MOVIE REVIEW | ***FOREIGN MOVIE WEEKEND*** Das Boot (1981)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “I was gripped by every single altercation, every little character moment, every instance of nail biting tension as the boat sinks deeper, or the enemy destroyers get closer.”

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The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again.   But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.

“Hail and victory and sink ’em all!”

At this stage, I must have seen World War II depicted in close to a hundred different movies and TV shows.  And until now, all but one had been clearly told from the allied perspective.  And they almost always come down to the Americana and British as the goodies and the Germans and Japanese as the baddies.  Even with Downfall, the ‘all but one’ referred to earlier, all about Germans, told from a German perspective, you still get the comfortable familiarity of Hitler being the ultimate evil.  But now I have a whole new view of World War II from a German angle with Das Boot.

Lt. Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer) boards U-96, a German submarine, as a war correspondent.  Early on, he acts as the audience surrogate.  As the outsider, he can react to the extreme conditions these sailors seem to have somehow grown accustomed to.  None more so than the U-boat’s captain, played by Jürgen Prochnow.

Das Boot follows U-96 through a series of obstacles across months and months at sea.  As the times passes, the crew members’ frustrations grow as much their beards.  The obstacles range from boredom, to avoiding detection, to out and out naval battles.  Sometimes they’re the hunter, sometimes they’re the hunted.  Even after all that, the climax manages to top everything when the real enemy is the sea itself.

Beyond claustrophobic, a solid 95% takes place in the sub, under water where the already intrusive walls seem to close in even more every time they face a threat.  As I was amazed by how the actors managed to race from one end of the ship to the other, zipping through narrow hatches, I realised there’s a cameraman somehow doing all of that too.  The choreography between the actors and camera, and what they managed to capture in these tiny spaces, really is amazing.

Getting back to the German perspective of Das Boot, it really does show how effective great story telling can be.  Because even though the characters I got to know and sympathise with were part of the Axis, I actually found myself hoping for their victory in their skirmishes with the Allies.
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The version I saw was director Wolfgang Petersen’s 3.5 hour cut, and even at that length, it never dragged.  The original theatrical release in 1981 was about an hour shorter and I can’t imagine it’s any better at that trimmed down length.  I was gripped by every single altercation, every little character moment, every instance of nail biting tension as the boat sinks deeper, or the enemy destroyers get closer.  I don’t want see a version of this movie with a single second of any of that taken out.

And here’s a bit of weird trivia.  After making Das Boot, Wolfang Petersen’s next move was The NeverEnding Story.  Now that is some crazy shit right there.

(Review originally posted Nov 22, 2013)

Das Boot
Directed By – Wolfgang Petersen
Written By – Wolfgang Petersen, Lothar G. Buchheim

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about Das Boot?
Roger Ebert
Empire Online
The Cinephile Fix

 

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