Berlin, 14. April 1939 * Number 15
Visit with the "Cadets"
First day of filming the Ufa's new Karl Ritter film in Babelsberg
Filmwelt already reported a few weeks ago about the intentions and aims of Karl Ritter's new film "Cadets" in an interview with him. Production on this film has just recently begun in Babelsberg's North Hall. Right on the first day of filming, as a promising prelude, one could watch a charming scene in the kitchen of the Cadet House designed in the Berlin of the Friderichean period with a keen sense of vivid, atmospheric effect, by Walter Röhrig, one of Ritter's regular team. The film depicts a moving little episode during the Seven Years' War. Namely, when in the year 1760 Berlin gets occupied by the Russians, who drag off hundreds of cadets 9 to 12 years of age, who had been left behind in the care of an old Sergeant and war veteran as they couldn't possibly be considered "military personnel" in accordance with the laws of war. A brave little daring horde of twelve boys does manage - this is the story the film tells - to break out of captivity in Silesia and barricade themselves in an abandoned fort while forsaken of all aid, to then finally fight their way back to freedom.
However: in the scene we saw here, no one has any idea of the harsh and tragic fate these boys are destined for. The Russians have already marched into the city and should reach the Cadet House momentarily. - Yet at the moment, with their smooth, white, braided wigs and in those bright uniforms which make them look like the "old grenadiers" in miniature, these little cadets only think of the more immediate: That they are hungry as a bear and that, now that they only number one hundred, the portions will most likely be doubled. Sophie, the good-natured kitchen wench with the attractive apron and the crisp white cap - Carsta Löck plays the only female role in the film - has a difficult stand when the wild raucous band of hungry cadets suddenly break into her hallowed peaceful kitchen, a roomy underground larder where two huge pots of cabbage soup are steaming on a mighty hearth-like stove and much other edible stuffs lay about. Tubs full of vegetables and potatoes, shelves full of fruit preserves, long rows of flour bags and finally a footstool on which a veritable tower of sizable bread loaves rises up. With the war cry of "Klopskarline" (Doris Drudge) - a word belonging to the firm standard of cadet language - the boys break into the kitchen. One curious boy lifts the heavy lid off of one of the pots, but then with a laconic sigh of "Cabbage soup again," turns away disappointed, while the others have already pounced on the mountain of bread. - But vengeful justice approaches (and help for the besieged Sophie) in the form of the gruff, crotchety Sergeant (Josef Keim) - who is of course, one can see at first glance despite his intimidating looks, a soul of a man - and so the wild, noisy bunch is energetically brought to order. "The Russians are coming! Double portions are out - everything must be rationed!" That is the word he calls out as warning, but the meaning of which - one can tell by the disappointed childish faces and the quiet murmuring with which they absorb this - they cannot yet comprehend. Nevertheless, they are Cadets of the King of Prussia. - and when a moment later the Sergeant orders them to help hide the rations, they obey every word, one united group.
It is a scene full of movement and humor, yet already filled with the dramatic tension foreshadowing the coming events. It is wonderful to observe how Karl Ritter directs the boys, how he works with them, every exercise, averting every excess in tone or gesture, letting them act naturally, as if they are not "acting out" the situations in the scenes, but are living them. It is certainly no easy task which he has set for himself. - A lot of patience, a lot of sensitivity, a direct understanding of the world and attitudes of young people are essential. - But one can feel with what joy he does it, how his heart is in every scene, every shot. Not the least of Ritter's mastery lies in the fact that he intuits everything he produces viscerally. This is why he is able to so calmly and steadily direct these boys, who come from the National Political Institute in Potsdam and are appearing before cameras for the first time here. There is a relationship of mutual trust that binds him with them. They hang on his lips, listen to every word he speaks to them, beaming if they've done it right - and so one can hope that this film for young audiences will, in the best sense of the word, become a true, strong, contemporary work - a film by German youth and for German youth, and for all those who understand and love them.
Ritter is not making an "historical" film - he is depicting, as he has done in all his films, a true to life film - but he also shows the psychological behind matters and the destinies: the will which is stronger than any hardship, the great power of faith and community which carries each individual, lifts him up and lets him overcome all onslaughts of weakness, of despair.
What these boys, these children - who are living beings and not heroes of marble - live out here: is something we can all learn from, and in that we concurrently fulfill the deepest, the true meaning of this film.
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