It’s 1945 Austria, and an Austrian commander (Dan Cheatham) and his company have just been captured after surrendering to U.S. forces. While in captivity awaiting his fate, the commander explains how his company came to surrender to the Americans, and why they were accompanied by a young man, Radek (Connor Long), with mental disabilities.
Sarah R. Lotfi’s Menschen focuses on a unique scenario, a devastated Austrian company trying to stay alive by escaping to the U.S. line to surrender, while also tackling the attitude and treatment of those with disabilities, mental or physical, during World War II. The premise is interesting in itself, and the execution is more than capable, but something is missing.
I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about Menschen that didn’t quite work for me; or more appropriately, why it lacked an emotional impact for me. The film looks quite nice, the acting is solid and the story line straightforward… so what’s the problem? Perhaps it was a bit too matter-of-fact, or perhaps the story itself lacked a certain amount of danger or suspense.
See, the majority of the tale is about a Austrian company that has been decimated by attacks, and is trying their best to make it to the U.S. line to surrender. While the company still finds itself open to attack here or there, for the most part they move quite freely and openly. Arguments are made about the fact that they’ve brought Radek along, but you never really get a sense that Radek is in any danger, from the Austrian officers or otherwise. He may be an annoyance to some of the soldiers, and they may disagree with their Commander, but they’re not about to press the issue or do anything about it.
Taken as just one tale from the millions that could be told about World War II, Menschen is as straightforward as they come. While I knew of Hitler’s disdain for all things he deemed impure or weak, and that included citizens with mental or physical disabilities, I’ve not seen many tales that focused on them (the closest I could remember was the orphans in Straight into Darkness, but that’s an entirely different tale and tone altogether). In the end, this film tells an interesting story, if not a completely compelling one. I was given a touchstone that I didn’t have before, but I didn’t connect with it too much beyond the value of seeing and learning something new.
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