GREGOR CAMERON reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: Germany year zero.

REMINISCENT of the fifties Black & White films of the Children’s Film Foundation or like something out of Enid Blyton the contagious enthusiasm of the boys at the beginning of The Bridge (Die Brücke) endears them to the cinema goer. Certainly their antics in the beginning call up images of Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners as they play at war and gambol through a war-fatigued village.

Problem is – they’re on the wrong side.

Despite John Cleese declaring “don’t mention the war”, Bernhard Wicki’s film treats us to something special in it’s portrayal of this doomed generation – too soon called to war, a war already lost. His boys, not yet men, become the all too familiar child soldiers we still see now in some of the more unfortunate conflicts besetting this world – full of ideals and honour but not yet ready for an all too morally ambiguous real world.

And this is what permeates this anti-war text very effectively – that war, no matter where or which side you’re on, can only be viewed as a tragedy. That the ‘enemy’ is all too likely to look very much like you, to want the very same things as you do and is subject to the very same follies as we all are in their beliefs and practices.

Wicki places his film in a small insignificant German village about to be invaded by the Americans. As older more jaded soldiers rationally desert the front, Wicki’s boys feel drawn to honour the line they have been told to hold and thus we watch the boys we have invested in get picked off one by one. An ‘insignificant event’ that went unreported which happened two days before the end of World War Two.

After the Fuller season’s war films which also engage in the theme of the futility of war, at least from the Allies side, it was refreshing to see this first film in what some have called the ‘German post war angst season’. But to dismiss this season in this way is to do a disservice to the way in which we, as a culture, seek to make sense of our stories. Certainly in Wicki’s case this taut well-drawn story invites us to take the opportunity to critically look at how both sides in a conflict are similarly affected in war. He went on to collaborate with others in 1962’s The Longest Day.

Perhaps we just shouldn’t do it.