Tuesday, December 1, 2020


It has been a while since I did a tournament, but I am finally ready for the ninth one.  This time I will be determining the best non-English language combat movie.  Note the word "combat".  In order to compare 16 movies, they have to be similar in plots.  I needed movies that all had land battle scenes.  This means the tournament will not determine the best foreign language war movie because movies like "Waltz with Bashir" and "Grand Illusion" did not fit the criteria.  It was hard to find 16 movies that I could view and that were comparable, but I was able to do it.  I looked forward to the tournament because I was already a fan of foreign war films.  This blog has encouraged me to watch movies with subtitles and although I still think America is the gold standard for war movies, other countries have some excellent offerings.  I particularly enjoy South Korean and Soviet/Russian war movies.  I had actually seen most of the movies before the tournament started.  I used the same categories as my previous combat war tournaments:  plot, acting, cliches, combat, realism, character development, soldier behavior, entertainment value, effects, dialogue, strategy and tactics, and implausibilities.  I used their IMDB ratings for the seeding.  As with all the tournaments, I had no idea which film would win the tournament, although I certainly had my opinion on which was the best film.  The categories sometimes take things in surprising directions.  Here is the line-up:

1. Tae Guk Gi (The Brotherhood of War)

2.  The Bridge

3.  Unknown Soldier 

4.  My Way

5.  Talvisota

6.  Wooden Crosses

7.  Stalingrad

8.  Fortress of War (Brest Fortress)

9.  Front Line

10.  Westfront:  1918

11.  Battle of Neretva

12.  Stalingrad:  Dogs, Do You Want to Live Forever?

13.  9th Company

14.  1944

15.  El Alamein:  The Line of Fire

16.  Panfilov's 28


The Bridge (Die Brucke)  (2) vs.  El Alamein:  The Line of Fire  (15)


“The Bridge” is a 1959 West German film based on a novel.  It is based on an actual event that occurred in the closing days of WWII.  In a town in western Germany that has largely been untouched by the war, seven teenage boys are suddenly called up to join the military and defend a bridge.  The bridge is scheduled to be blown up, so it should be a safe mission.  A veteran noncom is put in charge of these naïve, but enthusiastic, warriors.  Wait, is that the sound of American tanks?  And where is the sergeant?  The plot is well-executed.  The first half establishes the characters of the boys and their home situations.  Each has an interesting back-story.  The second half is the defense of the bridge which is appropriately grim and realistic.  GRADE  =  A (9)

“El Alamein:  The Line of Fire”  is a 2002 Italian film.  It is set in the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942.  A naïve university student named Serra arrives at the front line, which consists of trenches similar to WWI.  He becomes acquainted with the platoon he is assigned to, especially his squad which is led by a veteran Lt.  They find Serra’s enthusiasm laughable and he quickly learns why.  The hardships include the heat, dysentery, critters, lack of food and water, etc.  The plot whittles down the core group, although Serra seems to be miraculously invulnerable.  There are a series of incidents leading up to a big battle and then the movie becomes something of an odyssey.  GRADE  =  B (8)


The acting is not the strength of “The Bridge”, unless you appreciate sincerity.  The boys seem to be making their acting debuts.  The leader of the boys was an acting student.  This works well because it was easy for them to portray the naivete of the characters.  Most of the rest of the cast give the impression of being non-actors.   GRADE  =  C (7)

“El Alamein” is really a three man show.  Paulo Briguglia (Serra), Emilio Solfrizzi (Fiore), and Pierfrancesco Favino (Rizzo) are good as the neophyte, the cynical officer, and the tough guy.  It was Briguglia’s first big role.  Favino is a well-respected international star.  The roles are stereotypical, but the actors make them believable.  You feel empathy for the poor Italians.  GRADE  =  B (8)


“The Bridge” taps into the enthusiastic newbies trope.  And the boys are put under the charge of a grizzled veteran.  His exit breaks ground from movies like “The Big Red One”.  The plot falls comfortably into the suicide mission scenario in the second half and you have the cliché of wondering who will survive.  In a flipping of the script, the boys’ teacher is not spouting propaganda to encourage them to fight for the Fatherland (like in “All Quiet…”).   GRADE  =  B (8)

“El Alamein” leads off with the clicheish arrival of the rookie and his first taste of reality is dead bodies (like in “Platoon”).  Both movies are centered on heterogeneous small units, but this movie is more stereotypes.  It has a similar in that it is a “who will survive?” movie.  Nobody sweats in the blistering heat, like in most desert warfare movies.  GRADE  =  C (7)


In “Die Brucke”, there is no combat until the last act.  But that is a long scene and its worth the wait.  If you can overlook one of the most phony tanks in war movie history, the action is competent.  The skirmish is realistically done and avoids melodrama.  It does lack suspense in that you clearly know the movie is anti-war and has the message that death in the service of a bad cause is particularly tragic.  But at least, you don’t know HOW each of the boys is going to get it.  It’s certainly not graphic, but it is suspenseful and heart-tugging.  GRADE  =  B (8)

For a movie named after a famous battle, “El Alamein” is lacking in combat.  Of course, it is not intended to be reenactment of the battle.  It is a treatment of the effects of a battle on individuals.  The one battle scene takes place at night.  The preparatory bombardment on the Italian position is realistically hellish.  The sound of tanks is followed by an assault that overruns them.  It is average and disappointing.  GRADE  =  C (7)

FINAL SCORE:  The Bridge  32   El Alamein:  The Line of Fire  30


Clearly the better movie won.  “The Bridge” is a special movie.  It won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and nominated for the Academy Award.  It is unique in its plot where “El Alamein” has been done before and better.  Both attempt to depict the effects of war on the young, but “The Bridge” goes all in by using actual teenagers as the main characters.  The seven are distinct individuals and their situations reflect common situations in Germany during the dark closing days of the war.  There are movies that showed the effects on children in Berlin (including soldiers), but seldom do we see boy soldiers in a town.  “El Alamein” is not a bad movie.  It does get a little boring towards the end and the combat does not satisfy, but it is the best movie about the experiences of Italian soldiers in North Africa.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.