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Originally published Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:05 PM

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‘Generation War’: 5 young German lives forever altered

A review of “Generation War,” a World War II film that’s part melodrama, part combat-action movie, chronicling the lives of five friends who are presented as more or less typical young Germans.


The New York Times

Movie Review

‘Generation War: Part 1’ and ‘Part 2,’ with Volker Bruch, Tom Schilling, Katharina Schüttler, Ludwig Trepte, Miriam Stein. Directed by Philipp Kadelbach, from a screenplay by Stefan Kolditz. “Part 1”: 131 minutes. “Part 2”: 148 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In English and German, with English subtitles. Seven Gables.

The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.

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“Generation War,” which was broadcast as a miniseries on German television last year, is perhaps more interesting as an artifact of the present than as a representation of the past. As the Second World War slips from living memory, as Germany asserts its dominant role in Europe with increasing confidence and as long-suppressed information emerges from the archives of former Eastern bloc countries, the war’s cultural significance for Germans has shifted.

“Generation War,” emotionally charged but not exactly anguished, represents an attempt to normalize German history. Its lesson is that ordinary Germans — “Our Mothers, Our Fathers,” in the original title — were not so different from anyone else.

Part melodrama, part combat-action movie, the film chronicles the lives of five friends. We first see them together in 1941 in a Berlin bar. Two brothers, Wilhelm (Volker Bruch) and Friedhelm (Tom Schilling), are about to leave for the Eastern front. Wilhelm is in love with Charlotte, nicknamed Charly (Miriam Stein), soon to report for duty as a field-hospital nurse. Their friends Greta (Katharina Schüttler) and Viktor (Ludwig Trepte) are in a relationship that’s illegal, since Viktor is Jewish. But even an ominous visit from a Gestapo officer cannot quell the group’s youthful optimism. That will take a genocidal war.

Director Philipp Kadelbach has clearly studied the work of Steven Spielberg. He crosscuts deftly between scenes, alternating moments of violence with stretches of solitude and tenderness. Battles are staged with “Saving Private Ryan”-like intensity.

The characters are sharply drawn by a lively and uniformly excellent cast. What happens to all of them is absorbing, exciting and sometimes very moving. The moral choices they face are credibly agonizing, even if the plot turns are sometimes a bit forced.

As television drama, “Generation War” is unquestionably effective. As dramatized history, it is pretty questionable.



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