Sunday, November 14, 2010

film The Bridge as bridge to Peace Activist Tribute

Good morning everyone. This entry will take a long route, through an old movie to a brand new book. If you get bored with the movie synopsis, please skip down to the book note! However, the movie synopsis exemplifies my reason for writing under the name Why’s Woman. Blessings to you all, Why's Woman

All week long I’ve been hearing Remembrance Week reports …

Saturday evening I tuned into TVO’s broadcast of the 1959 film Die Bruke – The Bridge, a West German film by Austrian filmmaker Bernhard Wicki, based on a 1958 novel by Manfred Gregor, who got the story from an actual event recounted by its last survivor.

The Bridge was brilliant.

Apparently, in late 1944, the German government started calling up underage young men and older men to fight – it had no one else to continue the fight for the Fatherland.

The movie is the story of 7 boys, all around 15 and 16 years of age, schoolmates in October 1945. About half the film is spent letting us know who the boys are and showing us the emotional way they left their homes. The latter half of the film shows us their next day.

One by one we see the interactions with their families when their call-up papers arrive.

Siggi’s mother wants him to hide at his aunt’s until the war is over. There is no father in the home. But the mother’s fear of losing her son implied to me her husband had already died fighting. Siggi is the youngest of the seven friends. He has to go, not just because of his friends but because he believes what he has been taught about the rightness of the fight.

Karl does not have a good day. On the day the call-up papers come, he discovers that his father is bedding a young woman he has a crush on. Meeting his friend Klaus shortly after, he makes a nasty remark about his friend Klaus’ girlfriend; Klaus punches him in the nose. At home, Karl argues with his father and leaves his home … spending the night in the recruiting office.

Walter is spending his last night at home, playing records too loudly. His father sends the maid to tell him to turn it down. This father– a civilian of some status in his community because he is leader of the local communist party – is packing to run away from the U.S. onslaught that now seems inevitable, under the guise of going to a communist party meeting. Another argument between father and son here, with Walter’s accusations that his father is having an affair with his secretary and has driven his wife away.

Jurgen wants to be an officer, like his father who was killed in the war. Their family owns a farm – so the family is more well off than the others - and his mother has been left to manage their farm with Polish prisoner labour … but they’ve just run away. His mother is being very calm as they talk about managing things while he’s away and they talk about packing; he tells her he admires the way she keeps her emotions in check. My interpretation of her frozen expression is that she really just wants to scream, and scream and scream.

Klaus spends time with Franziska, oblivious to her want to be his girlfriend. There’s a lovely scene in the train station where he says he wants to ask her something. She leans in, eager, telling him that because he’s going away to the front he can ask her anything. He asks if he can have his watch back, because a watch with a luminous dial could be really useful on night duty. This is perhaps the only bit of humour in the film, and it is countered with the sadness of the girl’s hope.

Hans and Albert are boys 6 and 7. Unfortunately, I missed the part of the movie which has their background.

The morning of the boys’ departure, their teacher asks the company commander – who he knows was a teacher before the war 5 years ago – if there’s some way he can keep the boys out of the fighting. The man replies that he’s only just found out his own son has been killed, and the implication is that there’s nothing he can/will do. The teacher comments that, when the war is over, he does not think he can continue to be a teacher of history, and he leaves. He would probably never know that when the experienced troups and newest recruits are ordered to the front the commander tells a sargeant to take the boys and have them guard the town bridge – figuring the sargeant will dig them all in somewhere safe. He, and the sargeant try to save these boys who have only been at their training camp one day.

But the sargeant is shot by other German soldiers who mistake him for a deserter.

The boys are left to defend the bridge that leads to their town on a dark, fog-shrouded night … to defend the Fatherland in the way there were taught is right. They will act upon what they were told was true about bravery and staying on duty, and the other side being the enemy and deserving of death.

At dawn, tanks are heard in the distance. In a scene given far more time than any contemporary film would spend, we hear the tanks and scan the distant road into the town, alternating with the faces and actions of the waiting, frightened, nervous boys. Tanks are loud. Waiting is physical.

Walter has been waiting in a trench, grenade launcher at his shoulder. To the amazement and joy of the boys his first shot at a tank hits it and it explodes into flame.

They are emboldened, and one by one these boys do brave things … and die.

Siggi is first. He has just been teased by his friends because he ‘hit the dirt’ when a U.S. plane flew over. He stands determinedly in place at the next pass. The plane drops a bomb at what seems to be quite a distance away, but somehow Siggi is dead .. hit by some flying object. His friends cry out the first question of war: Why him? Why did he have to die?

Jurgen has climbed a tree and is shooting at U.S. soldiers who are themselves shooting from the second floor windows of a house they took over. He does shoot one. But, in a scene that may have inspired Alfred Hitchcock, we see the boy targeted in the mirror/site of the U.S. soldier’s gun and we see his body jerk and fall to the ground; even without the sound, we hear the impact of his broken body.

Walter has taken his grenade launcher and made his way across the yards to the house where the US soldiers are. As he is ready to take aim at a tank right outside the house he is confronted by a soldier who – horrified that a boy so young is involved in war – shouts at him to put down the weapon. As Walter turns to the soldier the tank fires through the house. Walter is really killed twice: torn apart by the bullets and crushed by the toppling wall.

I think it is this same U.S. soldier who, shortly after, is running outside, darting from shelter to shelter of vehicles. He sees the boys and comes towards them, muttering about children in war, calling to them to get out, to start. The only English word the boys understand is kinder – child – to them an insult. Klaus shoots the soldier, but he continues to advance … ripped apart in the gut, screaming. Karl is himself screaming to his friend to shoot the man to stop his pain. And somehow, from bullets from elsewhere there are two deaths: the compassionate soldier and the compassionate boy, Karl.

Klaus tries desperately to bring him Karl back, calling to him, apologizing for punching him in the nose for a nasty remark he’d made, begging him to get up and return the punch.

Klaus is killed too.

Hans and Albert are left on the bridge. By whatever decision, the U.S. tanks have retreated. German soldiers from the town come along to blow up the bridge as per their orders. One mocks the boys for playing hero. Probably both boys are crazed with the pain, horror and despair of seeing their friends’ awful deaths. It is Hans who aims his gun at the soldier, telling him they have their duty and won’t leave. The soldier raises his gun toward Hans … and is shot from behind by Albert.

Finally realizing they are not dealing with children at play, the two other German soldiers retreat to their vehicle to return to the town … firing shots. Hans drops to the bridge. Only Albert is left, screaming, dragging his friend by one limp arm from the centre of the bridge … until he realizes the futility and the reality and proceeds alone … off the bridge and towards us shocked viewers … and is gone.

Black smoke roils up to cover the bridge and the bodies.

And the film ends … just ends … with text that comes up and says 'This event occurred on April 27, 1945. It was so unimportant that it was never mentioned in any war communique.'

Unimportant. Children’s lives. German and American soldiers. The families of all of these. Unimportant.

The ending shocked me … as it was meant to. I desperately wanted assurance that on that morning Albert did at least get home.

In case you have not figured this out from my summary, this was an anti war film. I’m not much of a political historian, but I have no doubt that the film was hugely controversial when it came out. The good thing is that it won awards, including four at the German film awards in 1960.

And where is this leading? Aside from my absolutely physical imperative to write down this film and be clear about it for myself?

There’s a new book out about Muriel Duckworth, who passed away in her 101st year in the summer of 2009.

A Legacy of Love: Remembering Muriel Duckworth, Her Later Years, 1996-2009, written by Marion Douglas Kerans.

I knew Muriel when I lived in Halifax in the mid 1980s, when I joined the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace*. I was only 30! To me, all the women were amazing. Muriel - who was only in her mid '70s - was unlike anyone I’d ever met. She took time to listen. She was so smart and so organized, and saw the connections between so many things, and was able to bring people together and get things done without endless meetings. Almost everyone at the meetings knit (I do now knit) … and stuff never seemed to be written down, and we didn’t have computers (we had telephone trees) and we went out of the meeting knowing that everything would get done by someone. And I wish I knew then what I knew now and had known her better.

I am looking forward to knowing her better through the recollections Marion has gathered. I’m ordering the book tomorrow. It will share shelf space with Kerans’ earlier book Muriel Duckworth: a very active pacifist. It will be there for me to refer to often, to think about Muriel and big issues. That shelf within reaching distance, the voices and Voices I need to support me.

From the Groundwood Press blurb:

Muriel Duckworth passed away August 22, 2009 in her one hundred and first year. In the weeks that followed memorial services were held in Austin Quebec, Halifax, MontrĂ©al, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. People from across Canada recognized that her passing marked the end of an era and they wanted to not only remember her but to come together to be a part of her ongoing legacy of love. This book brings together stories from Muriel’s family and close friends from the past dozen years of her life. It is a collection of incredible tales of Muriel’s ability to reach out to people, her humour, her deep affection for her family, her ongoing activism and enduring political feistiness, her views on education, religion, death, war and love. The book is richly illustrated with photographs from Muriel’s later years.

The author, Marion Douglas Kerans, is herself an activist, lving in Ottawa. She is the author of Muriel Duckworth: A Very Active Pacifist (Fernwood, 1996).

Fernwood Publishing:

Or ask at your local, independent bookstore.

*Canadian Voice of Women for Peace:

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