A preeminent figure of the New German Cinema, Bernhard Wicki crafted this his film, The Bridge (Die Brücke) in 1959, one of the first antiwar films to come out of postwar Germany and was also the first postwar German film to gain wide international screenings; it would have an immense effect on the New German Cinema movement.
The story follows a group of teenaged boys in a small town far from the front lines of the war in the waning days of World War II as American and allied forces are beginning to press farther into the German interior. Still naïve about war and patriotism, the youngsters are ready, willing, eager even for their draft papers to arrive so they can prove their allegiance to their country, and their manhood.
The Bridge humanizes the teens by following their daily routines at school, in gym class, flirting with girls, getting into trouble with the local policeman, before the fateful and powerful finale when the boys, still young, sixteen years old, are drafted and ordered to report for duty. It is then that they finally face the realities of war as the Americans bare down on their troop, quickly forced into a chaotic battle to defend a crucial bridge to stop the allied forces from invading their town.
Inventively filmed, powerfully acted, sympathetic to the plight of the youths, but never to the cause of war (the children’s schoolteacher is constantly trying to impart to them the ill effects of war and that it must eventually come to an end), The Bridge makes a strong statement about lost youth and the futility of war.
The Bridge arrives on Blu-ray in a new 2K digital restoration from the Criterion Collection encoded in AVC/MPEG-4 1080p/24. Given its vintage, the film looks stellar after an opening credit sequence that gives pause with some heavy grain and source damage. It then settles in to what is mostly a very clean and detailed presentation, with only some minor instances of scratches and tramlines, very thinly layered grain and lots of texture. For the most part, grain looks natural, but in some frames the grain does look a little artificial, like there is some video noise. Still, this is a reference quality catalogue release from the people at Criterion.
The original German monaural mix is provided in LPCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit). It is somewhat boxy and gets a little harsh during the finale when the battle sequences begin, but otherwise dialogue is clear and hiss, pops, and other artifacts are minimal.
- Gregor Dorfmeister (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:22:41)– The Bridge was adapted from Gregor Dorfmeister’s first novel, published in 1958. In this interview, conducted by the Criterion Collection in March 2015, Dorfmeister discusses the autobiographical nature of the story and the enduring impact of both the novel anf the film over the years.
- Bernhard Wicki (1.33:1; SD-upscaled 1080i/60; 00:14:36)– In this excerpt from a 1989 episode of he German television show Das Sonntagsgespräch (Sunday Talk), director Bernhard Wicki discusses the making of The Bridge.
- Volker Schlöndorff (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:09:52) – In this interview, conducted by the Criterion Collection in February 2015, director Volker Schlöndorff discusses The Bridge, focusing on its impact on younger Germans and the affection his generation of filmmakers – collectively known as the New German Cinema – had for director Bernhard Wicki.
- Against the Grain: The Film Legend of Bernhard Wicki (1.78:1; SD-upscaled 1080i/60; 00:09:04) – This excerpt from the 2007 documentary, Against the Grain: The Film Legend of Bernhard Wicki, a film about the director by his widow, Elisabeth Wicki-Endriss, covers The Bridge and features behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot.
- Essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty
The Definitive Word
Criterion Collection offers up an excellent rendition of the early New German Cinema antiwar classic The Bridge from Bernhard Wicki on Blu-ray. It’s a powerful film that still holds up and should come as a welcome addition to any cinephile.
Additional Screen Captures