In 1941 Germany, Wilhelm (Volker Bruch) and his younger brother, Friedhelm (Tom Schilling), prepare to be sent off for combat in Russia during World War II. Wilhelm has a girlfriend, Charlotte (Miriam Stein), a Red Cross nurse, whom he's in love with. Greta (Katherina Schüttler), a singer who idolizes Marlene Dietrich, has an illegal romance with a Jewish man, Viktor (Ludwig Trepte). He hides among the Polish Resistance. Each of these five individuals are friends with one another and remain friends throughout the war.
When it comes to Generation War's production design, i.e lighting, sound effects, cinematography, musical score and set/costume designs, everything about makes it seem like a captivating epic. Even the actions scenes are quite powerful and intense; not as shocking/horrifying as some of the great war films like Saving Private Ryan, but keep in mind that this film was a 3-part mini-series on German television. Kudos for director Philipp Kadelbach for moving the pace along at just the right speed without scenes that last too long.
What makes the film fall short of being an a truly captivating war epic? The blame for that systemic problem lies in the stilted screenplay by Stefan Kolditz which essentially sucks the life and plausibility out of the film. Too many coincidences pile up on top of each other thereby diminishing the plot's overall momentum. You'd think that given that the total running time is 4.5 hours, at least some of the characters would come to life and be memorable, but they don't really get the chance to because of the lackluster screenplay. It's also no help that the heavy subject matter doesn't have enough comic relief to provide much-needed levity. Normally, when a screenplay feels contrived, the actors compensate for those deficiencies, but, given that the performances here range from solid to mediocre, the actors fail to rise above the material. Please note that Film Forum is wisely showing Generation War in two parts with a single-admission; Part I is 131 minutes and Part II is 148 minutes. If you don't want to see Part II right after Part I, you can ask for a voucher to return to see it at a later time.