Celebrating Great Films

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Das Boot

#62 at time of writing.

This is a fantastically involving and claustrophobic film about a German U-boat crew during World War II. Their months at sea are represented as seemingly endless tedium and frustration while they wallow in their own filth, punctuated by moments of sheer panic. It comes across as an exhausting and demoralising existence. You end up rooting for the well-drawn characters - or at least deeply pitying them. Yes, they are Nazis (albeit not the most ardent of Nazis), but in this film they are lonely and suffering human beings first.

The camerawork is impressive, effectively conveying the close, sweaty conditions, and peppered with a mixture of technically challenging and occasionally beautiful shots.

Most of the filming was done over the course of a year, with scenes filmed in sequence to ensure natural growth of beards and hair, increasing skin pallor and signs of strain on the actors, who were forbidden to go out in sunlight for the duration of the long shoot.

One of the actors genuinely injured himself falling off the bridge - the moment is captured in the final film as an unscripted scene in which one of the actors shouts "Mann über Bord!"

Its high production cost (about $18.5 million) ranks it among the most expensive films in the history of German cinema. In 1981, when it was released, it was the second most expensive after Metropolis. It was worth every pfennig.

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