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As prisoner of war Clemens Forell, a German soldier during WW II, is sentenced to a labor camp in far east Siberia. After four years working in the mines he escapes from the camp (in 1949) and tries to get home to his wife and children. For three years he journeys through Siberia. An odyssey of 14,000 kilometers, set against a backdrop of desolate and inhospitable landscape, beset by danger (from both animals and humans). Constantly battling the worst nature can throw at him, Forell makes his way, step by step towards Prussia and the longed-for freedom. Sometimes riding on trains, sometimes by boat, mostly on foot, he never knows if his next step won't be his last. His prosecutor Kamenev is always right behind him, and more than once it seems that Forell is captured again... Written by
"People will help a creature down in the dust--even their worst enemy..."
I saw this film as part of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts film series. It is an extremely well-acted and well-produced adventure, based on the true story of a German POW's incredible journey through the dauntingly wide expanses and multi-ethnic terrain of the former Soviet Union in the late '40s and early '50s. It is beautifully shot on location, outdoor scenes of the rugged Russian landscape being a principle attraction. It is also quite well-acted by Bettlemen, who evokes both sympathy with and admiration for his character, and the rest of the cast. The principle actor spoke for about an hour afterwards. As he admits, the film does not go into detail about why the prisoners were there--no doubt some of them deserved punishment. However, many scenes also concentrate on the main character's wife and children back in Germany. Bettlemen, whose grandfathers both died in Russian POW camps after WWII, said he did the film as much to illustrate their family's plights as that of the prisoners.
The film (and the book) also illustrate that Samaritanism is not dead, and was not, even in Russia at this time. Forrell was, after all, a German soldier, but he would have been unable to cross Siberia without help from people of many diverse people. As Bettlemen related, "People will help a creature driven into the dust, even if it is their worst enemy."
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