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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Das Boot: The war movie

Das Boot is a movie made on a novel of the same name, written by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. The movie, released in 1981, is supposed to be an authentically correct reproduction of the novel, but even then the author found faults in the portrayal of the characters, finding a great deal of over-acting; he in fact found the treatment by the director (Wolfgang Petersen) to have been over-done resulting in the movie being reduced to a cliche. However, this was not an opinion shared by others, and the movie is widely acclaimed to be one of the best German movies ever made (it was certainly one of the most expensive ones made, costing around 32 million DM). In addition, the song 'Das Boot' became an international hit.
Just as an aside, this blog is about English language films, and yet this movie takes a German movie. Well, this movie is an incredibly well recognized movie, and has won tremendous acclaim. The movie was released in the United States in 1982, and was nominated for 6 Academy awards (Cinematography, Directing, Film Editing, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, and Writing), however, this was also the year of Gandhi and ET, and they swept most of the awards. Das Boot did not win any of the awards; no matter, most people who see the movie can't fail to be impressed by this anti-war movie.

Das Boot the movie (1991)

This is an anti-war movie, a bit less strongly than the novel, but anti-war none the less. And it does this by depicting the reality of war from the eyes of the soldiers taking part in the war, by de-glamorising the romance of war, and showing the reality (something similar to how 'All Quiet on the Western Front' was another great anti-war movie from another war). The movie features a single submarine U-96 (also called a U-boat). The movie is based on a real life story, that of the crew of a U-boat during the second world war commanded by Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock (one of the aces of the German side).
The movie is shown from the perspective of the Lt. Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer), the assigned war correspondent on the U-96. The mission of most of the German U-boats in the second World War was to attack the supply convoys landing supplies to the Allied lines, and this was also hazardous since they were hunted and attacked by both naval aircraft and destroyers. Now a submarine is a cramped quarter, with little facilities for recreation, fresh air, and even simple things such as taking a bath. In such an environment, especially when contact with the enemy may not happen for long or when severe storm can cause the submarine to be tossed around, morale can suffer greatly. In this case, these are dedicated and enthusiastic naval personnel, but not Nazi supporters except for the first weapons officer.
These men go through a series of adventures, but the most common feeling is that of the relentless feeling of being crammed together in a small tube with 40 men (and the director makes the audience share the same feeling, with most of the movie being shot to appear as if inside a submarine). Eventually they are directed to a convoy, but don't get a clear shot, instead they are attacked by depth charges. And then they land into a massive 23 day long storm that saps their energy and enthusiasm. Then they are spotted again, and have to deep dive, causing a mental breakdown in one of the men, and the submarine almost implodes. Then they attack a tanker, but when the surviving British merchant sailors swim towards them, they are forced to back away due to orders and not take any prisoners.
And they are diverted to the Straits of Gibraltar, a very dangerous passage for a submarine since there is a very good chance of detection and attack. Before going there, they get supplies from a German ship in Spain, whose officers have not seen war and are gung-ho about the war. Inspite of their best efforts when passing through the Straits, they are detected and attacked; and soon the boat starts sinking beyond the maximum safe level of 200 meters, and bolts start going off under the pressure; the crew can hear the hull groaning, a really bad sign for the crew. Somehow, with some luck and maximum conservation of oxygen, they are able to make it up again.
They return to their home base of La Rochelle on Christmas Eve, a group of tattered and weary men, less gung-ho about the war than when they had left. And soon British aircraft start bombing the place, killing some members of the crew and finally sinking the U-96.

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