Nominated for Oscar (Best Foreign Language Film) in 1982 the Swiss production Das Boot ist Voll a.k.a The Boat is Full attempts to reconstruct a tragedy that took place some sixty three years ago. Director Markus Imhoof has taken on the difficult task of explaining the "neutrality" of Switzerland during WW2 and more importantly how ordinary people struggled with the government's official policy.
The core of The Boat is Full follows the story of a group of Jewish refugees who manage to sneak into Switzerland looking to begin a new life. Unfortunately the country is already swamped with "official" refugees and the entry quota set by the Swiss government exceeded-the borders are quickly closed. This creates all sorts of problems as Jewish refugees continue to flee into Switzerland seeking to escape the Nazis.
Built upon an interesting scheme which most certainly offers some food for thought as to what exactly took place in Switzerland during its "neutrality" period The Boat is Full is a film that provides a different look at the Holocaust, its victims, and those indirectly involved with it. Certainly this is not a film where everything is painted in well familiar colors. The Swiss willing to help those who have come to their country vs. the Swiss adhering to the official government policy of maintaining "neutrality" is the focus of attention here.
For the most part I liked what Markus Imhoof has attempted to show in The Boat is Full. Unlike other Holocaust films (some notable Hollywood productions come to mind) where history and personal feelings typically mix up in a manner that is meant to deliver some sort of a grandiose statement The Boat is Full remains a surprisingly quiet film. The camera attempts to show both sides of an ongoing tragedy-the Jewish refugees seeking to find shelter and the Swiss people torn between what they feel is right and wrong (in this film "right" being quite an elusive term). As a result Markus Imhoof never overdramatizes what takes place on the screen, on the contrary, he cuts right in the middle of what Switzerland became known for during the WW2-the much debated (as seen in this film as well) "neutrality".
If interested in seeing a Swiss point of view about the actions of Switzerland during the Nazi occupation of Europe and not a non-Swiss party's perception about what took place in the early 1940's The Boat is Full is probably as good of a opportunity to do so as any. In fact, I can hardly think of another Swiss production that remains so balanced in its approach to this touchy for the Swiss nation topic. This is a carefully observed film with plenty of substance.
Finally, if there is an area of The Boat is Full that feels slightly underdeveloped it is probably the amount of attention which Markus Imhoof spares for his characters-they do not engage its audience as much as I wanted them to. Yet, I have my suspicions that this might be a very well thought of approach meant to exclude the element of overdramatizing that typically shadows Holocaust films I mentioned earlier. The main protagonists and their suffering drive the story in the direction desired by Markus Imhoof but they hardly are the focus of attention-I suppose an unusual but in the larger scheme of things rather successful directorial approach.
How Does the Film Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's this R1 DVD appears to have been improperly converted from a PAL source. There is a substantial amount of "ghosting" here as well as heavy combing which will certainly upset most of you owning high-end set ups. The rest of the presentation appears mostly acceptable: colors are rather well reproduced, the grainy image intended by the director is retained, and finally the contrast is of manageable quality. This being said I am indeed quite upset by the recent releases IMAGE/HVE Entertainment have produced under their distribution umbrella. Similar to their R1 release of Carlos Saura's Salome (which was a direct unconverted port of the MK2 disc) this release of The Boat is Full appears to be an equally quickly put-together and of questionable quality release. Something quite typical for IMAGE and not so typical for the now defunct Home Vision.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a Swiss-German 2.0 track the audio treatment is notably better than the video treatment. Dialog is clear and easy to follow, I could not detect any disturbing hissing or pop-ups, and the subtitles are very well done.
Aside from the original theatrical trailer and a gallery of stills what you will find on this disc is an interview with Marcus Imhoof in which he recalls how the film was accepted by critics and fans, how he wrote the script, and finally its materialization. A good insider-look that does indeed shed some additional light to this Swiss production. Next, there is a short extra titled "Saving a Film" which focuses on the restoration of the film (whose original negative was found 23 years ago in Rome in an extremely poor condition) as direct comparisons between the original negative and the newly restored version are shown.
A good film providing an interesting point of view about Switzerland and its involvement in WW2 The Boat is Full comes in a DVD of questionable quality: improper PAL-NTSC conversion and a very shaky image mar an otherwise acceptable package. I am not impressed! I would certainly recommend that you see this little known in North America film yet I can not recommend that you add it to your library. For obvious reasons!