Thursday, April 9, 2020

WAR SHORT: Jugend (2018)

                        Shout out to Larry Brown for recommending this war short for the Watchalong.  It is a 19 minute film set in WWII.  The director is Alessandro Pepe, who also directed “My Honor WAS Loyalty”.

                        Johannes is a member of the Hitler Youth who is with a squad somewhere in France.  He wears glasses, so we know he is an intellectual who does not belong there.  He’s a rookie trying to fit in.  Flashbacks intercut with his interactions with his squad.  They give the back-story to his romance with a German girl named Klara.  She promised to write, but he has not heard from her in months.  Did she meet another guy?  Some of his friends suggest that would be par for the course.  He can’t imagine anything worse than that.  But there is.  The film closes with a nicely done small combat scene as the Canadians attack the Germans.

                        I keep getting surprised at the quality of some of these war movie shorts.  Pepe has a future in war films.  The cinematography includes some effective hand-held camera work which includes the cameraman crawling with Johannes.  The wound effects in the skirmish are impressive for a low budget film.  (I don’t have to tell you that every wound is mortal.)  The sound effects match.  The set, a trench on the edge of some woods, is authentic.  The soldier banter does not distract, even with the subtitles (which match the original German well).  The young men have the braggadocio of youth thrust into manhood.  They talk of sex and food.  They can be brutal with each other.  Every squad has an ass hole.  It could easily be an American squad.  You will learn that German slang for a bad-ass is “bear biter”. 

                        Pepe lays his themes out well.  He uses trees as a metaphor for war.  Johannes likes to draw them.  He reminds of Paul Baumer with his birds in “All Quiet…” (1979).  Johannes found them easy to draw before he joined the army, but in France it is difficult.  The home front scenes are in dazzling light, the trench is in a dark forest.  But both exteriors have the sound of birds in the background.  The best line is when Paul writes:  “Nature in Normandy is sarcastically happy.”

                        The movie does not bludgeon you with its anti-war message.  It leaves it unclear what happened with Klara until the end, but there are hints that preview the revelation.  This results in a poignant conclusion that might induce a few tears.  We recently remembered the anniversary of the bombing of Dresden.  I read people’s thoughts on it, which included a majority arguing it was justified.  This movie might make them think again.


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