Posts Tagged ‘Great War’

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) 2018 *****

Dir: Peter Jackson | Doc | UK | 99′

The Lord of the Rings director, Peter Jackson shows what it was like to be a solider fighting in the trenches in the First World War where 1 million men lost their lives between 1914-18). Jackson’s New Zealand-based Weta special-effects house uses 3D film and combines cutting edge special effects with archive footage that actually comes to life offering a first hand experience of the trenches, the gunfire, the mud and the death. (courtesy of ).It’s a colossal achievement and fascinating in its down to earth detail.

Sifting through 600 hours of archive footage collated from Imperial War Museums, and overlaying a voiceover of actual testimonies of veterans, also from Imperial War Museums, recorded in the 1960s and 1970s, Jackson puts us in the thick of it with an in-depth start to finish experience of what actually happened when war was declared on Germany in 1914. He describes not only the excitement and sense of duty, but also the banality of fighting for youngsters who returned to Britain on the train to Victoria Station, when the ‘guns suddenly ceased”. And not as heroes, but as unemployed, unemployable often broken men. The Great War has been much romanticised in novels and poetry. Here, Jackson takes the romantic image out of the equation, and gives us a gruelling but also shocking images of mass latrines, open wounds, eviscerated bodies. The stench, but also the pity of war, and the camaraderie too. One soldier reminisces: “it was like a camping holiday with the boys, only with a spice of danger”; another: “the Germans were decent family men, and their loved their kids”.

Jackson shows us how the soldiers made tea from the hot water that cooled their machine guns, and how they got tired of endless plum and apple jam. There are clips of British soldiers enlisting in 1914, of soldiers training, and then boarding decommissioned “pleasure boats” to France where they were offered bottles of wine and raided the fields for carrots. And it’s inclusive – we see Indian soldiers marching in turbans, along with the British platoons.

Jackson’s 3D film feels smooth and non-jerky as it yields up its superbly restored coloured treasures. The voiceover is achieved through lip-read recreated dialogue as the soldiers literally come alive to tell their own story, their faces demonstrating at first hand the smiles, the fear and even the mistrust.

There are naturally elements missing such as footage of the actual battles due to the difficulty of transporting the heavy photographic equipment to the scene. The guns were moved by horses, who sadly often sank into the “viscous” mud. But Jackson takes us there amongst the soldiers in the fray – and we feel for them. It’s a heart-breaking endeavour but infinitely worthwhile. If you only watch one film this year, watch this one. MT

Peter Jackson’s THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD will be released in cinemas nationwide, from 9th November with a special pre-recorded Q&A with Peter Jackson (3D and 2D). It will then premiere on Armistice Day (Sunday 11th Nov) on BBC Two at 9.30pm and will be released on home entertainment platforms later this year. 


Renoir (2013) ***

Pierre-Auguste and Jean Renoir connect through the same muse in this painterly portrait of a creative family at a pivotal point in history.

Director: Gilles Bourdos

Script: Michel Spinosa, Jerome Tonnerre Gilles Bourdos from a work by Jacques Renoir

Cast: Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret, Vincent Roittiers, Thomas Doret, Romaine Bohringer

111mins      Drama     French with subtitles

Imagine a warm Mistral wind wafting a fragrant cloud of lavender along a sun-drenched Provençal hillside and you have the essence of Gilles Bourdos’s latest film.  Captured through the painterly lens of Mark Lee Ping Bin, who also lensed In The Mood For Love and Norwegian Wood, this languorous drama is in no particular hurry to tell its story thanks to leisurely performances from Michel Bouquet, Christa Théret and Vincent Rottiers who shine through despite the safe script which chooses not to expose any emotional skeletons hiding in the Renoir household. Instead, the story feels its way gently through rich colours, vibrant tones and evocative turn of the century detail, sensuously capturing Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s creative life as he paints compulsively from dawn til dusk, the need flowing out of him and onto the canvas.

The light-hearted tone of Renoir is in complete contrast to that of Camille Claudel: 1915, Bruno Dumont’s tortured study of a contemporary artist, who was languishing distraught in a mental asylum nearby, unable to pursue her craft.  In contrast to Juliette Binoche’s ‘no holds barred’ emotionally raw exposé of Camille Claudel, Bourdos’s Renoir is a buttoned-up, winsome affair, which has the painter relishing his dotage in a quiet villa by the sea surrounded by beauty and kindness, cosseted from the unspeakable horrors of the Great War which was raging in the trenches of the Somme, a few hours to the North.

Crippled by painful arthritis but wistfully reflecting on widowerhood, the artist here is in the mood for love realising that his wellbeing depends on being able to paint and sketch with the inspiration of a muse. Michel Bouquet dabbles and experiments with tones, hues and textures on a palette for all to see; sketching studies in pencil before attempting his portraits and compositions.

Then into the picture drifts Andrée (Christa Théret) an unappealing coquette of dubious background, looking for a leg-up on the back of a rich man who’s looking for a leisurely  leg-over and companionship, more than real sexual passion, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe in Gilles Bourdos’s version, which fails to plummet any depths beyond those of Renoir’s solvent jar. With a pretty face and a high opinion of herself, Andrée has little respect for Renoir’s talent or indeed his status at this stage in the game. Rubbing all the female staff up the wrong way, she succeeds in snaring the vulnerable Renoir and gradually a modus vivendi develops as they settle contentedly into a gentle routine, very much due to the old man’s wisdom and understanding of the nature of women: “All my life I’ve had complication, now I simply want peace”.

But the calm is soon ruffled by the arrival of his elder son, Jean, (Vincent Rottiers) wounded and battle-scared from the front, and the household dynamic shifts once again. Vincent Rottiers plays a diffident Jean Renoir, wracked by uncertainty and his duty as a soldier. Andrée spreads her affections to accommodate this younger man, who is in someways easier prey, although it’s hard to believe that this creative father and son could be so placid and seemingly benign about sharing their joint lover.  There is a cameo from Thomas Doret, (of The Kid With A Bike fame), who plays the disgruntled, younger son (Coco) and the only one who appears to display any real emotion.

Renoir drifts along gracefully without rocking any boats. It’s an atmospheric drama, steeped in summer and seductive charm but totally lacking in any real passion despite the rich potential of its subject matter. This is an outing for those wanting the milk chocolate box version of the Renoir story rather than the juicy and salacious underbelly. MT




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