So weit die Fe tragen (As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me) (2001)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Hardy Martins.

Starring:      Bernhard Bettermann (Clemens Forell),  Iris Bhm (Kathrin Forell),  Anatoliy Kotenyov (Oberleutnant Kamenev),  Michael Mendl (Dr. Stauffer),  Irina Pantaeva (Irina),  Hans-Uwe Bauer (Leibrecht),  Andr Hennicke (Bauknecht),  Antonio Wannek (Mattern),  Johannes Hitzblech (Danhorn),  Stephan Wolf-Schnburg (Klugmann),  Irina Narbekova (Dr. Pachmutova),  Pavel Lebeshev (Lagerkommandant),  Vladimir Korpus (Semjon),  Igor Filchenkov (Anastas),  Tschmid Rintshinov (Kolka).

German POW in Siberia escapes and heads for Iran

 

Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film. 

Lt. Clemens Forell is a soldier in the German army in World War II.  His train is about to pull out of the station when his wife, Kathrin Forell, and his daughter, Lisa Forell, finally arrive to say goodbye to him.   His daughter asks him to promise to send her a postcard.  He promises.  He tells his wife he will be back around Christmas. 

But Forell can't keep his promise.  July 13, 1945.  In the Soviet Union he is found guilty of crimes against the Partisans and given a sentence of 25 years of forced labor.  He and other prisoners are now being transported by train to eastern Siberia.  The box car in which they travel is frozen inside and outside.  A soldier freezes to death on the train. 

Lisa runs home with a letter for her mother from the Red Cross.  It says:  "We have no record of Clemens Forell in our lists. There is no information about the Russian court martial."     Kathrin is very disappointed.  And so is Lisa.  And now Kathrin has given birth to another child.  In church Lisa says a prayer and adds:  "Please, bring my father back home."

On the train an argument leads to a fight amongst some of the soldiers.  It is broken up when the train suddenly slows down and everyone is thrown forward into a heap.  They have arrived at their destination.  The place has the look of a concentration camp.  There are soldiers with automatic weapons and German Shepherd dogs.  As they wait for the doors to open, one man urinates in a mess cup and then drinks his own urine.  Forell comforts a very young soldier.  He tells the soldier to keep the letter from his mother under his lapel.  Clemens has a small photo of his wife and Lisa that he hides. 

The train doors finally open and the men, except for those who died on the journey, all jump out.  They immediately start grabbing snow to eat to get some liquid into their bodies.  The Russians force them into a line and march them through the snow.  Going over a frozen lake shots from a sub-machine gun frightens a horse and it raises up and comes down hard on the ice.  The ice breaks and the horse, the cart and the men on the cart all fall into the water.  The other soldiers work to save the horse and men, but one man grows so weak that he sinks down below the water surface. 

November, somewhere in Siberia.  After a long walk the soldiers arrive at their camp.  There are no fences and no watchtowers.  The German camp doctor, Dr. Stauffer, loses a patient to typhoid.  The new prisoners line up in formation.  The head of the camp, Lt. Kamenev, speaks to Dr. Stauffer saying that the doctor will be needed to sign the death certificates of the prisoners who die.  The men are forced to stand in formation all day and night out in the cold.  At night the young soldier asks Clemens about his letter.  This catches the attention of the commander and he comes over to the young prisoner and asks him what is he hiding?  The prisoner tells him it's a letter from his mother as he opens the top button of his overcoat and pulls out the letter.  For punishment the prisoner has to take off all his clothes.  The commander tears up the letter. 

Clemens starts taking off his coat and the commander asks him what does he think he's doing?  Forell answers:  "Giving my coat to my comrade."  The commander asks for his name:  Clemens Forell.  The commander tells Clemens Forell to keep his coat, because he is going to need it. 

The naked soldier has to stay behind as the formation is moved into the mines.  The men are stripped naked preparatory to delousing.  Their hair is cut very short.  The men begin pick axing the at the veins of coal in the mine. 

Kathrin Forell goes to an office dealing with found and missing men.  The clerk says he's sorry, but he has no information about a Clemens Forell.  Soon new negotiations will begin between the Germans and the Russians and some progress may be made as regards the German prisoners. 

1947.   Hard labor in the mines.

1949.  Hard labor in the mines.  Clemens walks away from where he and his comrade Danhorn are digging.  Danhorn continues hammering away until the roof over his head collapses down on him.  Forell rushes over to see if Danhorn is alive.  He is dead.  A guard calls for Forell and he has to leave the mine.  The guard takes him to the commander, who tells Forell to fix their motor to operate the coal conveyor.  Forell says he can't do it, but the commander says it says he is a mechanic in his files.  Is Forell now telling him his files are not correct?  Forell doesn't want his files carefully gone over by the commander.  He sets to work.

Forell gets the motor to work.  He looks outside and watches as the coal goes up the conveyor belt and falls off at the top.  This gives Clemens an idea for escape.  He could travel up the conveyor belt, fall down on the slope side of the coal heap and then jump into a small coal carrier on a rail system.  He could then ride the rails a long ways, away from the watchful eyes of the guards.  He tries to see how far he can go.  Riding in the coal carrier, the coal carriers suddenly stop.  Clemens peeks up out of his coal carrier and sees a guard pointing a sub-machine gun at him.  The guard fires the weapon into the air.  This alerts the commander.  He figures it's probably Forell, the one who wanted to share his overcoat with a comrade.  A smile comes across his face. 

Forell is placed into a large hole with a barred and locked cover, which makes a miserable cage for the prisoner.  The commander asks if Forell is still alive?  Forell has to shout up:  "Yes, sir!  Lt. Kamenev!"  Kamenev asks him if he was trying to go to Alaska?  He laughs.  Kamenev tells the prisoner that even if he made it to Alaska, the North Americans have a treaty with the Soviet Union.  The Americans wouldsend him back to Russia.  He then has two guards open the cage and pull Forell out of the hole.  The commander tells Clemens:  "You'll never leave this place.  You're going to be buried here.  All of us." 

Clemens is taken into the mine.  And now he has to run a gauntlet composed of his "comrades" who beat him with various objects.  He is saved by a comrade who throws his body over Forell and yells for the men to stop the hitting.  The commander comes with the doctor to see if Forell survived.  The doctor says that Forell is tough.  The commander now orders the doctor to take Forell to sick bay.  The doctor seems surprised at this act of relative kindness to Clemens Forell.  He also probably wonders, why this concern for Forell? 

Forell asks the doctor to please help him get out a letter to his family.  The response is:  "It will never arrive."

Lisa Forell writes a letter to her father saying she would so like to see him again.  But she doesn't know where to send the letter.  Mother says dad is in Russia, but Russia, she says, is so huge and she doesn't know what town to send her letter to. 

The doctor tells Forell that he can escape, but Forell must prepare himself for a successful escape.  He needs the right clothes, sturdy shoes, some food, a spirit cooker, snow shoes. a compass and the knowledge of how to start a fire even in extremely cold temperatures.  If Forell reaches the Lena within a year's time, he can thank God for that.  Forell says the Lena is in the middle of Siberia.  The doctor then says the magic words:  "I can help you." 

On a designated night, Forell comes up to the sick bay.  The doctor gives him a map drawn up by Danhorn before he died.  As he starts giving Forell advice, the doctor pushes Forell behind a shower curtain.  The commander sticks his head into the sick bay room.  Kamenev is drunk and says that Dr. Stauffer works too many long days and nights.  He suddenly sees a knife on the window sill.  He picks it up and asks where did the doctor get the knife?  Doc just says that the knife was approved by command headquarters.  He uses it to makes splints for broken bones.   Doc uses the occasion to repeat that they are virtually out of all medical supplies.  The commander ignores the doctor's comment and just reiterates that the doctor should not work such long hours.  Kamenev now leaves the sick bay. 

The doctor tells Forell that that was way too close for comfort.  Forell must leave now.  Doc gives him the sweater off his back and special boots.  Forell has to escape tonight because tomorrow they will put him back in the mine and he may never come out again.  Forell gets ready to leave tonight.  Dr. Stauffer explains to him that he has hidden supplies on the hill by the railway tracks.  It's dry bread and lard and two kilos of machorka which he can use to trade for important items. (Machorka is a Russian variety of a wild tobacco occasionally used as part of the rations for captives.) 

The doctor explains to Forell that these were all the supplies he had gathered for his own escape.  And now Dr. Stauffer gives Forell a loaded pistol that he is to tuck under his clothes next to his belly. He tells Clemens to talk to himself and even to trees to prevent him from losing his voice.  Clemens wants to know why didn't the doctor use these supplies for his own escape?  The doctor says that now he has cancer.  The only thing he asks of Forell is that, if he makes it back home, go see Mrs. Stauffer, his wife.  He is to tell his wife that the doctor died in May of 1950. 

He gives the knife to Forell and tells him that he must go north to the sea and along the coast.  They will figure that Forell went west, so this will help Clemens get a good head start.  Forell is ready to go but the drunken Kamenev is still around and trying to come on to a female Russian soldier.  The woman wants nothing to do with Kamenev, so he accuses her of being in a relationship with Forell.  She slaps Kamenev's face and leaves.  A little later Kamenev leaves.

Forell comes down the stairs and goes out another door.  The doctor watches him as he leaves.  Forell makes it to the hill overlooking the railway and gets the supplies stored there by Dr. Stauffer. 

Kamenev goes up the stairs and into the sickbay.  He tells Sauffer to get up when the commander comes into the room.  He grabs the doctor by the shoulder but the doctor's head falls forward and hits the table.  He has taken his own life by injection. 

Forell trudges on and on and on.  He sees the guards on dog sled coming for him.  He drops his pack and runs as fast as he can.  He falls down and the dogs and sled run right over him.  He gets up and realizes that the whole thing was a hallucination.  He goes back and gets his back. 

Kamenev comes into the mine and tells the German prisoners to get back to work.  He is punishing the men because of Forell's escape.  A prisoner spokesman says:  "You're blaming us, too.  That isn't fair."  Kamenev cant believe the man's audacity and comments:  "You talk about fairness!"  The spokesman says yes and Kamenev hits him hard on his shoulders forcing him down to the ground.  The spokesman says Kamenev may kill all the German prisoners, but they will never beat a German comrade of theirs again.  Kamenev pulls out his pistol and points it at the man's head.  The German puts his forehead right on the front barrel.  Kamenev hesitates for a short while and then pulls the trigger. 

Forell sees human shoe prints and realizes suddenly that they are his own prints.  He has been walking in a circle.  He feels terrible, but just then he sees the Northern Lights in the sky and this buoys his spirits a bit. 

Forell walks on and on until he drops with exhaustion.  When he awakens he sees a seal on the ice.  He shoots his pistol at the seal but misses.  He chases the seal, but one of his legs goes into an ice cold stream.  He sees the seal again and this time he kills it.   He opens up the side of the seal so he can warm the toes of the foot that fell into the stream.  He apologizes to the seal for killing him, saying that he had to do it to survive. 

Forell walks on and on and on.  He stops at one point and screams at the top of his voice in protest against his situation.  Then he starts walking again.  He finds a small tree and is thrilled.  He hugs the tree and shouts that the tree is a real live tree!  He adds:  "I'm gonna make it."  He laughs. 

All stations within 500 kilometers have been informed of prisoner Forell's escape.  Kamenev figures that a tough man like Forell can go farther than 500 kilometers in two months.  He tells his radio operator to expand the notification circle. 

At night in the forest Forell lays down by a fire he made.  All of a sudden he senses something or someone close to his campsite.  He looks up and sees two hunters.  He points his pistol at them and asks them what do they want?   The two men say they are not going to hurt him.  They could have shot him already, if they had wanted to kill him.    They say they search for gold in the summer and hunt in the winter.  The two men tell Forell that a winter storm is headed their way and he should go with them.  Forell tells the two that he doesn't need them, so they should get out of here!  The men turn and walk away. 

The winter storm does arrive and Forell has a hard time making any forward progress.  In fact, a tree falls on him.  The two men find him under the tree.  The larger man says he's Semyon.  Forell says his name is Pjotr.  Semyon knows that's not his real name, because he knows he's an escaped German prisoner.  The large man tells Forell to come with them, because he won't make it through the winter alone. 

East Siberia, 1950.  Forell composes a letter in his mind to Lisa.  The weather turns warmer and the three men take a raft ride down a river.  Forell says the river is heading north.  He doesn't want to go that way.  The smaller fellow of the pair of strangers, Petruchka, says that actually at this point they are going a long way west because the river makes a big detour westward here.  That cheers Clemens up and he shouts:  "We're crossing the Caucasus mountains."

They come to some fierce rapids and both Forell and Petruchka have to work hard to guide the raft through the rapids.  Semyon falls into the river.  Petruchka isn't interested at all in saving his hunting buddy.  So Forrell jumps into the water.  Once they are out of the rapids, Forell pulls Semyon over to the riverbank.   

Petruchka, still on the raft,reaches their cabin on the river.  While Semyon and Forell are walking to the cabin, Petruchka rummages through Forell's and Semyon's packs and finds nuggets of gold in Semyon's pack.  Semyon and Forell arrive at the cabin.  Semyon is not happy with his partner as he knows the fellow was going to do nothing to save him from the river.  Petruchka says that Semyon's pack fell into the river. Forell sees that his own pack was certainly searched through.  He doesn't like it either. 

Semyon grabs Forell's pistol off the table and knocks Forell out with it.  He then shoots Petruchka in the chest.  Forell wakes up the next day.  He goes outside and sees a dead Petruchka laying on the forest floor.  And he sees Semyon carving up what is some skinned deer.  Semyon says they will leave Petruchka's body  to the wolves.

Semyon is suspicious that Forell might want to take his gold away form him.  So by the side of a large slope, Semyon knocks Clemens down the slope.  It's a long way down and Clemens keeps rolling along.

Lisa awakens from a bad dream.  She dreamed about her father again.  Mother comes in to comfort her daughter.  Wolves come over to kill and eat Forell.  He climbs up a thin tree, but it busts in two and Forell hits the ground.  Just then he hears shots. 

Forell awakens in a tent of the village of an indigenous people.  They are chanting over his body while they keep him warm.  When Forell awakens again, the father of the family tells Clemens that he knows Forell is an escaped prisoner of war because the white man was talking in his sleep.  (Dad can speak German.)  He introduces Forell to his beautiful daughter Irina and says it was her grandfather who saved Forell's life.  Irina lost her husband in a fight with a bear.  Now dad introduces Forell to his wife.  Dad says that he has to go on a long trip with the dogs, but when he sees Forell again, the white man will have recuperated from his ills. 

Irina brings soup for Clemens.  She takes her jackets off and her leggings.  She takes the soup into her mouth and then drops it into Clemens mouth.  Then she kisses him.  Clemens seems to enjoy it. 

Kamenev visits one of the stations in the area about a hunter having been there.  When they take Kamenev to the jail cell, they find Semyon has hung himself. 

Irina's father hears an announcement in Yakutsk to be on the look-out for a German spy whose real name is Clemens Forell.  At night Irina's father returns home. He finds his wife just recently had a baby, a boy.  Dad fusses over the baby, then he takes Clemens aside and tells him:  "They're looking for you."  Clemens says that he has to leave because it would make things too dangerous for Irina's dad and his family. 

The next day Irina's dad tells Clemens that rina will take him to the great forest.  Dad is very sad to sees his friend go.  He gives Clemens a good hunting dog.  Irina comes over to Clemens.  She will drive him to Aljoshka on a carriages pulled by three reindeer. 

They reach their destination and Irina has to say goodbye to Clemens.  She gives him an amulet to protect him.  She kisses Clemens several times and then tells him: "Go now!  Go!"  Clemens leaves.  She tells the husky dog Argish to go with Clemens.

Summer 1951.   Argish runs ahead of Clemens and soon a lot of dog barking is heard.  Clemens yells for Argish and starts running toward the noise.  A man working at a lumber factory holds a pistol on the barking Argish.  Clemens yells for Argish to come.  The dog goes to him.  Now Clemens tries to walk away, but the man with the pistol orders him to come and see him.  The lumberman takes Clemens to see the Comrade Inspector.  Clemens gives the inspector a false name and tells him a made up story of him coming back from 8 longs years of hard labor at a prison camp.  No, he has no papers.  He says he is going to Chita.  The inspector doesn't believe his story.  He tells him that Chita is 800 kilometers away.  Despite this, the inspector tells Clemens to go and get some food with the guys.  Clemens leaves. 

The man who brought Clemens in, probably the foreman, says they have to call the higher authorities.  The inspector says they will after they get their latest freight shipped off.  The foreman goes out and tells Clemens that there's a freight train headed for Chita leaving soon.  Clemens will go along as the brakeman. 

Clemens and Argish are on the freight train headed for Chita.  Kamenev drives his jeep fast to reach a railway station.  There waiting for him is a group of 15 soldiers.  As the train pulls into the station, Clemens looks toward the station and sees a whole group of soldiers there.  He and the dog jump off the train.  He waits for a train to go past him.  Clemens then starts to cross the tracks, but on the other side is none other than Kamenev, who tells Clemens:  "Almost on time, Prisoner Forell."  Argish attacks Kamenev.  He tears into Kamenev's left cheek and Kamenev has to pull out a pistol and shoot the dog. 

Clemens is already off running, but he turns around when he hears the shot.  He climbs up one of the supports of a railroad bridge to get away from the soldiers.  When the soldiers climb up the same way, Clemens jumps off the bridge onto the roof of one of the cars of a passing train.   He is still upset about his dog and bangs hard on the roof of the railway car. 

Clemens hitches a ride on a truck.  He gets off when the driver has to turn left and go another way than Clemens is going.  Forell trudges through a huge wheat field. 

A trucker on the road gets a flat tire.  He goes to the back of his truck.  The driver has to move boxes around to get at the spare tire.  He sees some cans missing from one of his crates.  He pushes a box off the top of  the crate with missing cans and sees Clemens there.  He is going to smash Clemens with his tire iron, but Clemens jumps at him and knocks him down.  He then gets on top of the driver, grabs two unopened cans and starts bashing the cans into the man's forehead again and again.  He cries as he delivers the blows. 

Central Asian U.S.S.R., August 1952.  Forell shows up at a Central Asian bazaar.  He looks strange with his long hair and beard.  A woman seller takes pity upon him and tells her boy to run and give the man a piece of bread.  Forell hurries to find a place of shade and quiet where he can calmly eat the bread.  A man notices Clemens and takes and interest in him. 

Clemens goes into a mosque.   He gets down on his knees to pray and asks God to forgive him.  The man interested in Clemens comes into the mosque and tells Clemens that he stands out way too much here.  He adds that while he has seen many destitute people before, he has never until now seen a destitute German.  He tells Clemens to follow him.  Clemens hangs back and the stranger tells him:  "I want to help you."  Now Clemens goes with the man.  Another man sees Clemens and hurries off to tell the authorities.  He quickly walks over to the Soviet Police Headquarters. 

The man invites Clemens into his house.  The man turns out to be Jewish.  He says his family was originally from Poland.  He came to the U.S.S.R. to stay with an uncle.  The fellow tells Clemens that he is going to need a passport if he is to cross over the border into Iran. 

Kamenev is still hot on the trail of Clemens. 

The Jewish fellow tells Clemens to wait in the dark here in the house, until he gets back.  When he does get back, Clemens has gone.  He searches for Clemens and finds him back at the mosque.  He tells Clemens that he's going to have to learn how to trust people again.  He shows the passport to Clemens and tells him that he is Latvian now which explains his accent.  Clemens must also study and know all the information in the passport and travel permit.  For a second time, Clemens asks the Jewish fellow why is he doing this for him?  The man asks if Clemens has a guilty conscience because he never helped a Jew when so many of them were on the run?  He goes on to say:  "You'll have to sort that out yourself."  Clemens says thank you and leaves.

Kamenev reaches the police headquarters.  A little later Kamenev shows up at the house of the Jewish man.  He says he has heard of the man's great hospitality. 

Clemens is at the border.  The clerk checks him and the passport over.  Clemens gets the okay to go ahead.  He now gets onto the back of a truck. 

Kamenev tells the Jewish man that all he wants to know from him is where Clemens went.  Just then the good Samaritan grabs at his heart and falls to the ground.  Kanenev rushes over to him.  The man says yes, he helped Clemens.  And he would do it again if he had to.  He adds:  "I'd help anyone. Understand?"  He then dies of the poison he ingested. 

The truck Clemens is in stops at a checkpoint.  Clemens is worried.  The guard tells the people that there has been a landslide and they have to be detoured.  Clemens asks the guard if he could walk to the border.  He says yes, but it's quite far.  Clemens walks to the last checkpoint.  He is worried again about getting through.  Finally, the clerk tells Clemens:  "You can go across." 

There is a long bridge Clemens now has to walk over to get into Iran.  Coming to the mid-point of the bridge, Clemens runs into none other than Kamenev, who is walking toward him.  The two men stare at each other.  Suddenly, Kamenev steps aside for Clemens to pass.  The last words he says to Clemens are:  "It's my victory."  Kamenev now walks back to the Soviet side and Clemens walks into Iran.   

Teheran, December 1952.  In Iran Clemens is thrown into prison.  The man in charge says that they think that Clemens is a Russian spy and so he will be sentenced to death.  He is talking with a relative of Clemens.  The "spy" asked for his uncle to come and identify him at the Teheran prison.  Uncle says the last time he saw his nephew was in 1937.  The uncle's name is Mr. Baudrexel. Clemens is brought into the room.  He sees his uncle and calls out to him, but the uncle is not so sure this man is his nephew.  He pulls out a big family scrapbook and starts asking Clemens questions about the various photographs.  Clemens sits down and starts going through the scrapbook. 

He comes to a photo of himself when he was a young soldier.  He tells his uncle that he sent this photo to his mother for her birthday.  On the back of the photo he wrote a note to his mother.  Uncle checks and finds the note:  "To my dear mother on her birthday.  15 July, 1939. . . . Clemens."   Uncle now acknowledges his nephew and they both hug each other.

Clemens comes home.  He looks through a window of the house and sees his family, complete with a little boy.  He goes around to the side of the house as his family walks to church for a Christmas mass.  While the choir sings, Clemens enters the church.  Lisa senses that there is someone standing in the aisle and she turns around.  She gets up and walks to her father.  They hug each other.  Kathrin now slowly gets up and joins the two.  She looks at her husband, they both start crying and then they have a three-way hug. 

 

Spoiler warning.  Good film about a German Prisoner of War sent to Siberia for 25 years of hard labor.  He is determined to escape, but most of the time he never can even get out of the mine, much less the whole prison complex.  Fortunately for him, he receives the help of German Dr. Shauffer, who had already made extensive preparations to escape himself.  Because of his cancer, he can no longer hope to escape.  But he does want to help Clemens Forell to escape.  He turns over all his preparations and equipment to Clemens. So one night Clemens starts out to escape.  It takes him three years to get from east Siberia to Teheran, Iran.  There his uncle recognizes him and Clemens gets to go home.  And it's quite a touching home coming for Clemens when he is reunited with his family.  And what a happy day it was for his daughter Lisa who never gave up hope that her daddy was still alive.  The film is quite an adventure story with a great many tales of trials and travails for a German POW escaping and walking home from east Siberia.  Bernhard Bettermann (as Clemens Forell) did a good job of acting.  He combined toughness and tenderness in the character of a German POW escapee. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.  

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