Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Great films’

At the outset I must admit I am partial to make believe world, which is more than an escapism but transposing the imperfect world of our making into what might have been. In order to create what is perfect from what is imperfect one needs to put distance. So ‘Once upon a time’ is a kind of magic formula as open sesame or abracadabra and by which you and I may examine the everyday reality in ways that could not have existed otherwise. This kind of marginal annotations to life are very much crucial to our grasp of reality without which we merely swim with the tide. Take for example a girl embarking on a settled state looks in her ideal beau that he be an Adonis and pleases her eye or ears. It would seem beauty as a necessary condition for future bliss is accepted by consensus. The fairy tale ‘the Beauty and the Beast’ questions our preoccupation with beauty by making the suitor of Beauty a beast. Is beauty a requisite for an ideal marriage? The question begs an answer and to each his/her own. This fairy tale made a great impression on me when I first read it. But when I saw it as a film it devastated me as no other film, I am referring here the Cocteau film and not the Disney version.
There have been oodles and oodles of fairy tales adapted for films. If not for these tales think how poorer Disney productions would have fared. Disney had a shot at the Beauty and the Beast (1991) and it not what I am discussing at present. Jean Cocteau’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast (originally released in France as La Belle et la Bête) stars Josette Day as Beauty and Jean Marais as the Beast. When I first saw it I could not imagine a fairy tale could visually in so daring style, and with considerable charm be presented. Having sat through several movies since then I know now that there was more to it than what the surface showed. I can still recall the wealth of images that assailed me some 26 years ago.
Cocteau of course is preeminently a poet using the artifice of cinema instead of words. For example in the scene where Beauty enters the mysterious castle, we feel along with Beauty the presence. Was it her presence that set off the mystery or the tragic circumstance of the Beast crying out for deliverance? Doors soundlessly swing open as she approaches them; the hallway is lit by candelabras held by living arms and hands extending from the walls. Other disembodied hands point the way to the dining foyer. Partial faces protrude from the marble fireplace, puffing smoke. Beauty dutifully sits at the dining table and excitedly senses the Beast coming up behind her. What is superficially grotesque must give way as her love is kindled by and by. The Beast, by the same token responds to the presence of love and assures her, “Your are in no danger.”
Having pointed out a memorable scene I can only say where a clutch of selective images could produce a certain mood and intertwined meanings that lead us someplace must be poetry. Cocteau succeeds amply therein. His “Orphic Trilogy” (The Blood of a Poet -1930, Orphée -1949, and Le Testament d’Orphée-1960) is further proof to his poetic sensibility. Many viewers and critics consider La Belle et la Bête his finest film work.

Synopsis
Beauty (Josette Day) has two older sisters, Felicity (Mila Parély) and Adelaide (Nane Germon), and a brother, Ludovic (Michel Auclair). Beauty has a suitor, Avenant (Jean Marais) – a friend of Ludovic, and a fop and she puts him off since she is devoted to her father(Marcel André) who needs her. Her homelife somewhat like Cindrella despised by her sisters who are mean and grasping,
The father is a merchant and, until recently, quite successful. He goes on a journey. When he is told that he must die for picking a rose from the Beast’s garden, his courageous daughter (Day) offers to go back to the Beast in her father’s place. The Beast falls in love with her and proposes marriage on a nightly basis; she refuses, having pledged her troth to a handsome prince (also played by Marais). Eventually, however, she is drawn to the repellent but strangely fascinating Beast, who tests her fidelity by giving her a key, telling her that if she doesn’t return it to him by a specific time, he will die of grief.
The film features a musical score by Georges Auric.
Run time:90 minutes
Trivia: Cocteau had reservations about taking on this project. The idea for the film actually came from producer Andre Paulve, who felt that post-War France would be receptive to a fanciful fairy tale. Cocteau owing to his limited experience as a filmmaker got help. He hired Rene Clement as technical advisor, Christian Berard as designer and Henri Alekan as cinematographer.

(ack: metalluk-e.pinions, All Movie Guide-Hal Erickson)

Once Upon a Time—French Poet Explains His Filming of Fairy Tale BY JEAN COCTEAU

The poet Paul Eluard says that to understand my film version of Beauty and the Beast, you must love your dog more than your car. Ordinarily, I would settle for that. However, with so much being written about the film that is entirely false to my intentions, I have decided that I must explain myself just a little.

The French film industry is now going through a curious phase. In the past, our producers found that wit and poetry could be made to pay. Now with the field of distribution constantly decreasing, with production costs increasing, and with theatre admission rates fixed by the government at a non-realistic low level, the business men of the cinema have gradually become patrons of the arts—ill-tempered ones, as you can imagine.

At the present moment, a film that goes against average taste gets few bookings in France, and outside of some ambitious pictures undertaken to maintain prestige, production is almost at a standstill and the studios deserted. A poet engaged in film work must face another great difficulty: the immediate results demanded of a motion picture. A book can wait. A play that has flopped may be revived. A film must please at once, and we therefore have to devise ways to please and displease at the same time. There has never yet been an instance of something new not baffling the esthetes, the critics and the public, lazily accepting familiar formulas. The least challenge is apt to awaken a brutal and unpleasant response.

The only hope for a film is that the public, less blind and less deaf than our judges, I should say more childlike and more open to persuasion, may disobey the veto of the with Beauty and the Beast, see simply and lovingly what blinkers hide from the enthroned intelligentsia.

In short, when I decided to make a film that would be a fairy tale, and when I chose the one that is the least fairy-like—which is to say the one that would need to make the least use of modern cinema techniques—I of course knew that I was going pontiffs and, as has been the case against the grain, against the tide, against the tide. Once more, I was in opposition to current fashion.

To realism, I would oppose the simplified, formalized behavior of characters out of Molière (at the beginning of the film). To fairyland as people usually see it, I would bring a kind of realism to banish the vague and misty nonsense now so completely outworn. My story would concern itself mainly with the unconscious obstinacy with which women pursue the same type of man, and expose the naiveté of the old fairy tales that would have us believe that this type reaches its ideal in conventional good looks. My aim would be to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: “And they had many children.”

I was therefore obliged to deceive both the public and Beauty herself. Slyly, and with much effort, I persuaded my cameraman Alekan to shoot Jean Marais, as the Prince in as saccharine a style as possible. The trick worked. When the picture was released, letters poured in from matrons, teen-age girls and children, complaining to me and Marais about the transformation. They mourned the disappearance of the Beast—the same Beast who terrified them so at the time when Madame Leprince de Beaumont wrote the tale.

When Madame de Beaumont published Beauty and the Beast, she was an impoverished teacher in England, and I suppose that the story is of Scotch origin. Anglo-Saxons manage the horror story, the weird tale, better than anybody else. In fact, in England one still hears tales of lords, the eldest sons of noble families, heirs to the title, hidden away in barred rooms of old castles.

There are three reasons why I have high hopes that Americans will readily grasp my intention. First, America is the home of Edgar Allen Poe, secret societies, mystics, ghosts, and a wonderful lyricism in the very streets. Second, childhood remains longer within the soul than it does here in France, where we try to suppress it as a weakness. Third, the America that now influences French literature is already ancient history for you, and the American is looking forward to something other than what astonishes us but no longer astonishes him.

Here, roughly sketched, I have tried to give you something of what led me into an experience that I shall not repeat, because true experience must be unique. I can only compare it once again to the casting forth of a seed, which falls on favorable or unfavorable ground, blowing where it will.
(From the original press book for the U.S. premiere of Beauty and the Beast/ack: La Belle et La Bête-1946 10Feb03
Criterion collection)
benny

Read Full Post »

Vredens Dag-1943
Based on a novel by Hans Wiers-Jenssens, Carl Th.Dreyer’s Day of Wrath remains an intense, unforgettable experience. The credits against the score of Dies Irae, chanted by a solemn choir on the background sets the tone. One might expect the film to be a moral play from a casual reading of the plot. Consider the plot: Anne, the young second wife of a well-respected but much older pastor, falls in love with her stepson who has come home. The film could easily have slid into the other extreme judging by the bare storyline. The film is not for those who approach a film to satisfy their prurient interests.  Carl Dreyer is in full command of his material never swerving to please either.  He leaves the film open ended and it makes it all the more compelling drama somewhat like Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel. Was Anne similarly guilty or not is left to the viewer and there are no easy answers.

Set in Denmark in the 1600s Dreyer’s austere narrative does not let off the aged, devout minister, Absalon (Thorkild Roose) for marrying a far younger wife, Anne (Lisbeth Movin). His moral authority places him head of the religious council and in power over life and death of members of his parish. But is he what he seems to profess? All his professed piety is negated by his foolish May- December marriage. As the film progresses we know his gravity and condescending concern for her is more a manifestation of the aridity of his soul.  He can well dispatch a helpless woman to her death who knows too well the circumstances by which he claimed the young bride.  With her death the minister has merely bought time. None of his fellow clergymen shall know he conspired to release Anne’s late mother, an accused witch, in return for Anne agreeing to marry him. This is the moral dilemma number one.

Abaslon’s unmarried son (and Anne’s stepson), Martin (Preben Lerdoff Rye) poses the second. In the final scene we feel with Anne in the manner her last remaining support is cut off. Martin is as much guilty of lust but having tasted stolen bread in secret, the gravel that he spits out is his lack of moral compass. He gives in too easily to ‘religion’ of  his departed sire and superstition. The shot where Anne stands by her husband’s coffin abandoned and accused by her peers is all the more keenly felt since it is a commentary of Martin’s betrayal. It breaks her will so much as to let her tormentors do what will. But was she really guilty of Absalon’s death?
Whether Anne is really guilty or not is left unanswered as the scene in the first half where Absalon reveals about her mother. She was a witch who could with her powers work with the dead and the living to bring anything to pass. He shares this piece of news concerned that she as her child possessed the same powers, and in the perilous times when witches were hunted and burned she should be very careful. Next shot we see her enunciating the name of Martin clearly and trembling with desire. The viewer knows the name is spoken with all her  being. Was it the desire of a woman awaiting for a physical union with one who is in his prime? Or is the cold power of a witch manifested here? In whichever case Martin responded because of his human fraility. Whether Martin answered her call on incantation or by his own physical desire makes him equally guilty. But he is not punished. Moral dilemma of man answering his natural urges is solely on his own human  condition: in other words witches or demonic possession are simply labels to paper over one’s moral lapses.

While largely Dreyer’s essay deals with a forbidden love triangle there are two characters whose formidable presence delineate the moral ambit of the three characters. Anne’s tragedy is what imposed by hereditary. Herlofs Marte (Anne Svierkier) at the beginning of the film comes to Anne in fright; her appeal for refuge is on the basis she is the daughter of a witch of her own coven. Anne in helping her has already placed herself on the wrong side of the powerful Council.
Marte who is accused of witchcraft knows society for what it is. She knows what beats behind the straitlaced minister and his ilk. She is unrepentant and is not taken in by the moralizing prig whose heart is all angles as sharp as the scythe of Death. She cries out  “I fear neither heaven or hell; I am only afraid to die,” and it is merely admission of her human fraility that is beyond pretensions or need for redemption. When she falls along with the burning stake it is as she falls on us. It is an unforgettable cinematic moment.
At the outset we witness an intimate domestic scene that is a commentary on the household. It is not Absalon or his wife but his mother who is in charge. She is a veritable Gorgon. Naturally Anne could not do anything right and when her mother-in-law accuses her of engineering her son’s death we are left with no doubt as to the motive. Mother of the minister and in her dress and conduct a matron of unassailable virtue she is unrepentant and unredeemed as much as Herlofs Marte occupying the other end of local community in Norway.

Filmed during the Nazi occupation of Denmark, Carl Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (Vredens dag) is a harrowing account of individual helplessness in the face of growing social repression and paranoia.  Exquisitely photographed and passionately acted, Day of Wrath remains an intense, unforgettable experience.
Cast
Lisbeth Movin
Albert Høeberg
Preben Lerdorff Rye
Sigrid Neiiendam

Credits
Director    Carl Th. Dreyer
Screenplay    Carl Th. Dreyer
From a novel by    Hans Wiers-Jenssens
Producer    Carl Th. Dreyer and Tage Nielsen
Cinematography    Karl Andersson
Editing    Anne Marie Petersen and Edith Schlüssel
Music     Poul Schierbeck
Memorable Quotes:
Rev. Absalon Pederssøn: There is nothing so quiet as a heart that has ceased to beat.
—-
Martin: Shall we ever find each other again?
Anne Pedersdotter: Who shall prevent it?
Martin: The dead.
—-
Anne Pedersdotter: I see through my tears, but no one comes to wipe them away.
Trivia

Though the film is outwardly a chronicle of a religious witch-hunt, it contained many subtler comparisons to the behavior of the Nazis (torture and questioning) and Carl Theodor Dreyer fled Denmark for Sweden where he remained until the war was over.

Dreyer
‘Much of Dreyer’s austerity in dissecting the frailities of human heart and psyche without sitting in judgment of moral compulsions he is more a coroner than a surgeon. Hysteria of witchcraft and heresy of 17th Century had given way to Eugenics and racial purity demanded by the Nazism. Looking at society conditioned by Luther or Calvin authority of the godly required scapegoats. The church leaders based their policy on the Holy Writ while the Nazis policy of lebensraum  drew their own conclusions from Spencer and Darwin. Dreyer’s concern was for those who made up society, Everyman on whom was the burden of making the policy of powers- that- be  work. In locating the areas of putrefaction he didn’t make them monstrous or innocent. Absalon,  Jeanne d’Arc, one mythical and the other historical, were victims of greater forces.
Dreyer’s upbringing was neither strict nor Lutheran. Born out of wedlock in 1889 to a Swedish servant (who died horribly a year and a half later trying to abort a second child), he was adopted by the Dreyers in Copenhagen, who gave him a nonreligious upbringing and whom he grew up despising religiosity. Absalon’s mother must have touched a familiar chord in him to make her as instrument of hatred masquerading as propriety. ‘The slow pacing is necessary for the intensity and the sexiness under the gloom to register. Freely adapted from a Norwegian play… Anne Pedersdotter that Dreyer had first seen in 1909, Day of Wrath looks today more cinematically advanced than any other movie released in 1943.

The film’s handling of period is unparalleled, achieving a narrative richness that may initially seem confusing. Set in 1623, when people still believed without question in witches, the film views that world from a contemporary perspective without for a moment dispelling our sense of what it felt like from the inside. Dreyer pulls off this difficult task through his singular style, involving a sensual form of camera movement he invented: the camera gliding on unseen tracks in one direction while uncannily panning in another direction. It’s difficult to imagine—a three-dimensional kind of transport that somehow combines coming and going in the same complex journey—but a hypnotic experience to follow. The film’s first real taste of it comes fairly early, when we follow Anne in her sinuous progress towards the torture chamber where Herlof’s Marte is being interrogated. The camera tracking with Anne around a pillar prompts our involvement while its simultaneous swiveling away from her establishes our detachment. And enhancing the strange sense of presence that results is Dreyer’s rare employment of direct sound rather than studio post-synching—giving scenes an almost carnal impact..’ ( Ack:Figuring Out Day of Wrath- Jonathan Rosenbaum/Criterion collections, 20 Aug 01)
benny

Read Full Post »

In a film where the eponymous heroine holds with her ‘feel good’ doctor the following  dialogue :
Veronica Voss: You’ve given me a great deal of happiness.
Dr. Marianne Katz: I sold it to you.

one may be sure the film is going to be as dark as the soul of  the dopefiend or of her ‘fixer.’ ”Veronika Voss,”is the  second-to-last film of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It is a chilly, tough, wicked satire set in Munich some 10 years after the collapse of the Nazi Germany.  Fassbinder’s movies like ”The Marriage of Maria Braun” and ”Lola” deal with the economic miracle of Post-war Germany. The American ideal of ‘pursuit of happiness’ is imported as Hershey bar is, and practiced in the city in no holds barred struggle.  Veronika Voss is one victim. We see  beneath the façade of prosperity  wounded creatures like Veronika Voss and Lola.   Both are pawns. Lola the singer is the pawn of a corrupt contractor who has all the powers- that- be in his pocket except the idealistic  but wet- behind- the- ears- goodness of the new City planner.  Progress for the Slum Lord is in that he can spread his money around. The politicians and pillars of the society also see it that way. So Lola is there to corrupt the idealism that doesn’t bring money to him in the way he wants it. He well knows the honest city planner shall be on his way, so Lola must entrap him. Whereas  Veronika has the misfortune to fall in the clutches of  an evil doctor. She peddles pleasure as indicated in the dialogue quoted above. Veronicka Voss  (Rosel Zech), a once-popular German movie actress who is rumored to have been a close friend of Goebbels has not the staying power of a filmstar like Betty Davis or Joan Crawford. She is blond and something like a Harlowt (with t silent); and as far as her acting goes she is the type who cannot possibly survive, without some help like Goebbels. It was before the war.

In the Post War Germany an economic miracle is blowing across Germany and for her help comes in the form Dr. Marianne Katz.
When we first see Veronika Voss she is in a Munich theater watching her former self in an old movie, one in which she is surrendering to an evil woman doctor in return for drugs to support her habit. ‘As life sometimes imitates terrible movies, the story of Veronika Voss becomes much like the plot of one of her films’(quote: NY Times review-By VINCENT CANBY
Published: September 24, 1982
)
Synopsis
While walking through a park, a chance rain drives Veronika Voss to the friendly Robert Krohn (Hilmar Thate), a sports reporter. He gallantly offers her protection at least for now from getting wet. He is one of the few people in Munich who doesn’t remember her face or her name. Intrigued Veronika telephones Robert a couple of days later and asks him to meet her for tea.
At the restaurant, Veronika charms Robert as well as baffles him. As lighting in a restaurant  she gives a hint of her ambience derived from her ‘dark self.’ As if to prove the point she says ”I like to seduce helpless men,” and then borrows 300 marks from him to buy a brooch. She also proves her amoral side by whisking him off right in front of his live- in photographer who shall dearly pay for loving him unreservedly.
Veronika takes him to her country house where they make  love and she reaches a kind of orgasm, given the clue of Fassbinder’s sexual predilections an anticlimax, she reveals her dark self.  She is a morphine addict.
The rest soon falls apart from romance of an ageing coquette with a naïve sportswriter into the dark realms of mystery. There isn’t much of mysterywhen the has been actress doesn’t want to be rescued from’ her pursuit of happiness.’ The music and crisp black and white photography adds to the acidulous touch of Fassbinder. Since I had touched upon his Lola earlier I shall merely add ‘Lola’ is in color, and its psychadelic color palette still makes it black in its overall emotional intensity. I close this appreciation with a touch of regret that his genius was cut down in the middle of its full flowering.
Trivia: The film is loosely based on the career of actress Sybillie Schmitz. It is reportedly influenced by Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.
2.
Fassbinder has a bit part in the beginning of the film sitting behind Voss in a movie theatre and watching her old movie. Lilo Pempeit (also Liselotte Eder) who plays the manager of a jewelry store was Fassbinder’s mother. Günther Kaufmann for whom Fassbinder earlier had an unrequited infatuation, plays in all three films of the cycle. In this one he is an enigmatic African-American G.I. Juliane Lorenz, seen in the brief role of a secretary, was a close associate of Fassbinder and the editor of this film.(Ack: wikipedia, NY Times Review)
VERONIKA VOSS, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder; screenplay (German with English subtitles) by Peter Marthesheimer and Pea Frohlich; director of photography, Xaver Schwarzenberger; edited by Juliane Lorenz; music by Peer Raben; produced by Thomas Schuhly; a production of Laura-Film/Tango Film in co-production with Rialto-Film/Trio- Film/Maran Film; Running time: 105 minutes. This film is rated R. 

Veronika Voss . . . . . Rosel Zech 
Robert Krohn . . . . . Hilmar Thate 
Henriette . . . . . Cornelia Froboess 
Dr. Katz . . . . . Annemarie Duringer 
Josefa . . . . . Doris Schade 
Dr. Edel . . . . . Eric Schumann 
Film Producer-Fat Man . . . . . Peter Berling 
G.I.-Dealer . . . . . Gunther Kaufmann 
Saleswoman . . . . . Sonja Neudorfer 
Her Boss . . . . . Lilo Pempeit

benny

Read Full Post »

( Note: This post first appeared in cinebuff.wordpress.com. b)
The kernel of the film is same as what Machiavelli in his book The Prince seems to say. The book was meant for Lorenzo de Medici, the Magnificent. Of course the Medicis of another age and clime hold parallel to the Corleone family in as far as that they could acquire power and maintain it. As Medicis before them the Corleone family embody the American Dream and in it they didn’t have such taste or luck as the Medicis had. Michaelangelo under the aegis of the Corleone family surely would have churned out kitsch by dozens. The film has no pretensions to art and culture but is a crime drama. In order to ensure success what a bloody trail the Corleones leave in their wake? The Machiavellian methods dictated a course that is violent and amoral. After all given the stakes involved, the warring parties cannot then as now afford to let their objectives clouded by fine sensibilities. In this context the film quote “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” has the directness of a thrust from a stilleto or a spray of bullets from a machine gun. The second part of the Godfather is the saga of Vito Corleone from his childhood in Sicily (1901) to his founding of the criminal Corleone Family in New York City while still a young man (1917–1925) and like the Prince is a modern treatise for any one who would want to maintain his position acquired by fair means or foul.
The plot includes two parallel storylines. One involves Mafia chief Michael Corleone following the events of the first movie from 1958 to 1959 and the other his father is a series of flashbacks. In the present, Michael Corleone attempt to steer the family business towards respectability but at great cost to his own relationships. Even his own brother, Freddie (John Cazale) is sacrificed to Michael’s grim and ultimately pointless determination. The Godfather Part II became the first sequel ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and garnered and even bigger Oscar haul than The Godfather. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola from a script co-written with Mario Puzo the film stars Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, and Talia Shire. New cast members include Robert De Niro( who won the Best Supporting Actor) , Michael V. Gazzo and Lee Strasberg.
Trivia: Paramount was initially opposed to name the movie The Godfather Part II. According to Coppola, the studio’s objection stemmed from the belief that audiences would be reluctant to see a film with such a title. The success of The Godfather Part II began the Hollywood tradition of numbered sequels.
Cast
Al Pacino as Don Michael Corleone
* Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen
* Robert De Niro as Young Vito Corleone
* Diane Keaton as Kay Corleone
* John Cazale as Fredo Corleone
* Talia Shire as Connie Corleone
* Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth
* Michael V. Gazzo as Frankie Pentangeli
* Morgana King as Mama Carmella Corleone
* G.D. Spradlin as Senator Pat Geary
* Richard Bright as Al Neri
* Marianna Hill as Deanna Corleone
* Gastone Moschin as Don Fanucci
* Troy Donahue as Merle Johnson

The Godfather Part II ranks among the most critically and artistically successful film sequels in movie history, and is the most honored. Many critics praise it as equal, or even superior, to the original film.
…a sumptuous flamboyant entertainment – not a work of art perhaps but a rich, enjoyable wallow of a movie.

~ Barry Norman, 100 Best Films of the Century

benny

Read Full Post »

Great Scenes from a few movie classics are discussed here. The first is All Quiet etc.,

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is one of the early sound films that can truly be classed as the first major anti-war film and anticipated La Grande Illusion of Jean Renoir by seven years. The film was based upon the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque who had experienced the war first-hand as a young German soldier. This landmark epic film, made on a large-scale budget of $1.25 million for Universal Pictures was a critical and financial success – the grainy black and white film is still not dated and the film hasn’t lost its initial impact. From four Academy Award nominations, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture (the third winner in the history of AMPAS) and Best Director (Lewis Milestone with his first sound feature), and it was also nominated for Best Writing Achievement (George Abbott, Maxwell Anderson, and Del Andrews) and Best Cinematography (Arthur Edeson). Smarting from war wounds naturally the Nazi government of the 30s denounced
The film for its anti-militaristic tone and till 1956 it was banned in Italy.
This story is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war…

Unlike Remarque’s novel that begins with the young men already at war, with flashbacks to earlier times, the film is told in a logical, chronological fashion. The content of the film can be divided into four distinct parts:

1. the pre-war education of schoolboys, and the enlistment of the young German recruits
2. the soldiers’ arrival at the front of World War I
3. the experiences of the cruelties and horrors of war in trench warfare
4. the hero’s homecoming, return to the front, and ultimate death

The film is episodic and in a series of vignettes and scenes we are given a soldier’s point of view which conveys the senselessness of war. We have quite a few war films, including Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Saving Private Ryan (1998)  from the point of view of the cannon fodder who shall find no glory on the battlefield, meeting only death and disillusionment. The soldier sums up his view poignantly,  “ And our bodies are earth. And our thoughts are clay. And we sleep and eat with death”.
This film is singular in giving it from a young German’s point of view and not from grandstand of the Allies. Whichever point of view you take will not make the war smell any more fresh than the blackest heart of the warmonger. Kaiser and Hitler sent raw recruits to the eye of the storm and they held consultations with generals over maps, and do you think they ever gave a thought to the common soldier?
Tjaden: “Me and the Kaiser, we are both fighting. The only difference is the Kaiser isn’t here!”

Finally let me give one of the most memorable scenes from the film. How shall one give a soldier’s untimely death its grandeur? Would a pool of blood express it in proper measure?  There is no heroism that can adequately express his life when it is taken from him. He obeys higher authority to kill and if he is killed it is only bad luck.  Even in final scene just before Armistice is declared the soldier shows us he has been subjected to the most wretched experience any man can impose on another, and yet he has not lost the purity of his soul. It may be as fragile as a butterfly enjoying a brief moment of sunshine. In his reaching out for it we know it is so. For one brief moment of clarity he is connected to it as an equal : both are vulnerable and not proof against the hazards of life.
“ In the unforgettable final moments of this film, just before the “all quiet on the western front” armistice and with all of his comrades gone, soldiers are bailing water out of a dilapidated trench. The faint sound of a harmonica can be heard. Paul (Lew Ayres), a young German soldier, is sitting alone, daydreaming inside the trench on a seemingly peaceful, bright day. He is exhausted by terror and boredom. Through the gunhole of his trench, he sees a beautiful lone butterfly that has alighted just beyond his reach next to a discarded tin can outside the parapet. He begins to carefully reach out over the protection of his bunker with his hand to grasp it, momentarily forgetting the danger that is ever-present. As he stretches his hand out yearning for its beauty, a distant French sniper prepares to take careful aim through a scope on a rifle. As he leans out closer to the fragile butterfly and extends his hand, suddenly the sharp whining sound of a shot is heard. Paul’s hand jerks back, twitches for a moment and then goes limp in death. All is silent and quiet. The harmonica tune stops”.(ack: tim dirks-filmsite.org)
benny

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,386 other followers