The Spanish Civil War in the year 1936. Five brigadiers are singled out to stay behind in the Spanish Sierras and fend off the fascist enemy while the rest of the troops recede. They are ... See full summary »
The Spanish Civil War in the year 1936. Five brigadiers are singled out to stay behind in the Spanish Sierras and fend off the fascist enemy while the rest of the troops recede. They are supposed to rendezvous with a radio operator, but when they get to the meeting point there is nobody there. In search for the missing man, Kommissar Wittig is shot. Before his death he hands over a piece of paper with an important message which the remaining men have to transport across enemy lines. The paper is torn into five pieces and each piece is hidden in a cartridge. An odyssey across the mountain desert begins - with constant fear of enemy fire and dehydration. Written by
In order to play the scenes where his character Wasja is close to dehydration most convincingly, 'Uli Thein' did not eat or drink a few days before the most important scenes. His lips got chapped, his eyes grew dimmer, and his acting was very authentic. See more »
I have a weakness for films that have alternative world views, and so I was enthusiastic for Five Cartridges, which was made by the East German studio DEFA during the Soviet occupation of Eastern Germany. It's set during the Spanish Civil War, though I read that the film was a Western in tone, even though not by clear motif. I wouldn't go quite so far myself however I did feel there was a very clear Leone-ian feel to the movie, in the sense of a lack of hesitance, the way the film flowed, as if it were a dream. Then there is the soundtrack, which, like the great soundtracks of Morricone, is a real movie soundtrack, designed to complement the film, not to be played on its own. Composer Joachim Werzlau did a really masterful job here with what is an incredibly eerie soundtrack, unfortunately he never really became known outside of East Germany. At one point a character does a dead-eye knife throw on a beetle which is attacking a tree, which again is a Western/Leone feature, uncanny skill.
The time of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), at least in this movie, is a time of idealism and solidarity, when soldiers of conscience came from all over the world to fight in the International Brigades against the Fascists of Spain, Italy, and Germany (and the American corporations who eagerly supplied Franco and his rebels). In reality, whilst I'm sure there was a large flavour of comradeship, there was also a great deal of factionalism on the Republican side, fomented in part by the Soviet sponsors.
Commissar Wittig, five volunteers and a radioman stay behind in the trenches of the Jarama front to cover the retreat of the Republican forces to the Ebro river. They spend a witching hour in the deserted trenches, using up all the heavy machine gun ammo on the enemy before fleeing into the hills. Commissar Wittig is absolutely committed to the survival of his men, there's a great montage sequence which shows dissolves of his men calling out for Wittig over his image, a condensation of his psychological fears for their survival. His devotion is extremely touching. He's a real communist, a veteran of the fighting of the Spartacist movement from Germany in 1919 (communists who revolted in Berlin but were bloodily put down).
Now the action starts in earnest, the only way they're going to survive is by making hard decisions and through solidarity. The movie is all about this discipline, for example one of the parched soldiers at the beginning of the movie uses his water flask to cool his machine gun down (these guns will only fire if regularly cooled).
It's a sad movie in a way because it's a reminder that the Republicans lost the war, and solidarity and honesty as ideas vanished in the developed world (although modern capitalists believe that adherence to Caesar's laws constitutes honesty). I think the movie maker was very much of the opinion that we should try as hard as we can to keep the ideals of the fighters alive.
Here's a note that one of the men leaves behind in the dugout that will soon belong to the enemy: "Soldiers of the other side! Why are you fighting with the capitalists and Fascists against us? You are also workers and peasants. José Martínez, miner, now a soldier of the Republic, without tobacco or ammunition."
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