Tag Archives: WWII

Quick ‘n’ Dirty: March at the pictures

I didn’t go a lot to the cinema in March but I made up for it watching more European films (from Belgium, Spain and Denmark, to be precise). So here are my short and sweet reviews. Dig in!

Belgica: the story of Cafe Belgica and Jo and Frank, two brothers who own it. We see the evolution from hole-in-the-wall bar just for the locals with some live music into concert venue with regular gigs and selected clientele. At the beginning working at Belgica seems like the best thing in the world (sex, drugs and rock and roll) but, as time goes by, we see that it comes with a lot of baggage and pain, paralleling a heavy night of partying and drinking (more Bukowski’s style). What grabs more the attention is the music, it cleverly evolves in style with the changes of the bar and the strifes and troubles between the brothers. The cinematography is also to the point: the film begins with a red, warm hue suggesting intimacy and fun and, as the bar expands beyond control, the color schemes shift toward a harsh and cold blue. The performances of Stef Aerts and Tom Vermier as Jo and Frank are convincing and compelling. One minor quibble could be that some interesting secondary characters are not given much depth, but it’s just nit-picking. Intriguing —7.5/10

Belgica

 

Zootopia: the latest Disney animated film is set in an anthropomorphic city where mammals, predators and not, co-exist peacefully… more or less. Comedy, adventure and crime drama are well mixed together in a story that has never a dull moment. There are endearing characters like our heroine Judy Hopps, who is the first bunny to join the police of Zootopia, and cheeky ones like Nick Wilde, a fox and a hustler. There’s humour for kids and grow-ups alike (the sloths at the DMV are priceless) and a nice message about tolerance and inclusion that works well without being too corny or cheesy. The voice actors are perfect for their characters and the animation is top-notch. Maybe it’s not my favorite among Disney animated films but it is entertaining. Fun —7/10

zootopia

 

Land of Mine: the life of German prisoners in Denmark in 1945, right after the end of War World II. The Danish government decided to use thousands of German prisoners of war to remove the mines on the western coast of Denmark (put there by the Nazi during the occupation). The film tells the story of a small group of such prisoners, mostly still boys, and Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moeller), the Danish soldier in charge of them and their mission. While beautifully shot the film falls short of the mark: the story of each character feels flat, without any reasonable development or believable motives. Sgt. Rasmussen suddenly change from Nazi-hater and treating the boys worse than animals, to father-figure, especially with Sebastian (Louis Hofmann), the unofficial leader of the group. The most important issue of the Geneva Convention about prisoners of war and not behaving like the Nazis did is completely glossed over, which makes for an easy way out for the director and writer Martin Zandvliet. Stray observations: no way it’s always sunny in Denmark, even in summer; if it’s windy it’s nigh impossible to keep the sand out of your eyes; the boys have always perfectly trim hair even after months of work… doubt that a barber showed up there every few weeks! Disappointing–5/10

land-of-mine

 

A Perfect Day: another movie about the aftermath of a war, this time is the Balkans in 1990s. What is most compelling is that the main point of view is neutral, the viewer is shown the ugliness of war in an objective way without judgement or taking sides. The plot is about an international group of aid workers who are supposed to clean up wells to provide the local population with potable water. Drama and comedy are dosed well, combining interesting and insightful situations that stem from language and cultural barriers, moronic bureaucracy and personal relationships. Black humour at the expense of military authority and the helplessness of the UN is reminiscent of M*A*S*H. Benico Del Toro and Tim Robbins, as the two old-timers of the group, are spectacular and well worth watching. Alex Catalan’s superb cinematography of the arid mountain landscapes and war devastated backdrop further enhances this enjoyable dark comedy/ funny drama. Unusual and riveting —7.5/10

A-perfect-day

 

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Oldies but goldies: Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

Ivans-childhood

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky; Main Cast: Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, Evgeniy ZharikovStepan KrylovNikolay Grinko;

Tarkovsky’s first feature film is a rather bleak account of the final year of World War II on the Russian front. The main point of view is not a soldier but a 12-year-old boy, Ivan (Burlyaev), whose life has been ravaged by the German invasion. We find Ivan working as a military scout, infiltrating behind enemy lines and then reporting back information on Nazi positions and movements. He is collected by a sentry after a long swim across a river and delivered to young Lieutenant Galtsev (Zharikov), who, at first, doesn’t believe him to be a scout, being just a boy. Galtsev discovers that Ivan has been taken under the wing by Captain Kholin (Zubkov), his subaltern Katasonov (Krylov) and also his superior Lt. Colonel Gryaznov (Grinko), all of whom would love nothing more than to send him away to safety to a military school. Unfortunately Ivan is hell-bent on revenge against the Nazis and wants only to be part of the war effort, either with the army or with the partisans. Kholin and Gryaznov can only accept his stubbornness and plan the next recon mission, across the same river, in preparation for the Russian offensive. Ivan is carried on a dinghy by Kholin and Galtsev, with the favor of the night and some luck, and then left on the German shore to proceed on his own. It will be the last time Kholin and Galtsey will see him. The film then moves on to the end of the war and the epilogue of the story, seen through Galtsev’s eyes. Tarkosky’s inspired shots and Vadim Yudov’s cinematography perfectly depict the grimness of the life on the front, juxtaposing it with peaceful and beautiful scenery (I’ve never seen a birch wood so enchanting!). The contrast between Ivan’s dreams and his present life is also rendered very well, and I appreciated water as recurring element in both, maybe symbol of connection and, at the same time, separation. Although not for light entertainment, this film is captivating and original, I would say that, along with Battleground, it is the most candid representation of events during World War II, without any glamour or over the top heroics. Unrelenting and gripping —8/10

This post is my contribution to the Russia in classic films blogathon, hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently. You can read all the other entries here:

russia-blogathon-flicker-alley-house-of-mystery-3

 

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Diplomatie

diplomatie

Director: Volker Schlöndorff; Main Cast: André Dussollier, Niels ArestrupBurghart KlaußnerRobert Stadlober;

Cyril Gely adapted for the screen his play by the same title about a battle of wills between Dietrich von Choltitz (Arestrup), the German military governor of occupied Paris, and Swedish consul-general Raoul Nordling (Dussollier). The film takes place during the fateful night of the 24th of August 1944, after von Choltitz has received the order to reduce Paris to a pile of rubbles since the Allies are about to liberate it. Nordling shows up, rather unexpectedly, to the governor’s office and try to convince von Choltitz to disobey his orders. The two men know each other quite well and try to use it as an advantage in this bloodless confrontation. Of course we all know that Paris was never destroyed but it is still interesting to see Nordling pleading with von Choltitz, tellling him he will go down in history as the man who laid waste to a beautiful and emblematic city. On the other hand, the governor thinks he has no other choice, since Hitler has threatened the well-being of his family. It seems to me that diplomacy looks a lot like poker: you don’t play the cards you play the man. Although very static, it is still an engaging film, thanks to the brilliant performance of the two leads. I also like the use of original footage of the Allies entering Paris, not new but effective (and it probably saved some money on production!). It’s still an entertaining story even if it is not completely accurate from a historical point of view. Diverting —7/10

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The Monuments Men

Director: George Clooney, Main Cast: George ClooneyMatt DamonCate BlanchettBill MurrayJohn GoodmanJean DujardinHugh BonnevilleBob Balaban;

the-monuments-men

George Clooney as a director has an uneven record, it’s kind of one hit and one miss. This film is, unfortunately, a miss, stellar cast notwithstanding. It is a story set during the last true “good” war: between the ever righteous Americans (with some help from those nice English chaps) and the evil Nazis! It is about a group of men who are not soldiers but art experts (being museum curators, art historians, architects or artists) and whose mission is to rescue artistic masterpieces stolen by the Nazis from museums and churches around Europe and return them to their rightful owners. Strong of a mandate from FDR himself, Frank Stokes (Clooney) puts together a band of unlikely heros to rob three casinos in Las Vegas…oops no, sorry, that was another movie! They arrive in France, not long after D-Day and, with barely any training as soldiers, venture to the front and split in groups trying to reach precious artifacts before the Germans have time to smuggle them away. Naturally, they are too late! Nazis are not only evil but real devils when it comes to organisation and logistics. From this point on, it is a giant treasure hunt through Europe and a race against time, since the prime directive from the Fuhrer is to destroy everything if the Reich falls (and the Germans aren’t doing so well by the end of 1944). Instrumental in helping the Monument Men is Claire Simone (Blanchett), curator of the Jeu De Paume museum in Paris, who kept a detailed record of all the works of art that came to the museum and that were later moved to secret locations by the Germans. She is the most interesting character of the film because she is the only one the audience has the chance to know a little better, the others are just one-dimensional cardboard silhouettes, devoid of any character development, which is a great flaw in a movie that is supposed to be about these happy few men who chose to risk their lives for what they believed in. Yes, yes, the message is very uplifting (prevent the destruction of centuries of culture and history and save what really makes us human) but the delivery is rather clumsy. There are a few funny one-liners, some banter and witticism in a “brotherhood of men” kind of way, but it all feels flat and without pathos. It is not enough to cast Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville and Matt Damon, if the script is uneven, lacking a clear direction and credibility (none of these men of culture is fluent in a foreign language or two, really?!? Damon’s character pitiful attempt at speaking French doesn’t count!). It is a pity because this movie could have been quite something considering the cast. Unsatisfying and ineffective —5/10

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The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)

Director:  Hayao Miyazaki, Main Cast (voices): Hideaki AnnoMorio KazamaHidetoshi Nishijima;

the-wind-rises

So this is it: Miyazaki’s swan song. He brings together his great passion for airplanes with a recurrent Studio Ghibli’s theme: the pursuit of one’s dream. At odds with all his previous works, this film is an animated feature more for adults than children, being the biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aircraft engineer who developed the Zero (fighter plane used during World War II). Although it starts with a boy and his imagination, whose dream of becoming a pilot is impeded by his myopia, it evolves into a more serious and grounded story of a young man determined to become an aircraft engineer, who, in turns, matures into a talented designer of fighter planes. Miyazaki still delights us with his magic, giving it free reins representing Jiro’s dreams and a great character, Caproni, an Italian aeronautical engineer who appears as mentor and adviser in the dreams. On the other hand, the film also shows, very effectively, dramatic events such as the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami and firestorms that devastated the Kanto region and nearly destroyed Tokio in 1923. It is during this fateful day that Jiro, still a student at the time, crosses path for the first time with Nohoko, the girl who will become his wife years later. Miyazaki, while telling his hero’s story, only hints at the major historical events: Japan’s poverty, its race to armament (along with Germany), the rises of totalitarian governments, repression of dissent and war. It seems that the story, as well as Jiro, lives in a bubble and focuses only on making the best plane ever without really dealing with what it’s being built for. This is the major flaw of the movie and it is the drawback of telling a story grounded in reality when the author is so used to fantastic ones. The uses of planes for war is, indeed, briefly addressed and condemned but it feels like an afterthought, like Miyazaki realises too late that he cannot avoid making a statement. Anyway the film is still a pleasure to watch with its flawless animation and endearing characters. Miyazaki leaves us with a bittersweet ending, reminding us that the dream is over and it is time to wake up. Le vent se lève il faut tenter de vivre. 7.5/10

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Fleming: the Man who would be Bond (TV mini-series)

Main Cast: Dominic CooperLara PulverAnna ChancellorSamuel WestAnnabelle Wallis;

fleming

This four-episodes mini-series stars Dominic Cooper as legendary 007 writer Ian Fleming, and his real life spy exploits that influenced the Bond novels… well, a fictionalized version anyway. He is the second son from an affluent and well-connected family, always outshone in his widowed mother’s eye by his big brother Peter. It’s 1939 and Nazi Germany is on a rampage in Europe, Peter is doing his duty for King and Country while Ian hankers for something better in London, working at a job he clearly hates and giving into debauchery. To prove to his family and friends that he’s worth his salt, he enlists as a Navy Intelligence officer, putting to good use his undeniable skills of spinning tales and giving lies the ring of truth, along with his knowledge of German and European high society mores. His new boss Admiral Godfrey (West) and second officer Monday (Chancellor) are initially bemused by his brash attitude and unconventional ideas and methods, and they seem the blueprint for M and Miss Moneypenny or the other way around, who knows how much of this story is fiction. However Ian gets his way most of the times and he’s more successful than not in his job as “spy”. He also has a rather complicated love life, having a girlfriend, Muriel (Wallis), and an affair with a married woman, Ann (Pulver). The story is overall intriguing and Cooper pulls the suave persona off quite well, the dynamic with the other characters is quite  convincing: playful banter with Monday, respectful/antagonising behaviour with Godfrey, torrid passion with Ann and idealised love with Muriel. The settings and cinematography are rich and colourful, glamour and danger dosed just right and there are plenty of homages and references to our favorite spy and his escapades. Entertaining and alluring. —7/10

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Emperor

Director: Peter Webber, Main Cast: Matthew FoxTommy Lee Jones

Historical film, or at least based on true events, about the American occupation of Japan right after the end of World War II and how they dealt with its emperor, Hirohito. General Fellers (Fox) is tasked by General MacArthur (Jones) to investigate and determine if Hirohito is a war criminal and should be executed as such. His job is facilitated by his knowledge of the Japanese culture, due to his love affair with Aya, a woman Fellers met in college and than stayed with in Japan before the war. However he seems more focused, at times, on his frantic search of Aya, hoping against hope she survived the destruction caused by the war. We get glimpses of political maneuvering on both American and Japanese side, which would have made a more intriguing plot if developed, but mostly we are drowned in the self-righteousness of the protagonist, which is uninteresting and stale. Fox does his best and he is a good fit for the character, Jones brings his usual energy to his performance but it is not enough to save the film. Insipid —5/10

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Indigenes

Director: Rachid Bouchareb, Main Cast: Samy NaceriRoschdy ZemSami BouajilaJamel Debbouze

It is not widely known that, during World War II, France enlisted soldiers from its colonies in North and Central Africa to fight against the Nazis. The film tells the tale of four men from Algeria and Morocco who volunteer (or are volunteered? not exactly clear) in 1943 and found themselves part of the war machine, where they experience discrimination and racism from French officers in addition to the horrors of being on the front line. We follow them as they campaign first in Italy and then in France. Treated more as cannon fodder than as proper soldiers, they are denied simple rights (food rations, leave, promotions) that “regular” French soldiers have. The characters have different reactions due mostly to their disparate background. The most vocal about his rights is the corporal, sort of the “intellectual” and leader of the group. Being a European war movie I wasn’t expecting a happy ending and I was right, even the survivor doesn’t get one. It just makes the message more powerful. The pace is a little slow at some points but it’s a venial sin. The cast is not only well chosen but delivers a very touching and engaging performance. Stirring and captivating. —7/10

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Lore

Director: Cate Shortland, Main Cast:  Saskia RosendahlKai-Peter MalinaNele Trebs

Hitler is dead and the Third Reich has collapsed, 15-year-old Lore and her younger siblings (including 7 months old Peter) has been left to fend for themselves by their parents: an SS officer directly involved in the Holocaust and his proud wife. They embark in a long trip on foot through the different sectors of Germany, controlled by the Allies, to reach their grandmother’s house in Hamburg. Along the way they meet Thomas, a young man who is trying as well to survive the aftermath of the war. He helps them and care for them but this will force Lore to come to terms with all the Nazi propaganda she has been fed since childhood. It is a story about the loss of innocence from a rather unusual and interesting point of view, films that tell stories about WWII from the “losing” side perspective, either German, Italian or Japanese, are quite rare. The two young leads are very convincing and Cate Shortland uses very skillfully images and an almost complete absence of a musical score to convey the feeling of loss and abandonment. If you like her style you should watch “Somersault“.   —7.5/10

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