Blood and Gold Movie Review: An atypical war film that builds palpable tension with brilliant writing and music
Blood & Gold does a fabulous job of mounting tension and dread. This palpable unease you feel as one scene moves to the next is furthered by an exceptional score and soundtrack.
Peter Thorwath’s film is one special effort. Much is packed into its 98-minute runtime, and yet, the writing ensures character is not sacrificed for the demands of plot. It isn’t your standard war narrative, either. And that’s what draws you towards this fine German action-drama set in the final days of World War II. Blood & Gold sets itself apart from a standard Second World War story in that it refrains from showing the raging battle. Comparisons could be easily made to Inglorious Basterds and Dunkirk. The Nazis are fighting a losing cause but all is referenced only in dialogue. “The Allies are closing in”, “we will find a way to beat them back”, “victory or death” are props for the imagination. The talking soldiers belong to a beleaguered SS unit in small-town Germany. En route to the town of Sonnenberg, the group, led by the facially disfigured Lieutenant Colonel von Starnfeld (Alexander Scheer), has unfinished business to attend to. There’s a small matter of executing a deserter before they head to a town of hidden Jewish treasure (allegedly). The Lieutenant Colonel’s entrance, though not as spooky as Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds, is still quite the sight. Once the deserting soldier Heinrich (Robert Maaser) is finally captured, it is time to sentence him for his “cowardice”. The latter, a highly decorated combatant, is given a chance to explain himself. The man doesn’t mince words; he never wished to be in this war, there was no choice accorded to him in the matter, he could give a damn about Hitler’s vision and philosophy. Sergeant Dörfler (Florian Schmidtke) is the man entrusted to mete out the treasonous hanging. A savage in a uniform, he makes it a point to give the private a death without dignity. The troupe heads to Sonnenberg in search of the elusive Jewish gold. Heinrich passes out only to be saved by a local woman living nearby.
Director – Peter Thorwarth
Cast – Robert Maaser, Marie Hacke, Alexander Scheer, Florian Schmidtke, Jördis Triebel, Stephan Grossmann, Simon Rupp
Streaming On – Netflix
Blood & Gold does a fabulous job of mounting tension and dread. This palpable unease you feel as one scene moves to the next is furthered by an exceptional score and soundtrack. When members of the SS unit return to Elsa’s farm for rations, something is going to give. Violence - the whole gamut of it - isn’t far at hand. When exactly that might explode is left to chance. The camera lingers just that extra bit for you to feel anxious. The music acts as the perfect tension-builder. German folk songs, classical fare and parts of the score do the work of a powerful supporting character, blending seamlessly into the goings-on. And, out of the blue, the melody switches to an almost-black comedic mode, leaving you to wonder about an appropriate response.
The grim reality of war is that it gives free rein to people who may devolve into sub humans and power-obsessed criminals. Not everyone uses the best judgement with a weapon in hand. The Lieutenant Colonel spouts tall talk of “treason”, “fighting them back at all costs” and whatnot, but truth be told, he will likely flee once the gold has been located/looted. Sergeant Dörfler, his overly brutish second-in-command, doesn’t need a plausible reason to cut another’s throat. These two men, the latter to a larger extent, are cut from the vilest cloth, and remind me of gun-toting villains from a Clint Eastwood western. There is almost no redeeming quality in their ways. And, yet, they aren’t unrealistic, by any stretch. Marie Hacke’s Elsa is the most nuanced of all the characters, with the writing giving her the appropriate agency and courage. Robert Maaser’s deserting Heinrich receives a “talking to” from Elsa when he expresses doubts about wanting to see his daughter again (whether she is better off without him). Elsa tells him that there has to be a point for his desertion, and that she didn’t risk her life to save him for nothing. The empathy and shared grief between the leads is the highlight of the film. Heinrich has lost his wife and son in a bombing (with neighbours taking care of his daughter). Elsa’s father and husband were claimed by the unforgiving war. There is so much that passes between them in mere facial exchanges. You know early on that they will be the other’s anchor, no matter what. Stefan Barth’s script and his drawing up of characters require special mention for all of the above.
When the heist narrative is added to this already-complicated situation, you get pure cinematic gold. Thorwath and Barth fuse multiple elements to give the film an intense and unpredictable nature. There are brief sections that border on black comedy too. The film takes a firm stand against the war and its resulting horrors without being didactic or preachy. The events on screen and the suffering and heroism of the minority (who never signed up for any of it) are clear for all to see.