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Schwabenkinder (2003)
05. Mar 2006 at 09:58
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Schwabenkinder is an incredibly strong and convincing movie about the lives and times of those wretched children of poor mountain peasants from the Austrian state of Tyrol who were sent to Swabia as child laborers in the second half of the 19th century.

The movie starts with Kaspar, a man of about thirty years, and his return to his childhood home in the Austrian Alps. He encounters his father, terminally ill and on the brink of death. When the old man recognizes him, he closes his eyes and starts crying as does Kaspar. From that very early moment on you know that there is a deep emotional scar inflicted on both men, and the honesty and the incredible depth of their emotions set the stage for a stunning true story of despair, privation and atrocious hardships.

Kaspar settles down at his father's bedside, and while overwhelmed by his emotions and his love for the dying man, he starts telling the story of his life.

When Kaspar was 8 years old, his mother died in an avalanche. This loss forces Kaspar's father to send him away with many other children of the rural alpine community to Swabia in order to work for farmers and peasants over there as cheap laborers. The first real strength of the story is the inner conflict of Kaspar's father. He has so far stoutly refused to give any of his children away, but the death of his wife leaves him no other chance. Kaspar deeply loves his father their relationship is portrayed as very affectionate and close. When Kaspar gets a wonderful knife from his father, he is the happiest boy. He never gives the knife away it reminds him of his native land and his family during the hardest and most painful days, months and years that are about to come. There is a scene just before Kaspar leaves his family, when his father beats him up to make it easier for the boy to leave him behind. This scene is thrashing and utterly brilliant. The man beats his son and cries at the same time as if each whack would cut into his own flesh. Kaspar is unable to understand this and thinks that his father has started to hate him. The boy is very sensitive and hardly talks after that.

The middle part of the movie deals with the merciless hike through the Alps to reach Swabia. This part is brutal and one of the most impressive accomplishments I have seen in a long time. The visuals are magnificent. I could almost feel the pain of the kids, the icy polar winds on my cheeks and the tons of snow around me. A young priest leads the group through snowstorms, over frozen passes and snow-covered slopes. Kaspar and the other kids suffer severely, and the visual transformation is stunning in capturing their desperate struggle to survive amidst hostile conditions. Some of the them break down, one girl falls with pneumonia, and Kaspar almost freezes to death after an arctic night. This physically exhausting hike is strengthened in its devastation by the emotional suffering of the kids. One girl desperately screams for her mother several times in a way that makes your heart burst. The hardships these children had to endure are presented in stirringly authentic moments.

The last part of the movie deals with Kaspar and the peasant he has to work for. He is forced to work for hours without any rest, he witnesses the brutal regime of the farmer and turns even stronger into himself. He has to clean the cows, muck out the stable and work as a shepherd boy during hail and icy rain, sticking his naked and freezing feet into dung to warm himself. At night he lies in his bed and cries for hours, at lunchtime he sits next to the other workers and stares at his food without touching it. And throughout all these moments of humiliation and merciless suffering, of despair and loneliness, he always touches his father's knife, closes his eyes and thinks about his home.

I normally cannot make much of Austrian and German movies. They tend to be simple-minded and unable to live up to the scope of American productions in terms of acting quality and storyline. Schwabenkinder however is an outstanding and deeply moving tale about real historical circumstances. My eyes turned wet several times. The story's emotional level drags you right into the contemporary hardships of those poor kids. Thomas Unterkircher as eight-year-old Kaspar is pervasive and subtle at the same time. He portrays his character's suffering so genuinely and with such sensitivity that you want to grab a blanket and cover the lonely and freezing boy when he crouches under the icy rain.

The historical background adds tremendous authenticity to the movie and makes the suffering of Kaspar and the other kids even more painful to watch. Even the language was adapted to the regional dialects, and thus some native speakers of German might have problems following the Tyrolean slang. It is a story about a son and his father, about atonement and almost unbearable hardships, but also about dreams and endurance despite utter despair and isolation. Schwabenkinder is dedicated as a whole to the kids who had to endure these hardships up until World War I. It stands as an epitaph for those who fell and as an authentic epitome of Austria's past and the life of mountain dwellers in such remote regions. 9/10
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Re: Schwabenkinder (2003)
Reply #1 - 16. Mar 2006 at 23:44
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I've got this movie without subtitles. Has anyone got some English language subtitles they can email to me. If so I'll put them on the movies profile page for others to download.
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