Under the Bridges is another fantastic film from German director Helmut Kautner. The plot of the film centers on a barge on the waterways of Germany in some unidentified time and the relationship between the two owners of the boat. This relationship becomes strained, and develops into a classic love triangle, when a woman comes on board and stays with them for a short time. As is usual of Kautner's films the characters are highly sympathetic and their relationships very realistic and well thought out. Almost anyone can identify with at least one of these archetypal main characters, whether it is the "Damsel in Distress" Anna, the "Loner with a Heart of Gold" Hendrick, or the "Nice Guy" Willy.
The most interesting factor in this film though is one that happens off screen. Filmed in 1945, and often interrupted by overhead allied bombers, this was one of the final films to pass the censors of the Third Reich in March 1945, the month before the suicide of Adolf Hitler and the soon following German surrender. Despite the pervasiveness of the looming military and political disaster that was apparent in Germany at the time the present is entirely absent from the film. The plot takes place in some sort of time out of time that is familiar and identifiable as some time in 20th century Germany, but this is only a vague placement. The timeless quality so embraced is indicative of Kautner's desire to remain apolitical during the war and to remain simply a filmmaker. The blissful ignorance of the film's contemporary political reality gives the film a very escapist quality, a very probable goal of Kautner's.
This film taken in its historical context has a very important message. It seems to largely be saying that no matter what happens on the world stage we are all still human and that no matter what befalls us we continue to survive, thrive, live, and love. This attitude towards human life is something that gives Kautner's films their human quality; that certain feeling that comes through them which seems to say "Despite all that happens, we must maintain hope."
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