Posted on October 21, 2015 by nicklacey
Muslims and Nazis
French films revisiting the role of their north African colonies have become somewhat in vogue in recent years; such as Days of Glory (Indigenes, Algeria-France-Morocco-Belgium, 2006). Free Men focuses on the true story of how the Grand Mosque, run by Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit (played with suitable gravitas by veteran Michael Lonsdale), helped protect Jews from the Nazis. That’s a great story in itself given the conflagration that is engulfing Israel and the Occupied Territories at the moment. ‘Muslims and Nazis’: I don’t think I’d ever put the two together before watching this film which emphasises how the former are hidden from western history. The film, co-written and directed by Ismaël Ferroukhi, is to be welcomed on that basis but I also throughly enjoyed watching Tahar Rahim play Younes, a composite character, who finds his moral compass and joins the Resistance.
Rahim’s face is a wonderful tool, whether under questioning from the Petain police or wondering how to ‘chat up’ the woman he fancies, as its mobility dramatises the thoughts whirling around his head. There’s some great music too as Younes befriends a Jewish singer masquerading as a Muslim.
Filed under: French cinema | Tagged: war | Leave a comment »
Posted on September 5, 2015 by nicklacey
War as it was and is
I can’t find enough superlatives for this Danish TV series; simply, it’s the best TV I’ve ever seen. Ole Bornedal’s creation manages to show the brutalities of war at the front, the consequences at home and the political stupidity that leads to pointless brutality. Bornedal, who wrote and directed the brilliant Just Another Love Story, uses the big budget to exemplary effect; I haven’t seen more terrifying war sequences and the performances are utterly engaging. The use of a framing story to link the events to the present is an effective device and the right wing backlash, in Denmark, showed it hit the mark. Those on the right like to live the myth not the reality.
The ending of the narrative is philosophical, accompanied by a tour de force use of sound. Another memorable moment was the blood running down the window to form the Danish flag as the PM had a breakdown. Throughout the direction is cinematic, that is using the image to tell the story rather than simply convey the script. Of course, the division between cinema and television is blurred these days; possibly the only distinction we can safely make is that serial form suits the latter. It’s not only the best TV I’ve seen but one of the best audiovisual texts I’ve ever experienced.
Filed under: TV | Tagged: melodrama, war | Leave a comment »
Posted on May 3, 2015 by nicklacey
Grim as it was
After a Saving Private Ryan (US, 1998) inspired cycle, few of which were successful, war films have not been considered to be commercially viable. Although I doubt if Fury will ignite another cycle it superbly conveys the tension of being in a tank to the extent I was squirming in my seat. It, unlike the brilliant Lebanon, doesn’t restrict the viewpoint to inside the tank. In fact, it eschews the space inside, as it’s more concerned with the battles. When we see the interior it’s mostly through characters’ reaction shots, but the film nevertheless conveys the terrifying atmosphere of being under attack in a slow tin can.
Writer-director David Ayer brings the full weight of CGI to the film to emphasise the violence, which is not for the squeamish. He portrays the misery of war to great effect; Fury takes place in April 1945, the last days of the Reich. While classical Hollywood would show cheery soldiers carrying on regardless, Ayer portrays the bullying of the rookie who’s dragooned into being the tank’s second driver. Pitt’s commander is merciless and fatherly; his nickname is ‘wardaddy’. You do get a clear impression that the bullying is necessary to toughen up the youngster or they could all die. Pitt’s crew, from John Bernthal’s thug to a surprisingly good Shia LaBoeuf, are all well acted. As is the case in many war films, understandably in ‘combat movies’, women are relegated to the margins.
If the climax is slightly at odds with the convincing representation of war seen earlier, the necessities of commercial cinema demand, in a war film, a big battle. That aside, the film is a perfectly pitched thriller that is very effective in showing the brutalising effect of war.
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Posted on March 6, 2015 by nicklacey
Magic and the reality of war
Whilst the demise of Studio Ghibli, after Miyazaki Hiyao’s retirement, has been exaggerated it is still reassuring to see an anime released in the UK; particularly one as good as Giovanni’s Island. It was screened as part of an ambitious programme, at the Kala Sangam centre, that attempts to keep arthouse cinema in Bradford after Picturehouse’s takeover of programming at the National Media Museum. After an almost sold out start, only three turned up the evening screening of this film. There are two more showings in the current season – check them out here and here.
Giovanni’s Island is a child eye’s view of the aftermath of war when Soviet soldiers occupied the northern Japanese island of the setting. It’s also a ‘coming of age’ story, not as extreme as JG Ballard’s Empire of the Sun, however nonetheless it portrays the way in which children, in particular, are psychological (as well as physical) casualties of war. The relationship between ‘Giovanni’ (the non de plume of the protagonist is a reference to a famous Japanese novel Night on the Galactic Road) and Russian girl, Tanya, is heartbreakingly drawn. Some critics found the film sentimental however as the film is a child’s eye view this is entirely appropriate. Whilst there is a fine line between bathos and pathos, I do wonder if critics, who find themselves ‘tearing up’ tend to resist their emotional response by blaming the film.
The animation, as is usually the case with anime, looks fabulous though the drawing of characters is particularly undefined, even by anime’s standards.
Filed under: Japanese Cinema | Tagged: anime, coming of age, war | 1 Comment »
Posted on October 21, 2014 by nicklacey
The ‘Troubles’, which was a Civil War, haven’t entirely gone away but, as a tour guide said, I visited Belfast a couple of years ago, when glass-fronted buildings appeared in the city the people knew things had changed. ’71 takes us back to the time when the violence was escalating and shoots from the perspective of a typical squaddie. Jack O’Connell embodies, which is the apposite term as there’s not a lot of evidence of grey matter, Hook (the soldier) brilliantly as he is immersed in a war he knows nothing about. One of the few clearly good characters in the film, a Catholic ex-army medic (the terrific Richard Dormer), states the army is ‘Posh cunts telling thick cunts to kill poor cunts’; an apt summary,
Hook is immediately immersed in street fighting and Yann Demange casts the film as a thriller which certainly grips with its febrile handheld camera; these scenes reminded me of Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday – high praise indeed. First time director Demange only shows his inexperience in a tense scene where Hook is trying to avoid the Provos on the stairwell of a block of flats; the continuity is more confusing than tense. David Holmes’ score is a standout.
As others have commented, the Sight & Sound review is particularly good, the lack of politics means it is a limited portrayal of Belfast in 1971; however within these limitations it is a particularly good film.
Filed under: British Cinema | Tagged: thriller, war | 2 Comments »
Posted on August 16, 2014 by nicklacey
An accidental hero
Eroica is an example of the Polish School, films made in the 1950s concerning World War II. It’s in two parts, originally meant to be three but the director, Andrzej Munk, was dissatisfied with the final section, and tells two stories of heroism. ‘Eroica’ is Italian for ‘heroic’ and, in the context of the film, refers to Beethoven’s third symphony; a brief extract from which is heard at the start of the film. I don’t think the musical reference is particularly important, but the film is clearly about heroism.
The first section is a funny tale of a chancer, Gorkiewicz, who we see at the start fleeing from being conscripted into the Polish Resistance; an entirely unheroic action. He blags his way back to Warsaw only to find his wife apparently ‘shacked up’ with a Hungarian officer. Gorkiewicz takes this philosophically and becomes embroiled in helping the Resistance anyway. The humour rises from Gorkiewicz’s behaviour as he finds himself in a number of precarious situations. At one point, whilst he’s boozing sitting on a river bank, a German tank fires a volley, making him jump, before moving on its way. The laughter of the German soldiers can be heard; the film humanises the conflict with humour.
The second part is sombre and is set in a POW camp. It portrays the relationships of men who’ve been incarcerated for the whole of the war and how they pin their faith on the one of their number who managed to escape.
The third part may have balanced the narrative of the film more; just two, basically unconnected, tales are little more than two short films, one after the other. The second film only tangentially deals with heroism. However, it is still an essential to see film if only because of the humour of the first part and some brilliant mise en scene: devastated settings form the backdrop to a number of the scenes. Munk’s career was curtailed by an early death, which was a loss to Polish, and World, cinema.
Filed under: Eastern European Cinema | Tagged: comedy, war | Leave a comment »
Posted on July 17, 2014 by nicklacey
Recalcitrant female will be brought to heel
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this attempt by Rank to break into the American market (known there as Flame Over India), although the action sequences are relatively tame there is some crackling dialogue, particular from Lauren Bacall (above). Frank Nugent, who wrote the screenplay for The Searchers, is one of the writers and this ‘India in the days of Empire’ set film can certainly be considered a western; the plot’s not a million miles away from that of Stagecoach (1939). Captain Scott (Kenneth More) has to bring a Maharajah prince to safety of face the wrath of Moslems (the term used in the film).
Although, unsurprisingly, the film validates the civilising power of the British Empire, post-Suez Britain knew its place, even if it wouldn’t admit, which might be why the journalist (Herbert Lom) is given many anti-Empire lines. From a 21st century perspective these arguments seem eminently sensible, and no doubt where present as an anti-imperialist discourse at the time the film was made; however, the journalist turns out to be a murderous Moslem thus the film discredits his views.
More’s Scott is of the entirely unflappable variety that is more laughable than admirable now. Indeed, to an extent, the film mocks him, and the British. Bacall’s character notes that the British don’t do anything until they have a cup of tea and by then it’s too late. Bacall, and such lines, no doubt, was part of the film’s intended appeal to the American market; I wonder how the British understood the sentiment at the time. Bacall also speaks her mind: she apologises for doing so but says ‘That’s what I think it’s for.’ Another way the British are (slightly) criticised is through the reference, in the introductory voice over, albeit indirectly, to the fact that Partition was responsible for causing violence. An arms dealer, also on the ‘stagecoach’ (actually a train), comes in for much criticism and is last seen being asked, by an army general, for his new weapons.
Whilst there’s lots of ‘gung ho’ ‘boy’s own’ stuff, room is given for the aftermath of a massacre: there are consequences to the adventure. The British film industry can no longer afford to make such action pictures, apart from Bond; definitely a case of things were different in the old days.
Filed under: British Cinema | Tagged: war | Leave a comment »