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This three-part made-for TV drama covers the paths of five German friends in the later days of World War II. A mixed bunch of professions (from soldier to showgirl) and ethnicity (one of them is Jewish), they believe nothing can tear their friendship apart, until they are separated by the course of their respective lives, and that’s enough to do away with that illusion. We follow their respective fates, wondering whether they will keep their promise and reunite after the war is over.

The show tries a couple of things at the same time: It tries to be more honest about the cruelties of war than the odd mainstream TV drama would be (going “Private Ryan” / “Band of Brothers”, but from a German perspective). I think it also seeks to show that hardly anybody was completely on the side of “good” or “evil” during the Nazi regime and the war. It also takes an unusually wide sweep at the range of directions from which you could expect harm: army, SS, collaborators, benefactors, turn-cloaks  rebels, Germans, Jews, Polish, Ukrainians  Russians … there is not a single group around that would not have blood on their hands one way or the other, by looking away, by snitching, by staying silent, by trying to be correct, by being cowards and by trying to be heroes. War time gets you all, the show seems to say, whatever your intentions were. The production got quite a bit of heat from Poland for showing the Polish partisan fighters being basically a bunch of anti-Semitic rogues. Whether this criticism is justified or not I can’t judge – they are certainly depicted as not very nice people, despite fighting Nazis Inglorious-Basterds-style.

That is a bit of an odd message, if you project it it could be read as the whole society as somehow being victim of circumstances, unable to escape their personal doom. I try to understand where that specific twist of the script comes from: if you make mainstream TV, or mainstream cinema, all commercial logic screams for identifiable heroes that the audience can crave for. Only yesterday I read about the rewrites for the “World War Z” film, the parallel seems obvious: You don’t want to have a hero who is “just” a killer (even “just a killer of Nazis / Zombies”), and if you have heroes who need to be “also” killers (because otherwise there would be no need to include them in this film), at least you need to provide them with enough morale stature and background to make them suffer from their choices. And that means you need to also give them the benefit of being victims.

Without doubt, this aspect his something going for it, without doubt there have been plenty of Europeans falling into this overlapping zone of “compromised by circumstances”, opening interesting points for debate. I do not mind focusing the film on this group as much as others did in their sometimes heated discussion about the moral position of the film.

What I do mind (and what seems to get often neglected over the political and moral discussions) is that “Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter” is not a good film. Its script is too straightforward and predictable to be thrilling, the dialogues are often wooden beyond belief (mostly representing more the cliches of what Germans and Nazis in particular are supposed to sound like rather than finding a natural tone), and the acting … my theory is confirmed that the great strength of US TV production is the abundance of great talent to choose from (authors, actors, directors, maybe most importantly). Germany does not have that benefit. There may be a dozen actors who would be able to seriously represent the characters depicted here, but sadly most of them are not in the film, and there are many more characters to play than a dozen… There are people who can make fantastic TV in Germany, but these are pushed to the sidelines of the mainstream. Other than in the new Scandinavian TV renaissance, German TV seeks to be more conservative about what it wants to bring on the little screen.

In consequence, I was sometimes bored, occasionally annoyed. Especially as it is so obviously inspired by ambitious TV dramas such as Band of Brothers (in particular in terms of structural design) I found it impossible to excuse it for its flaws.

Wikipedia entry (with plenty of plot spoilers): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unsere_M%C3%BCtter,_unsere_V%C3%A4ter

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