(director: G. W. Pabst; screenwriters: Ladislaus Vajda/Karl Otten/Peter Martin Lampel; cinematographers: Fritz Arno Wagner/Robert Baberske; editors: Hans Oser/Marc Sorkin; music: G. von Rigelius; cast: Alexander Granach (Kaspers), Fritz Kampers (Wilderer), Daniel Mendaille (Jean Leclerc), Ernst Busch (Wittkopp), Elisabeth Wendt (his Wife), Gustav Puttjer (Kaplan), Oskar Hocker (Obersteiger), Helena Manson (Albert’s Wife), Andree Ducret (Francoise Leclerc), Alex Bernard (Grandfather), Pierre Louis (Georges, his Grandson), Georges Tourreil (Engineer Vidal), Marcel Lesieur (Albert), Marguerite Debois (Jean’s Mother), Fritz Wendhausen (German Mine Director), Max Holsboer (German Engineer); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Seymour Nebenzal; Janus; 1931-Germany/France-in German wirh English subtitles)

“Pabst offers the hopeful message of international brotherhood that goes beyond borders and makes the tragedy into a parable on world peace.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

German director G.W. Pabst (“L’Atlantide”/”The Threepenny Opera”/”Pandora’s Box”/”Diary of a Lost Girl”) loosely based his social realism drama on the 1906 Courrieres mining disaster in northern France. It resulted in 1,060 deaths even though German miners from the Westphalia region came to France to assist in the rescue effort and prevented an even worst catastrophe. Pabst reworks and updates the disaster to an old coal-mine on the French-German border (in the Lorraine region) on the aftermath of World War I that has been split between the two countries because of the war. It tells of a disaster in the French wing of the mine as a fire breaks out due to a gas explosion which causes the tunnel to collapse and of the German miners (three of whom dig their way through a long-abandoned underground tunnel) who risk their lives to go to the rescue of their fellow workers. The mine owners have resisted the rescue effort, as they want to maintain the nationalistic divides. The German rescuers, on the other hand, when asked why they’re willing to rescue the French who’d forced their country into bankruptcy after the war, reply that “Miners are miners.” Pabst offers the hopeful message of international brotherhood that goes beyond borders and makes the tragedy into a parable on world peace. The French victims are all rescued and there’s a celebration about friendship between the two rival countries. But as they’re partying with grand speeches, pessimism once again sets in as the border police as ordered by the mine owners seal off the old passageway and return the strict borders just as before (it’s as if nothing has changed).

Kameradschaft (Comradeship) was a French-German co-production; it was financed by Gaumont (French) and Nero-Film (German). It’s a strong follow-up to Pabst’s previous anti-war picture Westfront 1918. Pabst yearns for the two countries to overcome their natural mistrust and makes the film as a plea for peace. Many consider this film the high point of German socialist film-making of the period. But with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in 1932, the film after receiving honors for its technical and artistic achievements was either quickly forgotten by the world, disparaged for being naive or completely ignored in Germany or criticized for being a fairy tale. Pabst returned to Germany in 1933 from abroad, in France and the States, and remained there to collaborate with the Nazis on two films. After the war he made The Trial, a film that railed against anti-Semitism. He won the 1948 Venice Film Festival award for Best Director.