UNDER THE BRIDGES (UNTER DEN BRUCKEN)
(director/writer: Helmut Käutner; screenwriters: Leo de Laforgue/Walter Ulbrich; cinematographer: Igor Oberberg; editor: Wolfgang Wehrum; music: Bernhard Eichhorn; cast: Hannelore Schroth (Anna Altmann), Carl Raddatz (Hendrik Feldkamp), Gustav Knuth (Willi), Helmuth Helsig (Muhlke – Café owner), Ursula Grabley (Vera, a waitress); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walter Ulbrich; Transit Film (PAL DVD); 1946-Germany-in German with English subtitles)
“Käutner has been fairly compared to Max Ophüls.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The apolitical Nazi-era filmmaker Helmut Käutner (“The Devil’s General”/”The Captain from Köpenick“/”The Fire Tongue Bowl“) is an overlooked talent who has been forgotten in cinema lore but is someone who deserves to be remembered for his excellent body of work. Käutner has been fairly compared to Max Ophüls, and in this wonderfully uplifting slice-of-life film, shot in the final months of World War II but giving no signs of a war still taking place in Berlin, favorably reminds me of Jean Vigo’s dreamy masterpiece of L’Atalante (1934).It’s told with the same passion for outsiders who are trying to find the right mate to love and how cruel the world can seem if love for another or for work cannot be found.The handsome screenplay is by Käutner, Leo de Laforgue and Walter Ulbrich.The slow moving film is filled with humanistic comedy moments, sympathy for those who want to be married but have no luck and tender romantic moments that are slowly cooked like a goose to bring out its best taste.
For the last 11 yearsHendrik (Carl Raddatz) and Willi (Gustav Knuth) are partners in an old-fashioned motor-less barge that follows the tug-line in the rivers of Germany. Both men are hard workers who aspire to save up to get a diesel motor for their barge, and even though they love their boat, seemingly more than anything else, they are both lonely for a lady companion. In Potsdam, under the Glienicker Bridge, an attractive young woman seems to be a jumper but as it turns out she only throws a ten mark note into the water. The bargees retrieve her note and invite her to spend the night in their barge named the Liesolette. They learn her name is Anna Altmann (Hannelore Schroth) and that she recently moved to Berlin from rural Silesia, and recently worked as a model for an artist in Potsdam. The boatmen take the melancholy twenty-something back to Berlin, but do not find out what made her so miserable. Since both have fallen for her, they try wooing her in Berlin and a testy romantic triangle develops.
In due time we learn more about the mysterious Anna and her strange actions on the bridge that night, and we see through her eyes, over a period of several months, why she has chosen the boatman she will marry and live with on the barge.
One very effective scene is dedicated to covering the noises at sea that might disturb a landlubber like Anna when retiring for bed on a boat, such as croaking frogs and the wind blowing through the reeds.
The hypnotic photography intensely tunes in to the river locations and its charming serenity. It also captures the open expressions on the naive lonely bargees, who think they have the perfect life but know in their hearts they are missing something such as the love of a good woman. In its comic moments, it shows how the unsophisticated boatmen can appreciate someone having a respectful job as a cook but not working at a job taking off their clothes to be a model for an artist. It’s that kind of good-natured film that is lyrically removed from the prosaic tragedies of the current day war, that tugs at your heart in sympathy with the outsiders and their simple ways of existence.
REVIEWED ON 4/21/2012 GRADE: A-