves between the characters, artfully balancing the shifts from drama to action. At first, it leverages the weight of the characters to pull you into the fight sequences. But eventually, like the soldier who returns to war because he cannot stand the triviality of sitting at home, the action becomes a part of you.
Daring to explore below the surface, it digs past the glorified lectures of patriotism and pacifism to expose the stomach-punching, core-shaking truth. With the thoroughness of a classic and the urgency of a blockbuster, the film captures every facet of war, undaunted by the ferocity, desolation and immorality it reproduces.
Though the film emphasizes the senselessness of the monstrous war, the outcomes and views of the characters are so varied that the message avoids falling into a moral of a story.
But one thing is certain: Just as one of the characters would say about war, “No one comes out the same.”
If You Go:
Cosford Cinema for the next two weekends starting Feb. 28
For more film recommendations, visit Luisa’s Free Foreign Film Friday blog.