Posts Tagged ‘WWI’

A Russian Youth (2019) *** on Mubi

Wri/Dir: Alexander Zolotukhin, Russian, 72 min | with: Vladimir Korolev, Mikhail Buturlov, Artem Leshik, Danil Tyabin, Sergey Goncharenko, Filipp Dyachkov

A poetic and lyrical First World War trench memoir set to a live orchestra playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Op. 30 (1909) and Symphonic Dances Op. 45 (1940).

A Russian Youth sees its freckled hero blithely setting out for the ‘Great War’. But the pastural romance of the early scenes soon gives way to the terrors of trench warfare. Our vulnerable hero loses his accordion, and then his sight. But his keenness to continue the battle keeps him at the front and deployed to listen out for enemy planes at the giant metal pipes that form a kind of early-warning system. Talk about using the difficulty!

Capturing the evocative poignance of Wilfrid Owen’s poetry, especially his keen ear for sound and his instinct for the modulating of rhythm, this small gem certainly conveys the “pity of war”. Its faded images transport us back to the greatest tragedy of the early 20th century: life would never be the same again. But there’s also a stylised, abstract quality to the grainy sepia-tinted footage. The camera follows the febrile action with an atmospheric, jerky quality, so reminiscent of the age. Cutting away frequently from the action slightly spoils the narrative flow of this delicate fragment of yesteryear, re-ignited by contemporary relevance. MT

NOW ON MUBI

The Guardians (2017) ****

Dir.: Xavier Beauvois |  Cast: Nathalie Baye, Iris Bry, Laura Smet, Cyril Descours, Gilbert Bonneau, Olivier Rabourdin, Nicolas Girand, Mathilde Viseux; France 2017 | 134′

Xavier Beauvois imagines the heroic sacrifices made by the women left at home during the Great War (1914-18) and shows shows that he has come a long way since his kitchen-sink debut feature Nord (1991). Based on the 1924 novel by Gouncourt winning author Ernest Perochon, and stunningly shot by Caroline Champetier, THE GUARDIANS is a celebration of female emancipation, played by a brilliant ensemble cast led by Nathalie Baye as a compelling matriarch.

Widow Hortense (Baye) is left in charge of the Paridier farm after her sons Constant (Girond) and Georges (Descours) are sent to the Front; they are soon joined by her daughter Solange’s (Smet) husband Clovis (Rabourdin). Helped by her father Henri (Bonneau), Hortense not only manages the farm-hands, but works the land herself in a bid to ensure that their livelihood continues while the men make occasional visits from the Front. In spite of her best efforts, she has to hire a newcomer, the orphan Francine (the outstanding debutant Bry) who is not only a good worker, but initiates the acquisition of a tractor and a harvesting machine. When Georges comes back from the front for a week, he falls in love with Francine to the chagrin of local girl Marguerite (Viseux) who was favoured by Hortense to marry her son.

Without making an idyll of nature, Champetier frames every shot with great care making fabulous use of the transcendent light, so that the soft hues of the terroir form a glowing backdrop to the toiling humans  The predominantly female workers are gracefully framed as they toil away in the fields and even though their work is gruelling, there is always a certain rhythmic elegance at play. This is a complete contrast to Riefenstahl’s Olympia films where female athletes were shown in short, hectic clips, focusing on an immediate target, like robots robbed of their human qualities. Beauvois lets the camera linger, allowing the scenes to play out naturally. Admittedly, there is some self-indulgence, which manifests itself in the running time, but like Thomas Hardy, some novels need to be transferred to the big screen in their full length – and this is one. Lusciously photographed, but poignant in its dramatic conflicts, THE GUARDIANS is almost a masterpiece. AS

Now SCREENING nationwide in arthouse cinemas courtesy of Curzon

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