A German-French reconciliation film that does not deal directly with war, but with a mining accident at the border. Here, German workers rescue French pals involved in the accident, overcoming all political enmities. Pabst’s film can be seen as a direct continuation of Westfront 1918. Based on an incident that took place in 1906, he transferred the events to the post-war period and did not dub the foreign-language dialogue. For instance, at the end, a Frenchman and a German speak in succession to a group of miners assembled from both sides: “Il n’y a que deux ennemis: le gaz – et la guerre. Je vous le dit: il ne faut jamais oublier ça. On est tous mineurs ensemble! Merci, camarades.” (There are but two enemies: the gas – and war. I say to you: one must never forget that. We are all miners together! Thank you, comrades.) “Kameraden! Was der französische Kamerad gesagt hat, hab ich nicht verstehen können. Aber was er gemeint hat, haben wir alle verstanden. Weil es egal ist, ob Deutscher oder Franzose. Arbeiter sind wir alle. Und Kumpel ist Kumpel. Aber warum halten wir nur zusammen, wenn’s uns dreckig geht? Oder soll’n wir ruhig zuseh’n, bis man uns wieder soweit verhetzt hat, dass wir uns im Krieg gegenseitig totschießen? ” (Comrades! I don’t understand what our French comrade has just said. But we all understood what he meant. It doesn’t matter whether one is German or French. We all are workers. And a pal is pal. But why should we only stick together when the going gets tough? Should we stand back and watch until they have incited us again to kill one another in combat?)
"Comradeship (Kameradschaft) advocates the international solidarity of workers by portraying them as pioneers in a society in which national selfishness, the prime motive for war, is abolished. The German miners, not their supervisors, come up with the idea of the rescue mission. The scene in which they urge the director to agree is all the more revealing, as it illustrates the omnipotence of authoritarian rule in the German coal mines. Throughout the negotiations, which take place in the stairwell of an ornate administration building, the miners remain on the ground floor, while the director speaks to them from the landing above. He stands as if he were on a balcony, and the cameras are positioned in such a way as to heighten his position. Pabst is not content to merely denounce nationalism; he interprets it in a socialist sense."
(Siegfried Kracauer: From Caligari to Hitler, Suhrkamp Publishing House, Frankfurt am Main 1979)
This independent production of an allegorical anti-war film was based on an idea by Leonard Frank. Five soldiers of various nationalities find themselves in a dugout shelter in no man’s land between the fronts: a carpenter from Berlin, a mechanic from Paris, an English officer, a deaf-mute Jewish tailor and a black dancer, who is the only one who can understand all their languages. While war rages around them, they discover that they are only separated by their languages and uniforms, but actually have the same beliefs and feelings. A montage sequence set to the music of Hanns Eisler is reminiscent of a Russian silent film. In it, we see the protagonists going about their everyday lives before going to war. The situation in the dugout corresponds to a chamber or didactic play, in which understanding is reached despite the various languages.
Director of the Film Museum in Munich
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