Top Ten World Cinema #5: Das Boot
My love affair with world cinema began nearly a decade ago when I watched French hit, Amelie (2001). Previously I had been reluctant to watch any film with subtitles, worried that it would hinder my enjoyment of the film. How wrong was I to be so naive? Since Amelie I have spent more time in the world cinema section at HMV than any other part of the shop and enjoyed a range of films from South America, Africa, Europe and East Asia. Discussing all my favourites would take many blogs but over the next ten days I will share what are currently, for me, the Top Ten World Cinema films. The standard of world cinema is very high with such gems as Ikiru (1952) and Let The Right One In (2008) missing out on the Top Ten. For those of you that haven’t tried world cinema I hope some of these films will be of interest. Those of you that are veterans in this field, I’m sure you won’t agree with all of my choices but I’ve no doubt you’ll appreciate a celebration of what is often an overlooked section in DVD shops.
Das Boot (1981)
I have yet to see a better war film than Wolfgang Petersen’s World War II epic which is told from the perspective of a German U-Boat crew. Based on the novel by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim, this was the first war film I saw where the focus wasn’t on the Americans or British. Interpretations of the Second World War tend to portray the Germans as evil while the Allies are the crusaders fighting for the common good. While German actions in beginning the war and the atrocities they committed, particularly to the Jews, are undoubtedly a dark chapter in history, it is important to look at the common German soldier and remember they were following orders and just because Hitler and the Nazis were evil, that doesn’t necessarily filter down to all of the German army. Personally, I have always been against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I put the blame for those conflicts down to George Bush and Tony Blair and not the soldiers that still fight today who I regard as the salt of the earth for serving their country. Das Boot is an eye-opening depiction of a German U-Boat crew whose initial enthusiasm for their latest venture in the Atlantic Ocean is soon changed irrevocably by the many ordeals they have to face.
Das Boot focuses on the crew of U-96, one of few remaining German U-Boats left to patrol the Atlantic Ocean and sink convoy vessels while evading Destroyers, battleships equipped with ASDIC that can detect the presence of U-Boats beneath the ocean and drop depth charges onto them! Das Boot is particularly tense when the U-96 plays a psychological game with a Destroyer. Spotting one on the horizon the Captain (Jurgen Prochnow) proceeds to try and take out the menacing battleship but loses track of it through his periscope in the stormy seas. Searching round frantically for the vessel, the Captain only relocates the Destroyer when it is bearing down on them! The idea that a Destroyer’s depth charges can cripple the U-96 meaning certain death for the crew is a terrifying prospect throughout and the film’s tagline rings true of the precarious duty of these men: “Hitler sent out 40,000 men aboard German U-Boats during World War 2. Less than 10,000 returned.”
Das Boot isn’t just about fighting, the film’s primary focus is on the crew and how they have to combat everything from claustrophobia to monotony while they await action in the Atlantic Ocean. Lt Werner (Herbert Gronemeyer) joins the U-96 crew as a war correspondent, another of the crew has a pregnant girlfriend waiting for him in France, while Chief Engineer (Klaus Wennemann) longs to be with his family, particularly his ill wife. The U-96 crew also face the dark side of war when they take out a trio of convoy ships and, after diving to evade a Destroyer, emerge from the ocean hours later to find one ship still afloat and burning with many of its crew still on board and left to their deaths by their own men. The Captain is horrified the men have not been rescued but has to reluctantly retreat when the survivors start swimming towards the U-Boat, the Germans bound by orders not to take prisoners!
Das Boot is a long film regardless of which version you watch and requires a lot of commitment for the intense journey of the U-96 crew. After convoy attacks, brushes with Destroyers and boredom, the crew is ready for home but has orders to head into the Mediterranean by negotiating the heavily guarded Straits of Gibraltar. After suffering heavy damage in an attack, the U-96 is left resting on the seabed and the men face a desperate struggle for survival. Das Boot has this crew pull through every difficult encounter they face but on their return to La Rochelle, France at the end there is a devastating twist waiting for them. Though set at the end of 1941 Das Boot reflects a time when the tide of the Second World War was already turning against Germany.
Top Ten so far:-
5) Das Boot