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January 19, 2018

Kameradschaft (1931)
Director: G.W. Pabst
Actors: Alexander Granach, Fritz Kampers, Daniel Mendaille

Synopsis: When a catastrophic explosion strands a group of French miners deep underground in the disputed Ruhr territory in 1919, a band of German miners defy orders and international borders to come to the rescue.

Review: Kameradschaft (which translates literally as ‘comradeship’) was G.W. Pabst’s follow on from his revelatory war lament, Westfront 1918, and, in a way, picked up on its very same theme of the irrelevance of national paradigms (lines on a map, borders, bureaucracy) amid a greater need for international co-operation and harmony.

de facto disaster movie, Kameradschaft functions effectively as a straight up genre film or in its more aspirational guise as a paean to Franco-German unity. These two elements converge brilliantly in a superb sequence where Pabst’s penchant for tracking shots is ingeniously indulged when a fire scorches down the tunnel separating the two sides’ mines (they used to previously co-own the mines) causing the devastating explosion.

This visual dexterity of Pabst’s comes out best in a further dichotomic sequence after the French miners have been saved by their selfless German counterparts. As the workers have a socialist rally up above ground, celebrating their newfound unity and sense of collective purpose, Pabst cleverly cuts to Franco-German businessmen, in the mine below, dividing up the area once again (the cause of the catastrophe in the first place) so they can each protect their fiscal interests. It lends Pabst’s international relations theme a decidedly political and social context, with him seemingly hinting that nationalist ire is a concept dreamed up by the establishment and political classes in order to protect their power and economic monopolies – and with the workers and everyday citizens as the collateral damage in such a ploy. (January 2018)

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