Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
— English war poet Siegfried Sassoon
German director Peter Thorwarth attempts to paint such a picture in ‘Blood & Gold’, but his colours are prominently grey and gory.
The story by Stefan Barth is set towards the end of the Second World War, and follows Private Heinrich (Robert Maaser). After six years of being a decorated soldier, Heinrich has had enough and deserts the SS, an elite corps of the Nazi party. Rather than fighting a war he didn’t choose, he wants to go home to find his daughter, who is in neighbour’s care, but he has been sentenced to death by hanging for desertion. His wife and son have already died during the bombings. Left to die a slow death by his unit, Heinrich is saved by a farm girl, Elsa (Marie Hacke). She lives with her brother Paule (Simon Rupp), a special child, whom she has hid from the Nazis to save him from being sent to the death camps like other ‘defective’ people.
Led by Lt Colonel Von Starnfeld (Alexander Scheer), the troops, meanwhile, have set base in the neighbouring town of Sonnenberg, looking for a stash of gold hidden by a fleeing Jewish family. As Elsa and Heinrich stick together to reach his daughter, they have many violent run-ins with the Starnfeld’s platoon.
The German film (available in English, with subtitles) boasts of some remarkable performances led by Marie Hacke. Her craft is visible throughout the film — how she fights without fear, her attachment to her new friend, Private Heinrich, and her unconditional love for her brother Paule. She shows a wide gamut of emotions. Robert Maaser, acting as the moral compass in this war drama, fairs equally well in fight sequences as well as sentimental scenes. Alexander Scheer is believable as the menacing SS officer. Simon Rupp as a special child beautifully portrays how every life is valuable, and we need all kinds of people to make the world a better place. Jochen Nickel as the saintly town priest and Sonja (Jordis Triebel) as a greedy vamp lend able support to the narrative.
Does the film impress? For sure. A nod to action designer Vi-Dan Tran and stunt coordinator Josef Jelinek for creating firing sequences that are almost beautiful rather than appalling. There are plenty of hand-to-hand combats and gory killings in this one hour and 40 minute film. It’s the music that sets off the gore — now peppy, now sanguine. The cinematography is beautiful, pitching the towering grey church with colourful glass in a pretty German spring. How this church comes down in a climax fight between SS and villagers is a fitting metaphor about humanity being crushed during wartime.
Like any war film, it draws battlelines between the good and the bad, and questions if victors are murderers. It sure packs in some messages. Morals and religion are used by the opportunists to their own advantage.
Compared to ‘My Best Friend Anne Frank’ (2021) in the similar genre, ‘Blood and Gold’ wouldn’t leave you emotionally gutted, but if war films are your pick, this one makes a watchable cut.
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