Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Disaster Flicks
- German Films
- G.W. Pabst Films
- Mining Towns
G.W. Pabst’s 14th film — and the last of his titles listed in Peary’s GFTFF — was this French-German co-production (a.k.a. Comradeship) based on the Courrières mine disaster of 1906, in which more than a thousand miners died. Pabst and his writers updated the action to take place just after World War I, thus highlighting the understandably lingering animosity between the two nations — as epitomized when a trapped French miner tragically reacts with post-traumatic aggression upon seeing a gas-masked German rescuer appearing in front of him.
As noted in Criterion’s essay:
… national tensions are mirrored by the mines on either side of the border. The French have more jobs but can’t sell much of their coal; the Germans make futile daily trips to the border to ask for jobs. On the other hand, the two mines are actually one big one, artificially sectioned off by a wall in the middle.
The catastrophic accident in the French mine spurs the German workers — despite feeling marginalized and belittled by their French counterparts — to put on their rescue gear and help out, thus leading to a temporary sense of solidarity among the miners regardless of nationality or language. As such, it’s a surprisingly “feel good” film for such a bleak topic.
Most impressive of all are the highly effective (and realistic) cinematography and sets, recreating both the dangerously labyrinthine mines and the worried townspeople above ground; we truly get the sense we’re there in this place and time, following the gripping action.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
- Erno Metzner and Karl Vollbrecht’s sets
- Fritz Arno Wagner and Robert Baberske’s cinematography
Yes, for its historical relevance. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.