Posts Tagged ‘War’

Heroes Don’t Die (2019) **** Semaine de la Critique 2019

Dir.: Aude Léa Rapin; Cast: Couzinè Haenel, Antonia Buresi, Jonathan Couzinè, Hasija Boric, Vesna Stilinovic; France, Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina 2019, 85 min.

Aude Léa Rapin’s feature debut drama is certainly a unique undertaking. Led by a terrific performance from Adele Haenel (The Unknown Girl) it explores re-incarnation, hope and forgiveness to deliver a passionate conclusion amid the emotional ruins of war.

The films opens with Joachim (Jo) (Couzinè) bursting into the Parisian apartment of his filmmaker friend Alice (Haenel), to report that he might be the reincarnation of a solider who died in Bosnia in August 1983 –  Joachim’s own birthday. Or at least that’s what he has just been told by a man on the street corner. It soon emerges that Alice has spent a long time looking into the aftermath of the Balkan crisis which led to the breakup of Yugoslavia. But she’s not convinced about Joachim’s claims, or his ‘nightmares’ about his military past. Jo is adamant that these are no ordinary bad dreams. So Alice packs her filmmaking equipment and sets off with her sound designer Antonia (Buresi) to Sarajevo, hoping to find a basis for Jo’s former identity as Zoran Tadic, only to discover that the tragedy is by no means over.

On entering the suburbs, they find the mass graves of the victims, with new bodies buried in small coffins – the identifications of victims still going on – often more than 8000 civilians were killed per day. Alice accuses Jo of having made it all up, but then she remembers that a cardiologist did say that Jo could die at any moment after his 35th birthday due to a chronic heart condition. They meet one of Alice’s former sources who takes them to the – now – dilapidated bob sleigh track, used at the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984. They learn, that the track was once the frontline between the two war factions. Later they meet Hajra (Boric), another of Alice’s acquaintances from her war time reporting. And soon she discovers that a beekeeper living on the outskirts of the town of Brutonac, had a husband called Zoran Tadic, who was a soldier in the war. Here the finale is both devastating and breath-taking.

This is a moody, enigmatic drama touched by eternal sadness and Haenel keeps it all together as the deus ex machina of this experiment in poetry, essay and history lesson all rolled in to one. In the end, the audience has to decide if re-incarnation is simple a device for escaping from our sins.AS


Full Metal Jacket (1987) **** Kubrick Retrospective 2019

Dir: Stanley Kubrick | Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford | Cast: Matthew Modine, R Lee Emey, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, Dorian Harewood | US Action thriller 116′

The last film to be released during Kubrick’s lifetime is a bleak and violent look at the Vietnam war through the eyes of recruits moving from the brutal US Marine training bootcamp into the nightmare of active service overseas. Pessimism combined with dark cynicism gives us a flavour of what came before in Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove.

The first half of the film is extremely loud and shouty, focusing on the recruits’ dehumanising and draconian training programme. Although it makes for grim viewing there’s a certain visual symmetry at work here echoing Leni Riefenstal’s Olympia (1938), although the dialogue is coarse and sweary, and full of racist bigotry as you might expect given the all-male environment where the men are toughened up and whipped into shape. There then follows a brutal and melodramatic baptism of fire before the men head to Vietnam, where top recruit and military journalist Pvt Joker (Modine) decides to try his hand in the front line: “a day without blood, is like a day without sunshine”. Kubrick maintains a cold-eyed distance throughout the mayhem and hard-edged horror. There is no attempt to bring out the humanity of these men who are now reduced to killing machines, murdering anything that moves as they fight for their own survival in the dog eat dog delirium. Kubrick’s message is clear: War is no place for decency. You come away not knowing or caring about any of the characters. Stunned and saddened by the senselessness of it all. No pity or poetry here. MT


Khartoum (1966)*** Dual Format release

Dir: Basil Dearden | Wri: Robert Andrey | UK, 1966 | 134′ | Historical Action Drama

KHARTOUM is the kind of spectacular, rousing historical adventure that doesn’t get made anymore, certainly not along the same lines as Basil Dearden’s star-studded epic that exposes English colonialism, religious fanaticism, heroism and sacrifice in a magnificent visual masterpiece. Back in the day, it all seemed perfectly harmless to our innocent childhood eyes as we sat round the telly oblivious to the political incorrectness. And that wasn’t the worst thing: it later emerged that over a hundred horses were severely injured or killed immediately during the battle scenes, due to unethical stunt methods of the time.

Sir Laurence Olivier actually plays the Arab fanatic Muhammad Ahmad, whose troops massacre thousands on British-led Egyptian forces in 1880s Sudan. He truly believes he is the Mahdi, choses by the profit Mohammed’s to topple the Anglo-Egyptian rule. Meanwhile, Legendary Major General Charles George Gordon (Charlton Heston was nearly a foot taller than the General himself) is sent by Prime Minister William Gladstone (Ralph Richardson) to save the city of Khartoum from the Mahdi, but is given only one aide in the shape of Richard Johnson), and limited support from the British government that sent him there. Intrepid til the last he faces a fearless opponent determined to create a new empire. Gordon sees that further bloodshed is imminent.

With impressive battle sequences given greater weight by philosophical and moral debates about the righteousness of military action, Khartoum is a widescreen extravaganza and was the final film to be shot using Ultra Panavision 70 (and screened theatrically in Cinerama) until Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight in 2015. And it’s an extraordinary endeavour with its masterful performance from a heavyweight cast of actors at the top of their game. Perfect entertainment for a drizzly afternoon or a long winter’s night – if you’re not an animal lover!




Path of Blood (2017) ****

Dir.: Jonathan Hacker; documentary narrated by Samuel West and with the voice of Tom Hollander; USA 2018, 91 min.

Best known for his groundbreaking TV work Jonathan Hacker’s big screen debut is a chronicle enlivened by Al-Qaeda home movies and propaganda statements, and videos of the Saudi Secret Service and police forces bearing testament to their side in action against the Jihadists in the out-and-out war between Al-Qaeda and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that has been raging since 2003. 

Hacker never takes sides. Even the most infuriating statement by the young, un-informed and death-loving Al-Qaeda fighters is simply shown as testimony. The first is Ali, a young man who does not wear a mask and has been chosen to drive a car with a bomb – for which 72 virgins will wait for him in paradise. Asked by his instructor “Ali, what do you say, if you hear, that our acts are a sin against Islam?” Ali does not know the answer and begs “for a more easy question”. Keep it simple, is his repeated refrain. In the same video men are laughing, messing about – your normal gang of teenagers with arrested development. They will play football and talk about their love of death and killing: the fight against the “crusaders”, the police and security forces of Saudi Arabia, is a holy and noble one. “Expel them! Rip them apart! Destroy them until they either die or convert to the true religion”. Western citizens are obviously targets and do not even deserve the option of converting. Victims like the US engineer Paul Marshall Johnson jr., who worked for a company who run Apache helicopters, are simply be-headed – for once, Hacker does spare us the gruesome details, and leaves us with the black images with ‘snow’, which always ends when the videos of the ‘other side’ are about to begin. Older generations will recognise this from the small black and white TV sets, appearing when the programmes of the day were over- quiet a symbolic reference indeed.

In 2004 Al-Qaeda switched targets after they were heavily criticised for killing high numbers of Muslims in their attacks. From now they would attack compounds like Al Hamra, killing foreigners in great numbers. The attack on the oil refinery of Abqaiq could have seriously damaged the Saudi economy if it had succeeded as planned. And in 2009 the Saudi security minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, escaped an assassination attempt, after his forces eliminated more and more cells, like the whole Saudi-Arabian leadership of the Jihad fighters, who had hid in a village villa. Their leaders were killed by the police at roadblocks or petrol stations. But sometimes Al Qaeda got away with murder on a grand scale: a member telling proudly the story how they escaped “after having shot western citizens in a shopping mall, we had a good breakfast, and then Allah made sure, that the forces of the evil-doers did not find us when we fled”.      

All told this offers bloody evidence in the videos from both sides of the hostilities: Nothing is spared in a repetitive cold blooded murder fest. The older zealots send their youth on the gratuitous killing sprees – just for the hell of it. Whilst utterly brilliant, Path of Blood is not for the faint-hearted. Unlike the realistic fiction in films such as The Hurt Locker, this is disturbingly chilling and real. AS

PATH OF BLOOD will be released in cinemas 13th July

Picturehouse Central – London Premiere – 10th July

Curzon DocDays – 17th & 19th July

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