Judge Patrick Bromley belongs to the Pepsi Generation.
Every generation writes its own history.
What happens when the country you love betrays everything you believe?
Facts of the Case
It's 1941, Germany. Five young friends gather in Berlin to say goodbye: Wilhelm (Volker Bruch, The Reader) is a young Wehrmacht officer who feels honor-bound to defend his country and family; his younger brother Friedhelm (Tom Schilling, The Baader Meinhof Complex), a sensitive soul who has no desire to be serving in the military with his brother; Greta (Katharina Schüttler, The Promise), a talented singer with dreams of becoming the next Marlene Dietrich; her secret boyfriend Viktor (Ludwig Trepte, What You Don't See), a tailor who worries about being outed as a Jew; and Charlotte (Miriam Stein, Young Goethe in Love), a nurse-in-training who is too shy to tell Wilhelm that she loves him. The five friends vow to meet each other again in December—the Führer said the war would be over by then, a certain German victory.
Generation War (German title: Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter, "Our Mothers, Our Fathers") follows all five characters through the course of the Second World War, exploring the horrors of that conflict through the eyes of young Germans. The miniseries features three episodes that run approximately 90 minutes: "A Different Time" ("Eine andere Zeit"), "A Different War" ("Ein anderer Krieg"), and "A Different Country" ("Ein anderes Land").
When Generation War aired in Germany in 2013 to staggeringly high ratings, the miniseries stirred an unprecedented level of intergenerational discussion. From what I understand, Germans—especially those alive during the era—have been fairly quiet about what their country went through during World War II, and this is something that's snowballed through the generations. So while German fiction set during this period isn't anything new, Generation War somehow clicked with many Germans in a way that other films or television shows hadn't—people felt more willing to discuss the war, the Third Reich, and the collective guilt that (from my perspective) seemed to hang over the nation. The show was controversial, too—some critics said it didn't push hard enough when it came to atrocities, and others said it provided enough "Others" to place blame on to give the protagonists an out.
Pivotal talk-piece or not, Generation War is an engaging, if a tad hackneyed, drama. We get to see how all five characters are changed by the war (if you're hoping for happy storylines, look elsewhere). The cast—all relative unknowns—does a bang-up job with their characters, and screenwriter Stefan Kolditz (Dresden) delivers an emotionally engaging story. The story treads loudly through soap opera territory, and the characters' storylines intertwine and progress in some absolutely unbelievable ways. The show finds a way of repeatedly dragging the characters into the worst possible situation. But I still applaud Kolditz—I think there're a number of underlying truths here behind the slight historical whitewashing, and the sort of dialogue this miniseries shoots for requires some careful steps. There are lots of things the creative team could have done, but no matter—what they did do was pretty good.
Since this is a World War II miniseries, there's a fair bit of combat. Generation War doesn't give combat as much as a focus as do programs like Band of Brothers or The Pacific, but what's here is really well done. Wilhelm and Friedhelm's unit are stationed on the Eastern Front, which allows for some really horrific set-pieces in Russia. While the miniseries doesn't shy away from showing the graphic aspects of combat, it's not as nightmare-inducing as some other things released in recent years. The program's smaller budget probably forced the production to keep battle scenes from growing beyond squad-on-squad engagements, though I don't think that's a bad thing—the small scale nature of the fighting in Generation War helps keep it focused on the characters involved.
The Music Box Films release of Generation War (Blu-ray) features two discs and comes in a gorgeous-looking tri-fold case. The release features an excellent 1.78:1/1080p widescreen HD transfer. The level of detail is fantastic, and close-ups look especially good. Colors are saturated without looking unnatural, and blacks are rich and inky. The German-language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track sounds great: dialogue is clear, and battle scenes (which sound beefy) use the range of speakers to full effect. For extras, the set includes two trailers for the film; "Master Class Panel," where a number of the folks involved with the project discuss the impact the miniseries had on Germany (20:01); and a nice little booklet that includes brief reflections from production Nico Hofmann, screenwriter Stefan Kolditz, and the essay "Moving Images, Moving Memory" from University of Illinois at Chicago associate professor of Germanic Studies Sara F. Hall.
Whatever qualms people might have with what this miniseries did or should have done, it does exactly what I hoped it would do: makes me care about the characters, empathize with them, and remember them after the credits roll. With that in mind, I think Generation War is a well-made, engaging piece of television that shows how war can make anyone a victim.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Music Box Films
• Master Class
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