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'Generation War' review: Engrossing, if simplistic

Katharina Schuttler as Greta, Volker Bruch as Wilhelm,

Katharina Schuttler as Greta, Volker Bruch as Wilhelm, Miriam Stein as Charlotte, Tom Schilling as Friedhelm, and Ludwig Trepte as Viktor in Phillip Kadelbach's "Generation War" (2013), directed by Philipp Kadelbach. The movie is about five young German friends' adventure under Hitler's regime. Credit: Music Box Films

A three-part German miniseries of 90-minute segments now gerrymandered into two rather expansive chapters, "Generation War" (original title: "Our Mothers, Our Fathers") is certainly entertaining, possibly art, not always convincing but most assuredly a soap. A group of German friends in 1941 embark on their individual destinies, vowing with the eternal optimism of youth to reunite a year later. Amid their wanderings and woes, they are meant to represent all the experiences of their generation, blessed with a very generous benefit of the doubt.

Director Philipp Kadelbach's production was a huge TV hit in Germany and one can see why. Ideological crimes are forced on our heroes -- in Poland, where the principal Jewish character, Viktor (Ludwig Trepte), ends up, anti-Semitism seems part of the DNA. Other kinds of lapses are the characters' own: Greta (Katharina Schuttler), an aspiring chanteuse, takes up with an SS officer to advance her career; Wilhelm (Volker Bruch), the idealistic narrator of the story, deserts from the Wehrmacht, although perhaps for good reason; Charlotte (Miriam Stein), who is in love with Wilhelm, becomes a nurse but can barely stomach the carnage. She also has a crisis of conscience over whether to turn a Jewish doctor in to the authorities, but her conflict is more about allegiance to a nation, rather than a reich. So it goes among the generation of "War."

The convenient way with which our characters keep intersecting each other, in a plotline that continues until 1945, is implausible, bordering on fantastic. But the action sequences are remarkably visual/visceral and even viewers who take exception to some of the moral modifications to the history involved are likely to find the melodrama as hard to resist as the Red Army's march to Berlin.

(The Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington will show the two parts back-to-back for a single admission, with passes available to those who would like to see Part II at a different time.)

PLOT Five friends in Germany go their separate ways in 1941, and end up experiencing all that war has to offer. Unrated.

CAST Volker Bruch, Tom Schilling, Katharina Schuttler, Miriam Stein.

LENGTH Part I, 2:11; Part II, 2:28

BOTTOM LINE Entertaining and engrossing, if rather simplistic. (In German with English subtitles.)


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