Wednesday, April 27, 2016


TCM's three-week look at German cinema concludes this week, with among others, the interesting movie Kameradschaft, early tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM.

G.W. Pabst directed this one with a cast of actors who, I think, wouldn't be much recognized in America. I certainly don't recognize any of the names, but that of course doesn't mean much. The men here are miners, working when they can in a mine not far from Germany's border with France. Or at least, that's where half the men work. The other half of the male characters are French, working in the French mine that's just on the other side of the border. Of course, the French mine owners don't care for the German workers, what with just having fought a war with them a decade earlier. The German owners, likewise, don't care much for the French miners. The border is so strong that it goes underground, through the mine where all of these people work, the French and Germans decidedly not being side by side.

Anyhow, the French mining engineers have a problem. They keep having flames and embers smoldering, so they've decided to deal with it by walling those areas off, and letting the lack of oxygen burn the fires out. Or, at least, that's the plan. The way the engineers are told just to wall places off gives some obvious foreshadowing even if you don't already know the plot, that something is going to go wrong. And, of course, soon enough, something does go dramatically wrong, as there's a fire on the French side of the mine. As the French rescue crews go down the mine to try to rescue their workers, the German mine owners don't much care. Let them deal with it; it's their problem. Some of the German miners, however, have a different view. They should side with their fellow workers, rather than with their nationality. They decide under their own initiative to take the German rescue equipment and go down the French side of the mine themselves to help in the rescue effort.

It's not all easy, of course, what with the language barrier, and the Germans not knowing the French side of the mine, and the families of the French workers protesting at the entry gates, and even one old guy going down the mine himself to try to find his grandson. But this is where the movie shines. The scenes in the mines are compellingly claustrophobic, and a fair sight better than the stuff that goes on above ground. The aboveground stuff isn't bad, although there are some conventional scenes of the distraught girlfriend or the distraught mother; it's just that the underground stuff is so good.

The movie has an ultimate message against the nationalism that was keeping France and Germany apart and presumably threatening peace. This of course was to happen in a few short years when the Nazis came to power, so whatever mesage the movie was trying to send was fairly short-lived. Politics aside, Kameradschaft is a visually compelling movie.

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