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STUDIO: Koch Vision
RATED: NR [TV]
RUNNING TIME: 180 Minutes
• Making of Documentary
• War footage / Newsreels
It’s a dramatized account of the third most controversial bombing in World War II history.
Felicitas Wohl, John Light, Benjamin Sadler, Heiner Lauterbach
Dresden, a German made-for-television miniseries, depicts the unlikely romantic affair between Robert Newman (John Light), an English bomber pilot, and Anna Mauth (Felicitas Wohl), a German Nurse, that develops in the few fragile days before the Allied bombing of Dresden. After an unsuccessful bombing raid, Robert is forced to parachute from his plane into unfriendly German territory, where he’s shot and nearly killed by angry townspeople. Escaping and taking refuge in a hospital stairwell, he’s surreptitiously cared for by Anna, who’s unaware of Robert’s identity as an enemy combatant.
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While Anna battles an uncertain future with a cold and bitter fiancé, Robert regains his strength, and the two find themselves drawn together. They attempt to keep both their relationship and Robert’s identity a secret, but family and wartime loyalties intervene. Meanwhile, allied bombers plan to drop 3,900 tons of explosives on their heads.
In 1945, Allied bombers razed over 13 square miles of the German city of Dresden. The death toll was estimated at approximately 30,000. If you’re familiar with either World War II or Kurt Vonnegut, you should at least be aware of the utter completeness of the devastation. No matter how you feel about retribution and wartime justice, the numbers are still pretty staggering, especially since Dresden was considered “The Florence of the Elbe,” as well as a thriving cultural landmark.
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Dresden is a solidly built, beautifully produced three-hour dramatization of the the bombing, and while the characters and plot are often overly obvious and clichéd, it’s a fairly moving and often fascinating look at the horrors wrought by war. It’s a German film, which makes its perspective even more interesting, since many of the featured Nazi characters are portrayed as real, emoting (albeit horribly flawed) humans, rather than shrieking cannon fodder for allied soldiers. Dresden’s stance doesn’t let you empathize too much with the bad guys, as Anna and Robert spend much of the last act subverting the Nazi cause, but it’s still interesting to see the flip side of the coin.
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Dresden borrows pages from the playbook of other notable films, including the disaster-film-template-to-end-all-disaster-film-templates, Cameron’s Titanic. Both feature a maligned, scrappy hero who falls in love with a betrothed aristocrat, and both feature a dramatic escape from an unimaginable disaster. It’s a pity, since the film would have worked better and been more thought provoking had the leads been more realistic and less like cookie-cutter ideals. The first disc is entirely predictable, as once Robert parachutes from the sky, it’s pretty much telegraphed that he’s going to bump into the mouse-y, kind hearted Anna, and that they’ll attempt a dramatic escape from the city. It’s for this reason that the first half of Dresden suffers, since it’s such a tritely manufactured melodrama. There are absolutely no surprises in the first two hours of the film, although it’s still a watchable experience, since Light and Mohl do a great job with what they’re given.
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Luckily, the performances are wonderful across the board. Anna’s loving yet morphine-stealing father (played by the great Heiner Lauterbach) provides some interesting twists and turns along the way, as does her jingoistic, naive sister (Susanne Bormann).
Much of Dresden‘s action in its first half is interspersed with real footage of early Dresden bombing attacks, which is an approach that was jarring and ineffective. Fortunately, it was used in moderation, but I found that it yanked me right out of the film.
Dresden‘s slow, obvious beginning is redeemed by its great second half, which features some excellent effects work, thrilling drama, and even some late-film surprises that work very well. There’s a scene reminiscent of the finale to Darabont’s The Mist [swipe to spoil] where we witness a group of Germans suffocating in a cellar as a soldier reluctantly kills them one by one to end their misery. The bombing attack is brutal, violent, and unexpectedly gory. [/end spoil] I dare you not to flinch as a daughter runs over to her mother’s corpse and clutches it, only to have the burnt flesh beneath her dress crumble into ash.
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Dresden isn’t a polemic, which is a very good thing. It doesn’t set out to condemn the Allied bombing, but it certainly doesn’t validate it, either. It poses no new questions about the nature of war, and is, by all accounts, a very standard melodrama, but it’s a very good standard melodrama. I can easily recommend this title as a rental for World War II buffs, as it probably won’t disappoint.
There are a few interesting extras, such as a group of war propaganda films, as well as a fairly standard making-of dealy.
The audio is vanilla Dolby 2/0, and the box art will make you want to hate your life. Floating heads? The only time I want to see a German floating head is if they have a Richard Wagner balloon at the Macy’s parade. Nein!
7.0 out of 10