Dir: Fred Cavaye | Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Gilles Lellouche, Sara Giraudeau | France, Drama 115′
Daniel Auteuil is the quietly mesmerising star turn in Fred Cavaye’s sombre but satisfying occupation drama that sees a Jewish craftsman’s act of benevolence backfire with tragic consequences.
He is Monsieur Hoffmann a popular and talented jeweller with a live-in corner atelier in Montmartre when the Germans move into Paris in 1941 setting in motion a mass exodus of Jews and the rounding up of those unable to get away. Seeing a chance to escape and save his business, by transferring it to his crippled (and it soon turns out impotent) assistant Francois Mercier (Lellouche), he sends his wife and family to the country, but is unable to get away in time and is forced back to take refuge in the basement of his former home, now occupied by Mercier and his mousy wife Blanche (a subtle Sara Giraudeau).
Based on Jean-Philippe Daguerre’s award-winning play and adapted by Cavaye and Sara Kaminsky for the screen, it’s a twisty little story that goes to unexpected places with a compelling undertow despite the rather grimy wartime settings and stultifying atmosphere. Hobbling around on his callipers and unable to impregnate his wife (Haffmann stepping in to do the honours) Mercier will also turn out to have feet of clay – and his hands are not much better either: the Nazis giving the thumbs down to his inferior design skills, forcing Mr Haffmann to burn the midnight oil from his underground ‘prison’ to provide elegant pieces to satisfy the Nazi molls and allow Mercier to keep up pretences.
Obviously it’s not going to end well given Mercier’s severely dinted ego (it’s a hapless role for Lellouche but he plods on undeterred…) and his wife’s sympathies turn to Mr Haffmann rather than her husband in a morally complex character study which hints at Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. MT
Dir.: Tim Whitby; Cast: Eddie Marsan, George Mackay, Leigh Quinn, Niamh Cusack, Rob Brydon, Richard McCabe, Tracy-Ann Oberman; UK 2012, 87 min.
This upbeat crowd-pleaser takes place in leafy Buckinghamshire where the Paraplegic Games first kicked off courtesy of one Ludwig Guttmann (1899-1980), a Jewish neurologist who revolutionised life for injured veterans, after fleeing Nazi Germany at the beginning of the Second World War.
TV Director Tim Whitby and his writer Lucy Gannon are best known for their popular TV series Bramwell and their star-strewn big screen production shows how the pioneering Jewish doctor’s groundbreaking work at Stoke Mandeville Hospital eventually led to him founding the centre’s Para-Olympics, held parallel with the London Olympic Games of 1948. Guttmann also founded the International Medical Society of Paraplegia and was later knighted.
Eddie Marsan plays the good doctor who arrives at Stoke Mandeville where paraplegic soldiers injured in the war effort are more or less being left to die, plagued by bed sores and suicidal with chronic pain. At first the medical staff are totally opposed to Guttmann’s methods with a great deal of tutting from Nurse Carr (Quinn) and Sister Edwards (Cusack) and pompous resident Doctor Cowan (McCabe) who tries to obstruct the newcomer, there’s even talk of a transfer.
The storyline follows twenty year old William Heat (Mackay) – who we see in happier days with his fiancée – he now wants to die after a prognosis of being confined to a wheelchair. Then there is Wynne ((Brydon), a Welshman who wants a divorce from his wife on the grounds of him not being man enough anymore. With the help of a PE instructor, Guttmann gets the men out of bed – and the rest is history.
The good old British stiff up lip makes light of the sombre topic, Rob Brydon and George McKay are lively and amusing. Guttmann’s fight against the stolid traditions of British bureaucracy has an upbeat feel – but Guttmann doesn’t get an easy ride of it – he too can be difficult at times. The men rise to the occasion with banter and witty repartee. An outing to the local pub underlines the film’s firmly British credentials. DoP Matt Gray captures the English countryside with roving panorama shots, his interiors are full of inventive angels. Marsan is convincing as the knowledgeable intruder whose solemn bedside manner fails on the empathy front with his British hosts. A tad didactic at times, The Best of Menis a wonderfully entertaining insight into a sporting triumph. AS
Vanessa Lapa follows her expose on the life of Heinrich Himmler The Decent One with another illuminating Nazi portrait, this time of ‘Hitler’s architect’, ally and facilitator Albert Speer.
The Israeli filmmaker’s project came into existence via a chance meeting in a hotel which, on further examination, uncovered an eye-watering treasure trove of archive news footage, audio sources and photographs most of which have never seen the light of day until the present day.
In Lapa’s film Albert Speer (1905-1981) comes across as a cultured but rather narcissistic character who enjoyed a glamorous and comfortable existence as the Third Reich’s Minister of Armaments and War Production in the final years of the Second World War (1942-45). Hitler had wanted to be an architect himself but hadn’t the talents that Speer clearly possessed, so he used the charming and debonair designer as a conduit for his own ideas in constructing the built environment of his Nazi regime. Speer’s subtle charisma saw him through the Nuremberg Trials, convicted but bizarrely escaping the death sentence, this high-ranking official is pictured on the steps of the prison, after serving a two decade sentence, without a shred of remorse but with the victorious words: “See, I’m still good-looking after 20 years”.
During his confinement Speer re-imagined his life and re-wrote his own story claiming not to have been responsible for the overseeing of the gas chambers that led to Third Reich’s worst horrors. He also penned his 1970 best-selling memoir ‘Inside The Third Reich’ which captured the imagination of Hollywood. But on later scrutiny his self-whitewashed story emerged as ‘fake news’, according to the indomitable Lapa who sets out to debunk his version of events in this sleek, compelling and utterly fascinating film.
And not before time. Speer’s specious story is clearly ripe for re-examination. This suave and sinister man still remains unchallenged nearly forty years after his death. Lapa choses a buzzy and effective narrative device to showcase her study: Speer’s 1971 meetings with Jane Birkin’s brother, the scriptwriter Andrew Birkin (apparently a protégé of Stanley Kubrick) who was selected by Paramount to scope out the narrative for a putative film which was later abandoned, largely due to British director Carol Reed’s dubiety. Their informal discussions add subtle but sensational context to the photos and archives, as do the ‘fireside chats’ with Reed who offers his own critique on Speer’s version of the events as the two British film pros plough through 40 hours of Birkin’s recordings with the Nazi, in preparation for his script.
Reed is clearly sceptical, pouring scorn on Speer’s glib technique of painting himself as another ‘decent one’ despite his nefarious Nazi activities that led to the deaths of millions, not to mention the slave labour of the concentration camp victims who were used and abused in Hitler’s efforts to rebuild Berlin. On an equally sinister note, it also emerges that many of these high-ranking officials slipped off the radar and were re-deployed in other parts of the world where their specialist knowledge gleaned in the field of forced euthanasia (Aktion T4) became invaluable.
The film flips between the mind-boggling discussions between Birkin, Speer and Reed; the extraordinary recordings inside the courtrooms of the Nuremberg Trials; the archive footage on parade with the Nazis featuring Hitler and his henchmen, not to mention Albert Speer at leisure with his wife Margarete Weber in their soigné country villa. MT
Dir.: Stanley Kramer; Cast: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Marlene Dietrich, Werner Klemperer; USA 1961, 179 min.
Director Stanley Kramer (1913-2001) was always ready to bring controversial stories to the screen, Guess Who is Coming to Dinner being one of them. When he directed Aby Mann’s adaption of his own story in 1961, Judgement at Nurembergwas very much a slap in the face for Cold War warriors, who had forgiven (West) Germans the Holocaust, just to have old Nazis to fight against Bolshevism.
Four years after the original Nuremberg trials, Chief Justice Dan Harwood (Tracy) is presiding over the trial of four German judges who had sentenced the defendants to death following the orders of Nazi laws. Dr. Ernst Janning (Lancaster), who heads up the defendants, had sentenced a Jewish man to death for committing “Rassenschande” (Blood defilement) by sleeping with a ‘gentile’ German girl of sixteen. Despite being aware of his guilt, Janning asks Harwood to reason with him: poverty in Germany had been one of the main factors in Hitler’s rise to power and he was one of the many to embrace Nazism. But he denies knowledge of the death camps.
Colonel Tad Lawson (Widmark) is the combative military prosecutor. The same can be said for defence lawyer Hans Rolfe (Schell), who questions the US Judges authority. Defendant Emil Hahn (Klemperer) goes even further: he harangues Harwood: “Today you sentence us to death, tomorrow the Bolsheviks will do the same to you”. Trying to empathise with the German, Harwood befriends Frau Bertholt (Dietrich), the widow of a German general killed by the Nazis for his part in the uprising against Hitler on 20th July 1944. Harwood later visits Janning in prison, after the four defendants have been give ‘life’. Closing credits reveal that at the time of the film’s release all 99 defendants of the original Nuremberg trials, who were imprisoned in the American Zone of West Germany, had been set free.
Apart from the overindulgent length (and verbosity), Kramer succeeds again with this strong moral tale, raising the profile of war crimes that should never be forgotten, even when political alignments change. DoP Ernest Laszlo (Kiss me Deadly) re-creates the harrowing visual landscape of post-war Germany, zooming in on the court scenes to reflect the angst ridden trial. Maximilian Schell won the Oscar for Best Actor, with Montgomery Clift leading a starry cast that included Judy Garland. Judgement at Nuremberg does its best to avoid sentimentality and melodrama in a moving testament to a monumental human tragedy. AS
Dir.: Ross Clarke; Cast: Sofie Boussnina, Arthur Hakalahti, Jacob Cedergen, Laura Birn; Norway/UK 2019, 100′.
Ross Clarke has adapted Trond Morten Venaasen’s script in this gripping thriller that uncovers a relatively unknown slice of Norwegian Second World War history. It follows an enterprising Jewish teenager who takes refuge in a farm belonging to a Nazi sympathiser in a bid to escape persecution and deportation. From collaboration to resistance, the local population’s reaction to their Nazi conquerors was not always clear-cut. And while some of the action pieces here feel unconvincing, strong performances make this an absorbing drama.
In 1942 Trondheim, Esther (Boussnina) dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress despite her humble beginnings. Her father has planned their escape to the USA, but Nazi raids on the Jewish population condemn Esther to a lonely struggle in the remote countryside, after escaping a deportation convoy.
She ends up at a farm house, dressed as a boy and calling herself Ula. Although the owner Johann (Cedergen) supports the Nazi occupation, he does little to help his son Aksel (Hakalahti), despite his disabilities. The only person who rumbles Esther is Johann’s wife Anna, who is having a affair with a Nazi officer, and keeps quiet about the girl in defiance of her husband. During a bloody shoot-out between Johann and his wife’s lover, Esther and Aksel try to escape on a sleigh over the frozen sea to Sweden. An epilogue set in Trondheim after the war delivers the final surprise.
Clarke uncovers some original takes on Nazi politics during the occupation. Johann goes with Esther to the local cinema where German propaganda films are casually screened alongside dance-features and bogus propaganda newsreels showing unanimous Norwegian support for their German occupiers. Boussnina is outstanding as Esther, and the rest of the ensemble offers convincing support. DoP John Christian Rosenlund creates an impressive sense of place, with glorious widescreen images and realistic shots of Nazi Party meetings. AS
ON RELEASE in Cinemas, Digital HD & DVD from 4th October 2019
Dir: John Guillermin | Script: Bryan Forbes | Cast: M E Clifton Jones, John Mills, Maureen Connell, Cecil Parker, Patrick Allen, Leslie Philips, Barbara Hicks, Sidney James, John Le Mesurier, Marius Goring, Michael Hordern | War Drama | UK 101′
During the war years doubles often served as decoys to divert the enemy away from the main action. One such doppelgänger was ME Clifton-James whose striking resemblance to General Montgomery made him the ideal candidate to impersonate him during a special assignment in North Africa with D-Day fast approaching at the end of the Second World War. And he really is terrific in the role, successfully drawing German troops away from Normandy and becoming both a hero and a major military target.
The riveting real story has been amusingly adapted for the screen by Bryn Forbes providing the drama for John Guillermin’s entertaining caper which stars his wife Peggy and a top-tier array of British talent from the era including a chipper John Mills, Leslie Philips (looking rather pleased with himself), John Le Mesurier (playing it rather severely against type), Michael Hordern and even Marius Goring. I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE is smart, astute and pacy as it powers along convincingly in Basil Emmott’s slick black and white camerawork. As Clifton James prepares for his role of a lifetime there’s never a dull moment both in the tensely conspiratorial interior scenes and on the widescreen – with some terrific set pieces such as the landing in Gibraltar and North Africa. Guillermin’s eclectic career path would see him directing Orson Welles in the 1966 mystery thriller House of Cards and Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in The Towering Inferno (1974). MT
AVAILABLE from JUNE 11 | COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL to COMMEMORATE the 75th ANNIVERSARY OF THE D-DAY LANDINGS
Dir: Richard Lester | Writer: Charles Wood | Cast: John Lennon, Roy Kinnear, Michael Crawford, Michael Hordern, Jack MacGowran | UK Comedy 109′
In 1967 John Lennon took a break from the band and travelled down to Almeria in Southern Spain where he still managed to write the lyrics for Strawberry Fields Forever while starring in Richard Lester’s surreal comedy. Aside from its merits, the film was always going to be a talking point and would ultimately become a cult classic and one of the most appealing anti-war satires. Based on Patrick Ryan’s book, Charles Wood’s script sends up the British Army in a way that is both harmless and enjoyable.
John Lennon exudes an easy charisma as the bespectacled Private Gripweed, eclipsing Michael Crawford in his role as the incompetent Lieutenant Goodbody leading his troupe of hapless soldiers into active service in Europe and North Africa during the Second World War. Roy Kinnear, Michael Hordern and Jack MacGowran complete the wonderfully witty and watchable cast. MacGowran also polished off another dark comedy role that year starring in Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers. Lester’s direction often misfires but in a way that is retrospectively endearing given the nostalgic nature of the subject matter – cricket. A lovely, amusing walk down memory lane. MT
AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY from 20 May 2019 COURTESY OF THE BFI
Dir.: Anatole Litvak; Cast: Peter O’Toole, Oma Sharif, Tom Courtenay, Donald Pleasence, Philip Noiret, Charles Gray, Joanna Pettet, Christopher Plummer; France/UK 1967, 148 Min.
Based on the novel by popular West German author Hans Hellmuth Kirst and adapted by resistance authors Joseph Kessel and Paul Dehn, Anatole Litvak’s penultimate feature is a monumental historical portrait of WWII and the aftermath, stretching from 1942 to the mid 1950s. Litvak poured his own experiences into the action thriller, having left the Soviet Union for Berlin in the 1920s, before escaping from the Nazis via France to Hollywood in the following decade.
Paris under German occupation in 1942: A sex-worker is brutally murdered, and a frightened witness tells German MP Major Grau (Sharif) that he has seen a man wearing the uniform of a German General leaving the house of the crime. Grau is keen to know the alibis of three suspects: General Tanz (O’Toole), a vicious SS commander, General Kahlenberg (Pleasance), who will be one of the supporters of the 20th July 1944 plot against Hitler, and the careerist Von Seydlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray), who hedges his bets when it comes to resisting Hitler. Whilst his investigation in Paris is unsuccessful, Grau meets all suspects in Warsaw, finally being able to interview them. Tanz is destroying parts of Warsaw single-handed with his tanks, but the other two are not too keen to help Grau. The action returns to Paris in July 1944, just before the plot. Grau works with the French inspector Morand (Noiret), who is also a member of the resistance. He warns Grau to be aware of Tanz, but Grau corners the SS General, who shoots him in cold blood on the 20th of July, claiming that Grau is one of the conspirators.
More than a decade later, Morand visits Germany to take up the case. Tanz has just been released from prison for war crimes. Meanwhile the other two generals are making a good living as civilians, particularly Von Seydltz-Gabler, who is writing his memoirs. But his daughter Ulrike (Pettet) and her husband, ex-corporal Hartmann (Courtnenay) (who started their affair in Paris when Hartmann was an adjutant of Tanz) are the key witnesses for Morand.
Litvak (1902-1974), worked in Soviet cinema before becoming assistant to GW Pabst for Freudlose Gasse (1925) in Berlin. He directed popular features such as Dolly Macht Karriere (1930) for the Ufa, and fled the III. Reich to direct his first French feature Maylering, before settling in Hollywood where he shot, among others, All this And Heaven Too and Snake Pit (1948), a feature about outdated psychiatric methods. In 1949 he returned to France, where he directed Aimez-vous Brahms, based on Françoise Sagan’s novel.
The Night of the Generals is innovatively photographed by Henri Decaë, midwife to the French Nouvelle Vague with features like Les Cousins (Chabrol), Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Malle), Bob Le Flambeur (Melville) and Les Quatre cents coups (Truffaut). The film is carried by Peter O’Toole’s manic psychopath Tanz, who is in love with violence and “entartete Kunst”; nearly fainting in Paris in front of Van Gogh’s self-portrait, whilst visiting an exhibition of paintings destined to be shipped to Germany for leading Nazis. O’Toole portrays Tanz as a member of the master race and is only able to express himself through violence, torn apart by the fascination of murder and suicide. AS
Eureka Entertainment to release THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS, a suspenseful WWII thriller starring Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, and a star-studded cast, presented for the first time ever on Blu-ray in the UK, taken from a stunning 4K restoration, as part of the Eureka Classics range from 13 May 2019, featuring a Limited Edition Collector’s booklet [2000 copies ONLY].
Dir/Wri.: Barry Avrich; Documentary with Ben Ferencz; Canada 2018, 83 min.
Best known for his Shakespeare adaptations, Barry Avrich turns his camera to his Jewish heritage with this moving portrait of international lawyer Ben Ferencz, who worked tirelessly to bring justice to those who had suffered because of their faith. As prosecutor for the first Nuremberg Trials, and Chief Prosecutor for the Einsatzgruppen Trials after WWII in Germany, Ferencz later worked on the establishment of The International Court of Justice in De Haag in 2007.
Ferencz was born in 1920 in Transylvania, which changed hands between Romania and Hungary during the post-war period. Because of rising Anti-Semitism, his parents emigrated to the USA where he grew up in Hells Kitchen, a poor district of New York. His school grades enabled him to gain scholarships at High School and later Harvard, where he studied law. He was recruited very late into the Army, and was sent to General Patton’s HQ, and later the War Crimes Department. Returning to the USA in his late twenties, he found himself being recruited by Telford Taylor as one of prosecutors for the Nuremberg Trials. Afterwards, Taylor appointed him as a successor to Robert H. Jackson, as Chief Prosecutor for the Einsatzgruppen Trial in 1947/48.
The Einsatzgruppen were a special SS unit who often worked with the regular German Army to murdering Jews, Roma, and communists – they were basically a group of killers and never encountered armed resistance, murdering only civilians. Otto Ohlendorf, leader of Einsatzgruppe D, which operated in Ukraine and the Crimea, was one of 24 defendants, of whom 13 were sentenced to death.
The defendants were highly educated. One of them, Otto Rasch, leader of Einsatzgruppe C, had a double doctorate.Ohlendorf was an economist and worked with Ludwig Erhardt (later ‘Father of the West German Economic miracle’ and Chancellor in the 1960s) in the SS economic department, planning for the future of National Socialism after the war.
During the trial, he claimed self-defence stating his prosecutors knew nothing about the threat the Soviet Union and Jews posed for Germany. He vowed that Jews would suffer in the US if he and his co-defendants were convicted. Ohlendorf also insisted, “that he would do it all over again, even killing my sister, if I had to.” Ohlendorf, like his boss Heinrich Himmler, saw himself as decent and humanitarian. He told the court about his advice to the Einsatzgruppen when dealing with a mother holding her baby: “Do shoot the baby, this way the mother will also be killed, this is much more human”. Ferencz had to admit that Ohlendorf was quiet a gentleman – apart from being a mass murderer.
Ferencz stayed on in Germany after the Nuremberg Trials and with Kurt May he set up a reparation and rehabilitation programme for victims of the Nazis, later helping to establish the reparation agreement between Israel and Germany, and the German restitution law in 1953. He returned to the USA in 1956, and worked in partnership with Telford Taylor.
But the fight to help and set up an International Court of Justice took him until 2002. Unfortunately, neither the USA, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel and most of the Arab countries, are not part of the 120 nations, who have signed up to the genocide laws. Therefore, so Ferencz, at the age of 99 still as busy as ever, fights to convince the international community to sign up, because “War makes mass murderers out of otherwise decent people. And I have seen it again and again.”
This documentary is the portrait of one of the giants in the history of law, a true humanitarian who helped to pave the way for an international law, which needs more signatories at a time when wars seem to multiply. AS
This worthy attempt at Anglo-German entente cordiale is a film of two halves, rather like the game at its heart. The Keeper is not sure whether it wants to be a wartime love story, a football drama or a tepid tale of karmic revenge. In the end it’s all three – but far too long: after the first hour, the tension has died down and we can’t imagine what remains to be said: The heroine has met her match, and scored.
The Keeper tells the true story of Nazi paratrooper Bert Trautmann (Kross) who became Manchester City’s goalkeeper just after the Second World War. But when he arrives at a PoW camp at St Helen’s just outside Manchester, the mood is hostile and the locals are traumatised by loss. The young German soldier is also suffering emotionally, haunted by the images of a little boy whose life he failed to save. But when he sets eyes on the football manager’s daughter Margaret (Mavor), who is already spoken for by a local lad, the chemistry between them sizzles, and he decides all is fair in love and war. And Trautmann certainly has some ball skills – not to mention his blue-eyed good looks – which warm the cockles of Margaret’s heart, and the rest is history.
Having established Trautmann’s credentials as a goodie, with him (almost) becoming ‘one of the boys’, the second half of the film concerns his signing to Manchester City where he fetches up in October 1949, accompanied by his wife. It soon emerges via journalists digging around for dirt, that Trautmann was awarded the Iron Cross, a medal that had become a Nazi symbol during the 1930s – so the German footballer once again finds himself back-footed in the community, despite his crafty footwork on the pitch. Ironically, he then strikes up a solid friendship with the local Rabbi, who is inspired by Margaret’s efforts to speak up for her husband amid local hostility. Gradually Trautmann gains popularity as he bonds with local players and wins matches. The football scenes are the strongest element of this second half, with seamless CG crowds creating a rousing atmosphere for the likeable goalie. But then the film goes off in another direction to focus on the tragedy of Trautmann, the family man. And although this brings us full circle, by tying in this personal tragedy with that of the little wartime boy, somehow the drama fails to score top marks structurally with its lack of a real focus. Despite its flaws, Rosenmuller creates just the right atmosphere in postwar Lancashire with its glorious surrounding countryside. Performances are solid across the board, and Freya Mavor and David Kross – who smoulders in an Aryan way – make convincing lovebirds. Even if football isn’t your game, this is a watchable and good-looking wartime story. MT
Dir: Lewis Gilbert | Cast: Kenneth Moore, Dana Wynter, Carl Mohner, Laurence Naismith | UK, Wartime Drama 97′
British post-war cinema was fraught with films depicting how we triumphed with our Allies. And one of the most successful and stylish was this 1960 epic featuring actual combat footage. Lewis Gilbert bases his spectacular action thriller on real events that took place when British warships set off to eliminate the pride of the German fleet, the Bismarck, in the North Atlantic. Kenneth Moore is the star turn as the British naval officer tasked with leading the 1940s mission, and putting duty first when still recovering from his wife’s death in an air raid.Sink the Bismarck depicts the human story behind the war effort, showing respect for the enemy, and commemorating the courage of our own brave soldiers, and the unsung ‘backroom heroes.’ This thrilling and authentic adventure drama also features the cruiser HMS Belfast (now preserved on the Thames in London) which was used to depict the cruisers involved in Bismarck’s pursuit. MT
Dir: Steven Spielberg | Writer: Steven Zaillian | Cast: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Embeth Davidz, Caroline Goodall | US Biopic Drama, 195′
Based on a novel by Thomas Keneally, Schindler’s List is possibly Spielberg’s most noble arthouse classic, and certainly as memorable as Jaws. In German-occupied Poland, 1939, an opportunistic German businessman turns humanitarian hero by saving his Jewish workforce of some 1100 after witnessing their persecution by the Nazi Germans. Certainly this was Liam Neeson’s finest hour in the lead role of Oskar Schindler. Nothing he has done since has quite reached the heady heights of his break-taking performance as the Czech factory owner, who ends up penniless. The grainy camerawork gives an immediacy to the tragedy of brutal, casual slaughter of innocents. Kingsley, too, is tremendous as Stern, the crafty accountant; and would go on to better things, as would Fiennes as Goeth, the steely leader of Plaszow camp. Spielberg’s direction is masterful in bringing clarity to the incomprehensible darkness of the Holocaust unfolding bleakly in this black and white chronicle of wartime wickedness. Crucially, Schindler’s List brought the Holocaust to younger, mainstream audiences, many of whom would witness for the first time the grim fate of victimised Jews, and would be shocked to the core, Janusz Kaminski’s images seared to the memory. MT
SCHINDLER’S LIST 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION | NOW OUT FOR THE FIRST TIME ON 4K ULTRA HD, BLURAY AND DVD | 25 FEBRUARY 2019 | includes bonus features.
Dir: James Kent | Cast: Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke, Alexander Skarsgård | UK Drama 108′
Best known for his coming-of-age love story Testament Of Youth James Kent offers another ravishingly stylish tale of love that explores tangled emotions of guilt, lust and pride in a post war ménage à trois. In an elegant Belle Epoque villa in the environs of bombed-out Hamburg in 1945, Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård, and Jason Clarke come together as unexpected bedfellows. And Clark is surprisingly the most romantic of a trio dealing with the complexities of loss, both of the people and the places they hold dear. Adapted for the screen by Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel from Rhidian Brook’s novel, one of the strongest elements of The Aftermath is its rounded critical gaze on both the Germans and British characters who emerge initially as an unlikeable bunch, but grow more appealing as we appreciate the tragedy that has touched them all, in different ways. And this lush characterisation is also one of the most engrossing aspects of the film, along with its immaculate period detailing, the visual glamour coruscating amid the dour deprivation and devastation of war and human brutality.
Keira Knightley plays Rachael the spiky and staunchly anti-German wife of war-weary Colonel Lewis Morgan (Clarke) and they meet again as she steps off the train in the opening scene. Not having seen him for years and not particularly excited to be re-united: they share the loss of their only son killed in a bomb blast in London, and Lewis clearly holds her responsible. Not consoled at the prospect of living in a luxuriously appointed mansion full of Avantgarde artworks and Art Deco objets, she greets the buff former owner, architect Stephan Lubert (Skarsgård), with barely concealed disdain. They are to share his family’s opulent residence, and Lewis graciously offers him the attic whence he retires with his little daughter, Frieda (Flora Thiemann). Frosty exchanges and flare-ups are to follow. Both Knightley and Skarsgård’s characters are sexually frustrated and when Col. Lewis is called away for a few days, they fall into each other arms to enjoy a lustful but unconvincing encounter between the sheets. It’s understandable: Lubert has lost his wife and Rachael is continually donning sexy underwear (and one of her girlish grimaces) only to be rebuffed by her husband’s need to attend to his duties, which include cross-examining prisoners or war. One of these is (Albert) who feels a particular resentment to the occupying forces and Lewis himself, and this hatred provides the key to a satisfying narrative twist in the final stages. Colonel Morgan is up to his neck in negotiations with the German resistance Nazi ‘88’ movement, without much support from his bibulous, unpleasant sidekick Major (Martin Compston) who is typical of the kind who inhabits these situations, along with his prissy wife (Kate Phillips) who will soon pick up on Knightley’s frisky new demeanour and follie à deux. Meanwhile, Albert (Jannick Schumann) has also become close to Lubert’s difficult, dark horse of a daughter who steals Lewis’s treasured cigarette case bearing a photo of his son, and offers it to Albert as a keepsake.
The Aftermath gradually builds to a tumultuous and convincing final act where we really start to care about the characters and their future. Jason Clarke is the eponymous alpha male who emerges victoriously, through integrity and commitment, to bear a heart of gold. Skarsgård provides solid eye candy as the loving father and soul mate manqué, and Keira is just as she always is, gracefully distant. MT
Dir.: Claude Lanzmann; Documentary with Ruth Elias, Ada Lichtman, Paula Biren, Hanna Marton; France 2018, 273 min.
Just seven months before his death in July 2018, Claude Lanzmann’s last “satellite” feature Shoahwas shown on French TV. Even though the four interviewed Holocaust survivors are not genetic siblings, they share the real burden of survival (each the last of their families), yet their stories are very different. In reality their stories of survival are stranger than fiction. Two of them, Paula Biren and Hanna Marton, are still suffering from survivor’s guilt, because, however unwillingly, they were the one who escaped the Nazi extermination machine.
THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH (Le serment d’Hippocrate)
Ruth Elias (1922-2008) sings Czechoslovakian songs from her childhood, accompanying herself on the accordion. These tunes helped her and her fellow sufferers to survive in Auschwitz. Now at home in Israel, her upbeat optimism somehow jars with her macabre story as she cuddles a German Shepherd, the archetypal emblem of Nazi Germany. When the Germans occupied her native city of Moravska Ostrava (Czechoslovakia) in 1939, the family lost not only their – non-kosher – sausage factory, but had to go into hiding with false papers. In April 1942 the rest of the family was deported to Auschwitz, whilst Ruth married her boyfriend and stayed behind in hiding. In Auschwitz, the genders were separated, but Ruth’s mother did not want to leave her husband, and was shot dead in front of him. Ruth’ sister Edith was also killed. And Ruth too was caught eventually, and via Terezin reached Auschwitz, where she found out she was pregnant. She miraculously survived the selection process, other inmates hiding her from Mengele. When he found out, he was furious, especially as Ruth’s friend Berta, also near term, also got away. But Mengele was vengeful: after the birth of her baby-girl, he had Ruth’ breasts bound, so that she could not suckle her offspring. Mengele wanted to find out how long a baby could survive without being fed. After nine days, an imprisoned Jewish doctor, Maza Steinberg, told Ruth that she had sworn the Hippocratic oath to save human lives – and since the baby was dying, it was her duty to save Ruth. She got hold of some morphine, and Ruth injected her baby with a lethal dose. The next day Mengele appeared and was somehow disappointed: “You are really lucky, I had planned to deport you and the child with the next transport”. Via Hamburg and Ravensbruck, she ended up back in the CSSR, totally broken, even after ‘liberation’ She was put into a sanatorium, where she finally found the will to go on living. Later in Israel, she met Dr. Steinberg with her two sons, the women stayed in contact for the rest of their lives.
THE MERRY FLEE (LA PUE JOYEUSE)
Born in Galicia, Ada Lichtman then moved with her family to a village near Krakow. When the Germans invaded in 1939, they gathered the Jewish men, and shot all 134 in a nearby wood. Polish people made life hell for Ida and the other survivors, they looted their flats while the Germans looked on . Ida was captured and housed in an aerodrome where hunger and disease whittled down their numbers. Her fiancée had been shot along with the other weaker Jews, who were hit over the head with rocks. Deported to Sobibor, she soon met Gustav Franz Wagner, SS Oberscharfuhrer. Discovering Ada was a kindergarten teacher’, he said “Then you might be able to keep house for me”. The SS in Sobibor thought it amusing to christian one of the houses “The Merry Flee”, making it sound like an operetta title. In reality the whole camp was filthy. The SS enjoyed stripping all the newly-arrived prisoners, and made the oldest men dance with the youngest girls. Later, when they were drunk (ie. often), they raped the women. Ada never wanted to believe that Sobibor was a death camp but she survived, along with her husband. The Nazis made Ada mend the murdered children’s dolls so they could give them to their own kids to play with. When a convoy with Dutch prisoners arrived, they had to fill out postcards, telling their relatives that everything was fine. They would be gassed, before their postcards arrived home. Wagner, who was called ‘Wolf’, relished performing the executions. After the successful uprising in October 1943, the prisoners scattered around the area. But Sobibor was never re-opened.
This is the titular name for the Lodz Ghetto, where Paula Biren would end up as a member of the Jewish Police. She was seventeen when the Germans invaded, and had helped to dig ditches to stop German tanks. Paula listened to Hitler’s radio reports so she was aware of what would happen to the Jews After the invasion, Polish people would beat up Jews. In October 1939 the Germans started to build the Jewish Ghetto, in the poorest quarter of the city. 200 000 Jews would end up there overseen by Germans and the (Jewish) Judenrat, led by Mordechai Rumkowski, who turned the ghetto into a slave labour camp on behalf of the Germans: 45 000 Jews died of starvation and disease. He and his closest colleges were all deported to Auschwitz. After they lost their flat, Paula’s family moved into the ghetto, it “felt like going to prison”. The Judenrat had once been a Jewish welfare organisation, but now it was a parody of the Jewish state. In 1942 the first transports went to the death camps in Auschwitz and Chelmno. Paula and her family started a vegetable garden, and hopes were high. But she was soon commandeered to join the Jewish Police, initially working in the office, but later on her night patrols. Beggars and ‘loiterers’ were given a warning, and they would be deported to the death camps. Paula managed to hide but her family was deported to Auschwitz and killed. When the ghetto was finally liquidated in August 1944, Rumkowski made a list of people who would go to a special camp. Nobody believed him any more. “I was finally put on a train to Terezin, which was not a death camp – if I’d stayed put, I would have been killed like my family”. After liberation, the Polish people in Lodz told her to leave –pogroms started up again. Living in the USA, Paula refuses to answer Lanzmann when he asks if she thought Rumkowski was guilty. “I leave this to others”.
NOAH’S ARK (L’ARCHE DE NOE)
Paula Morton had just has lost her husband, also a survivor of Hungarian death camps, when Lanzmann interviewed her in her home in Tel-Aviv. She grew up in Cluj ( also know as Klausenburg) a Romanian/Hungarian city of over 15000 Jews lived. Hungary had send 60 000 Jews to the front in WWII, to fight alongside Germans and Italians in Russia. The Jews had no rifles or other weapons, they were used as slave labour. Only 5000 survived; Paula’s brother was one of the victims. Until 1944 Jews were left alone, then the deportations started. Paula is rather scathing about her fellow Jews: “I kew if Hungarian Jews are asked to come at 12.00 for their execution, they would all appear on time”. Paula and her husband, a lawyer, had been in the Zionist Youth organisation in Hungary, and later got to know Zionist leaders like Dr. Fischer, Dr. Kastner and Hillel Danzig. These three had ties to the SS, and particularly to Eichmann. They agreed that 1684 Jews would be exchanged for huge sums of money (the SS always put the price up, and even when the Jews arrived in Switzerland, huge sums changed hands.). An estimated 500000 RM was being shelled out by the Zionist organisation. Paula and her husband were deported to the Kistarcsa transit camp near Budapest. Between the 10th and 30th June 1944 all Jews from the camp were deported to Auschwitz, just the 1684, mostly Zionist and/or wealthy remained. The group was supposed to travel to Auspitz (!), but the Hungarian authorities wanted them to go to Auschwitz. Kastner intervened along Eichmann, and the transport left Hungary. But before the convoy reached the Swiss border, two families had to leave, and because they were not Hungarian, they were deported to a death camp. Paula is obviously guilty about her survival, but she claims to Lanzmann that her husband was a fatalist and felt no guilt at all. She told him, “it was beyond a personal choice. What people forget is that the Nazi terror produced the situation. They alone decided in the end, who lived and who died. Some will say, if you can save one thousand and let 10 000 die, do it. Others will say, all should die”. Dr. Kastner was later killed in 1957 Israel after being found guilty of collaborating with the Nazis. A later court cleared him posthumously.AS
Dir: Clive Donner | Writer: Frederick Raphael | Cast: Peter O’Toole, John Standing, Alistair Sim, Harold Pinter, Robert Lang, Cyd Hayman, Philip Jackson, Maureen Lipman | UK Drama | 103′
Peter O’Toole is perfectly cast as a seedy, tweedy, down at heel aristocrat embarking on a ‘sporting stalk’ of his deadliest enemy Adolf Hitler from frost-bitten Bavaria via London to the wind swept English countryside in 1939. Based on Geoffrey Household’s cult thriller, Rogue Male is a tense and chilly thriller whose source themes are deftly condensed into a compact and witty affair directed by Clive Donner (The Caretaker) and written by Frederick Raphael, who adds a touch of caustic humour to the dialogue.
Alastair Sim (of ‘Something Nasty in the Woodshed’ fame) is in it too (as The Earl), along with Harold Pinter (Saul). They create that sardonic sense of ennui and superciliousness of the upper classes – O’Toole particularly so as Sir Robert Hunter, recently captured by the Gestapo and left for dead after attempting to shoot Hitler at close quarters. His chase from Germany to England sees his hunting prowess and resourcefulness coming into full force in order to survive the wintry rigours of the hostile landscape.
Clive Donner and his scripter Frederick Raphael originally put the piece together on a shoe-string budget for the BBC small screen in 1976, as part of a series of films offering a historiography of British pluck. Rogue Male melds suspense with social commentary and Peter O’Toole comes across as raddled yet gritty, rigged out in his hunting gear and sporting raffishly scruffy sideboards. The film version sees him as more upmarket (a ‘minor baronet’ ) than he is on the page where he enjoys a lunch of beer and ‘a cold bird’ rather than Raphael’s classy lunch of ‘Moet and Chandon 1928 and gull’s eggs’. O’Toole’s lines are priceless. Even when facing death on the edge of a ravine, he retains his pride. When the German officer tells him about his Charterhouse education, Sir Robert calls the school: “a mousy little middle-class establishment”. “Well we can’t all go to Eton”, the Officer responds. “Thank God! is O’Toole’s retort. But who could fail to root for the foxy hero with a valiant vendetta against Europe’s most wanted man. Later on he declines to politely shake hands, claiming “my hand isn’t really up to it”. Contemporary writers and directors would probably downgrade him to a more working class hero, in tune with the zeitgeist, and maybe Mark Strong would fit the role.
The tightly plotted narrative whips along smartly as Sir Robert pursues his enemy Quive Smith (Standing). Fritz Lang had already tackled Household’s thriller in his 1941 outing Man Hunt but according to film critic Paul Fairclough, Donner describes this version (led by Walter Pidgeon) as “a travesty”.
Away from the glumness of the country setting there are contrasting scenes that take place in the dank confines of a steamy Turkish bath. And its here that Alastair Sim, swathed in white towels and bathrobe (as Sir Robert’s uncle), leisurely declines to assert his influence, declaring that despite being a man of influence, as part of Chamberlain’s post-Munich-agreement government, that ‘Bobberty’ should go into hiding to save his own skin, and his uncle’s reputation. When asked for advice by his nephew, The Earl responds presciently: “I’m a member of the Government, how should I know what people should do?” Clearly, he is not going to rock his own boat even to save his relative.
Pinter plays Sir Robert’s lawyer and friend Saul with reassuring cameraderie, offering to find funds for his time “underground”. There is a terrific chase through the London Underground and even a slim interlude where Sir Robert’s romantic psychology is fleshed out through rather awkward scenes with Cyd Hyman as Rebecca. This excellent made for TV film could easily fill the big screen along with other HBO and Netflix outings, if it had been made nowadays. It makes great use of its tight budget, feeling intimate but ambitious in scope.As Benedict Cumberbatch will pay Sir Robert in the latest big screen version of Rogue Male, with Household and Michael Lesslie (Macbeth (2015) on board as screenwriters. But no-one can replace the compact elegance of Peter O’Toole. MT
Dir.: Harald Zwart; Cast: Thomas Gullestad, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Marie Blockhus, Mads Sjograd Pettersen; Norway 2017, 135 min.
Dutch director Harald Zwart, best known for Agent Cody Banks and The Karate Kid, surprises us with a gritty WWII feature that lionises intrepid Norwegian resistance fighter Jan Baalsrud, who escaped the Nazis in his home country after an ordeal lasting months. Already filmed in 1957 as Nine Lives, Zwart shows how the solidarity of the Norwegian people was key in helping their courageous countryman to survive, against the odds.
Baalsrud (Gullestad) is part of a twelve man commando sent from Great Britain to Norway, to sabotage the airfields of the Nazi occupants. But the Norwegians are caught before having time to use their explosives, and all but Baalsrud are captured, tortured and shot. Even though Baalsrud has been shot in the foot, he escapes into the treacherous mountain landscape where two brothers in the small town of Manndalen (Troms County) come to his aide, SS Officer Kurt Stage (Meyers) is in hot pursuit. Meyers prides himself in having caught every resistance fighter in his region, but he becomes so obsessed with Baalsrud that his Ego cannot countenance a defeat. After hiding under rocks and in a hut in the mountains, starving and fighting gangrene, Baalsrud finally makes his intrepid way to Sweden.
Very much in the vain of Fred Zinnemann’s The Seventh Cross (1944), based on a novel by Anna Seghers recounting the fate of seven KZ inmates who flee the camp, The 12th Man is all about making the right choices: The men and women of Manndalen risked their lives to help Baalsrud so that he could become a symbol for their resistance against the Nazis. In real life, Stage was executed in 1947, whilst Baalsrud, who died in 1988, is buried next to Aslak Fossvool in Manndalen, played in the film by T.P. Munch, who fed him in his rocky hide-out but died of diphtheria four weeks after Baalsrud’s escape.
Zwart pulls out all the stops in an action drama that really maxes out the Germans’ brutality against their courageous counterparts. DoP Geir Hartly Andreassen triumphs both in close-up and in the spectacular panoramas of the towering mountains, the final escape is a well-choreographed masterpiece. Whilst relying on action and adventure elements, The 12th Man always keeps us questioning which side we would have chosen. AS
The 12th Man in select Cinemas & Digital HD 4th January and on DVD 7th January
Dir.: Konstantin Fam; Cast: Oksana Fandera, Filipp Yankousky, Mariya King, Lenn Kudrjawski, Uliana Elina, Vyacheslav Chepurchenko; Russia/Belarus/Czech Republic/France/Poland/Israel 2017, 100 min.
Konstantin Fam’s drama debut is a trilogy of short films, shot between 2012 and 2017, its intertwined structure featuring human protagonists and mute witnesses of the Holocaust. This is probably the first major Russian feature concerning itself with Russian Jewish victims of the Shoah, since the topic was one of the taboos during Stalinism. Impassioned and powerful, it manages to avoid dramatics, concentrating on the details of the tragic events.
Shoes (Tufelki) is set in a small Russian town, featuring its characters from the knees downwards. The titular female shoes, optimistically coloured red, belong to a woman who will end up in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Her shoes are now in the Museum of the former Camp, picked from a mountain of abandoned footwear. The camera traces her life through the other shoes she encounters: the happy shop owner who gives her the shoes for free; the little shoes of her daughter; and then the military boots of the German invaders, forcing her into an overloaded cattle truck. And then the military shoes of the German guard, who, we are left to surmise, closes the gas chamber hermetically. Devoid of dialogue, just background noise, and symphonic music, creating an eerie ballet.
Brut (Brutus) features the young shop owner of the first episode, Rozanna (Fandera), who is given a German Shepherd dog by her husband. The cute puppy develops into a loveable pet, but after the German army arrives, Jews are not allowed to have pets any more. Horst (Yankousky) an outwardly harmless looking SS man, with a model family, takes Brutus away, and Rozanna is forced to surrender “her only friend”. Horst trains the friendly Brutus to be a ‘killer dog’, but when the soldier is transferred to a Concentration Camp, he meets Rozanna, again but strangely fails to recognise her. In a bid to escape, Rozanna is then shot by Horst, but Brutus recognises Rozanna. This is in many ways the most cruel of the episodes, because Horst tries to transfer his murderous instincts to a defenceless animal, whose true nature survives, in spite of everything.
Violin (Skrypka) chronicles the instrument’s history. First given to a Jewish boy by his father in early 1930s Nuremberg, the violin ends up in contemporary New York. We discover why a Swastika is stamped inside the instrument, in a concentration camp where an officer is asked by his superior “to gather the best musicians for the Camp Orchestra”. Finally through a bizarre series of events, the violin is played at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, perhaps a rather conciliatory ending, but an inventive Holocaust story that plays a thoughtful and plangent tune.
Kam’s (unplanned) structure works very well throughout, showing the various ways in which silent witnesses can bring a message from the past for all of us. Fam avoids any didactic lectures, and concentrates on the small details, which can make such a difference. The DoPs (too many to name), create a convincing atmosphere; Shoes in particular is highly innovative and hauntingly captures our imagination. Witnesses never tries to be sentimental – but makes an extraordinary emotional impact: demonstrating the wilful distraction of the world of ordinary people.
Dir.: Julius Avery; Cast: Jovan Adepo. Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbœk; USA 2018, 109 min.
Britain won the war? Not according to OVERLORD. Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) and his writers Billy Ray and Mark Smith transform the 1944 Normandy landings into a Zombie action saga where the Americans save the world (so what’s new?) and fulfilling a clear demand for full-on confrontation in our increasingly divided society.
The first ten minutes are the best: shades of Saving Private Ryan, this time played out on board an airplane re-enact the brutality of the invasion and its countless victims. After the survivors land with their parachutes, they make their way to a small French village. Here the Nazis have fortified a church, and installed a transmitter in the tower. The Americans have to blow it up. Taking shelter with Cloe (Ollivier) in a small house, the Yankees have to listen to SS office Wafner (Asbœk), who blackmails Cloe to sleep with him – or else he’ll take her little brother with meet to same treatment as her disfigured aunt. Corporal Ford (Russell) and his men storm down from the attic, taking Wafner prisoner, before he can realise his threat. Meanwhile Private Boyce (Adepo), an Afro-American softie, discovers the Nazis are experimenting with the local population, turning them into Zombies in their quest to create a re-animation serum in a bizarre historical re-write. Apart from the historical faux-pas (American troops were strictly segregated in WWII), Overlord’s second rate video-game of makes the Normandy landings just an excuse: This is a cheap horror fest and even the decent production values cannot save it.AS
ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM Wednesday 7th November 2018
Writer/Dir: Robert Schwentke | Cast: Max Hubacher, Milan Peschel, Frederick Lau, Waldemar Kobus | Wartime Thriller | 118′
Best known for Divergent and The Time Traveler’s Wife, Robert Schwentke’s first German-language feature for 15 years is a shocking depiction of the dark recesses of the human mind when left to its own devices after emotional trauma has robbed it of all decency.
This gruellingly uncomfortable watch is told through the real-life story of a young German soldier who deserts his unit during the last knockings of the Second World War when he assume the rights but not the responsibilities of of a high-ranking official whose guise he assumes after a chance discovery.
We meet Willi Herold (Hubacker) trudging laboriously through a widescreen rolling landscape in search of something to eat. Mud-splattered and worn down after hiding in the roots of a tree after his chase through the forrest that is straight out of Jan Nemec’s Diamonds of the Night. Herold is now desperately looking for something to eat. What he finds is a suitcase containing the pristine uniform of a Nazi captain. Confidently assuming this new guise complete with monocle, Herold goes on to command a motley crew of survivors on an odyssey into the nadir of destruction and debauchery.
Far from Noirish this startlingly lit arthouse shocker takes time in establishing its horrific storyline as Private Herold transforms into an emotionally detached psychopathic killer. A hauntingly spare score, jagged angles and claustrophobic interiors echo German Expressionism at its finest as the camera leers down on Gothic townscapes and cowers up at the frightening faces of these demonic deserters at the crumbling of the Third Reich.
A dynamic cast of Germany actors are led by the diminutive Max Hubacher channelling Bob Hoskins in Long Good Friday with touches of Daniel Craig. After subjugation, he discovers domination. And he likes it. Barking orders at his subordinates and giving his hostages the full two barrels, the tension gradually mounts as he convinces everyone he’s taking order from the Führer himself. Milan Peschel plays his adjutant, calmly obeying him but secretly despising him. There’s a madcap quality at play here, although realism dominates in the dialogue and acting.
The Captain must surely be the definitive anti-war film with its over-arching themes of futility and gratuitous violence and the final scenes shows British complicity in the act of war, but not a drop of blood is ever shed. Chillingly devoid of genuine camaraderie save that of the togetherness of joint slaughter this is an exquisitely stylish, gratuitously violent, quintessentially German absurdistparody with its homage to The Night Porter in the deranged denouement. MT
Dir.: Laszlo Nemes, Cast: Juli Jacob, Vlad Ivanov, Hungary/France 2018; 142 min
Laszlo Nemes follows his Oscar-winning triumph Son Of Saul with another fraught and achingly romantic fragment of the past again captured through his voyeuristic lens tracing the febrile events leading up to the shooting of Emperor Franz Ferdinand that changed the world forever
Set in Budapest between 1913 and the outbreak of the First World War, Sunset reveals a labyrinth of enigma, intrigue, hostility, greed and lust as by Juli Jakab(Son of Saul) guides us through scenes of ravishing elegance and cataclysmic violence. What seems utter chaos gradually becomes more clear as the spiderweb is infiltrated.
Cultured beauty Irisz Leiter (Jacob) arrives in Budapest from Trieste, where she retreated after her parents’ death in a mysterious fire at their famous hat atelier. Irisz hopes to secure a position there but the enigmatic manager Oszcar Brill (Ivanov), asks her to leave immediately. Somehow she inveigles her way into the company, desperately looking out for her long lost brother Kalman, who is in hiding, having murdered Count Redey. It soon emerges he has joined the Hungarian Nationalists in their bid to overthrow the House of Habsburg, whose ruling base in Vienna in on the verge of toppling with the murder in Sarajevo of the Austrian Crown at the hand of a Serbian nationalist. Irisz’ search for her brother is continually thwarted by Brill, who is literally selling his female employees as courtesans to the Court in Vienna. Her desperate quest culminates in the trenches and the demise of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Nemes pays homage to the late Gabor Body whose Narcissus and Psyche, echo in Sunset. On an historical level Mathias Erdely’s images conjure up the fin-de-siecle fragility in the same way as Gabor’s masterpiece. In contrast, Nemes sets his epic in Budapest (and not in the countryside) conveying the crumbling decadence in the urban settings. There is surreal horror in the street scenes – characters spring out of the shadows like animals – or even vampires. After dark utter chaos rules. As daylight dawns the Habsburg police try to enforce order. Irisz emerges as ‘Alice’, but her wonderland is uncertain and menacing. Courage and a strong sense of her innate dignity will see her through but her place in the world will be destroyed forever in a narrative that very much chimes with today’s sense of cultural identity. Sunset is an everlasting testament to the past, the present and our uncertain future. A masterpiece that will need more than one viewing. As/MT
Dir: Kevin Brownlow/Andrew Mollo | Cast: Pauline Murray, Sebastian Shaw, Bart Allison, Reginald Marsh, Derek Milburn | Drama | UK | 93′
Made on a shoestring budget – and none the worse for it – Brownlow/Mollo’s Neorealist re-imagining of a Nazi invasion of Britain is plausible and chilling: even though the event never happened. Financed by Tony Richardson and his Woodfall Film Production Company, it was shot in 16mm and 35mm, with a mainly amateur cast and incredible attention to detail.
Eight years in the making – Brownlow was only 18, Mollo 16 when they started – IT HAPPENED HEREpictures the whole scenario in the wake of the British retreat from Dunkirk in 1940 where the German army are strongly resisted at first, but finally crushed, lacking outside support. Then in 1944, it reappeared and the result sees history being re-written with Germany winning the Second World War with England under occupation. MT
SCREENING AT BFI SOUTHBANK ON 23 JULY AT 18.00 FOLLOWED BY A DISCUSSION WITH KEVIN BROWNLOW AND ANDREW MOLLO TO MARK BROWNLOW’S 80TH BIRTHDAY | DUAL FORMAT RELEASE NOW AVAILABLE.
Writer/Dir: Radu Jude | Cast: Ioanna Iacob, Alex Bogdan, Alexandru Dabija, Lon Razia| Drama | Romania | 140′
After his contemplative paean to Romania’s lost Jews (Dead Nation), and Berlinale winner Aferim!, a drama exploring life in 19th century Jewish settlements, Radu Jude is back with another playfully bolshy and bruising indictment of ethnic cleansing, this time concerning the events leading up to the Holocaust.
Romania was as a Nazi ally – along with several other European countries – and it’s a subject that is close to his heart, and one that has divided his homeland. The film’s title refers to the words spoken by the Council of Ministers in the Summer of 1941 that announced another episode of genocide, this time on the Eastern Front. History always repeats itself and Radu Jude choses to depict this tragic era with a dark and spiky farcical doc-drama that recreates the tragic events on the Eastern Front preceding the Holocaust
Set in contemporary Romania this experimental film within a film takes the form of a theatre production incorporating archive footage, lengthy critical diatribes Godard style, all driven forward by the feisty character of Mariana Marin (Ioana Iacob in her debut). This is a comprehensive and ambitious piece of meta-filmmaking but its sprawling verbosity and indulgent running time makes it sometimes heavy going.
We first meet Mariana in the grounds of Bucharest’s National Military Museum as she is preparing to stage her outdoor theatrical extravaganza based on the tragic events of Autumn1941 when Romanian troops joined Nazi forces to wipe out some 30,000 Jews in the Ukrainian city of Odessa. The military dictator Ion Antonescu had sanctioned the routing before going over to the German side in 1944. In the event roughly 400,000 Jews, Roma gypsies and other ethnic minorities were massacred.
As in many other European countries, antisemitism is still rife even today and this sentiment is echoed during Mariana’s rehearsals when some of the non-professional extras voice their concerns about acting alongside Roma gypsies and even challenge her version of events as proceedings almost turn into a bun fight. Meanwhile, Mariana’s complex love life with her married airline pilot Stefan (Serban Pavlu) is threatening to cause
Also taking part in the production is Romanian theatre veteran Alexandru Dabija (Afterim!) who plays Movie and tries throughout to pacify the public by appealing to Mariana to adopt a less controversial take on the Odessa massacre, namely one that doesn’t offend Romania’s wartime heroes. Sparks fly as the two engage in a dialogue that pays homage to Hannah Arendt, Elie Wiesel, Steven Spielberg,Leni Riefenstahl et al in lively scenes captured by handheld cameras accompanied by an ambient score. Not an easy film to engage with but a worthwhile effort to bring these controversial events to the public domain. However, with its 140 minute running time this is a docudrama that may prove commercially unviable for most arthouse cinemas and will likely find its viewers on home entertainment front MT
CRYSTAL GLOBE | EAST OF THE WEST | KARLOVY VARY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 2018
Dir: Joe Wright | Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott Thomas | Lily James | Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pick-up | Biopic Drama | UK
Darkest Hour is to be believed, Britain’s destiny was actually decided during a tube journey from St James’ Park to Westminster on the 28th May, 1940 when the war cabinet met to make a pivotal but in the end winning agreement to continue resisting Hitler’s inexorable plans to invade the British Isles.
English director Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour follows on from Jonathan Teplitzky’s Churchill which concentrates on the hours leading up to the invasion of Normandy. They are both worthwhile and weighty films deriving considerable dramatic heft from these crucial and compelling moments during the Second World War.
The film opens as Parliament is returning a no-confidence vote against Neville Chamberlain’s shaky leadership (he was suffering from cancer), in favour of fellow Conservative Winston Churchill who is played with considerable conviction and aplomb by Gary Oldman in a performance that won him an academy award at the year’s Oscars. Ironically the US film came away empty handed but won a BFDG award for production design.
Although Churchill was seen as a bumptious drinking man – and he wasn’t a well man himself, he nevertheless got up and finished first in the charisma stakes and the rest is history. While all around him – including the weakened King George VI were clammering for Britain to strike a deal with Germany and retire graceful from the fray, Churchill confidently led the country to victory through a precarious series of potholes from Hitler’s imminent invasion through to winning the war. Strangely Clement Attlee doesn’t feature at all, but that’s for another film.
This is a beast of a role and Oldman takes it on masterfully – deftly playing up the vulnerable ego-driven empathiser, he makes for a sleeker and more dapperly upbeat Churchill than Brian Cox’s blustering bull of a man, although they both have their moments in creating an indomitable English hero who is still much treasured in the Nation’s collective memory. And it falls to Joe Wright and his writer Anthony McCarten to turn the action around from the fateful tube journey and a time of desperation to the successful end game with their rather clunky plot device.
The distinguishing factor about Darkest Hour is the atmospheric way Wright catapults us back into 1940 with the extraordinary look of the film. From the scenes in Buckingham Palace, in Parliament and even in Churchill’s intimate domestic rooms we are surrounded by the gloominess of the era, daylight shafting in through windows onto characters dwarfed by the enormity of what was at stake. Lit by Bruno Delbonnel’s terrific cinematography the walls and wood-panelling soars up around us, making us feel small in the scheme of things.
Impressive also are the performances: Ben Mendelsohn makes a stutteringly good George complaining of being “harshly tweeted” (he probably would have been had twitter been invented at the time). And Kristin Scott Thomas is gracefully deferential of her husband, much less forceful but, strangely, just as convincing as Miranda Richardson’s Clemmie. Lily James gets a small but perfectly formed and even amusing cameo as Churchill’s secretary Elizabeth Layton.
But at the end of the day it is Oldman’s Churchill that powers this forward. His alluring way with words and his charismatic showmanship energises this biopic sending it soaring into the annuls of Second World War film archive. MT
Dir: Michael Anderson | Writer: R C Sheriff | Cast: Richard Todd, Michael Redgrave, Ursula Jeans, Basil Sydney, Ernest Clark | Aventure Drama | UK | 124′
British classic,The Dam Busters was directed by the late Michael Anderson (Logan’s Run) from a script by R C Sheriff (Goodbye, Mr Chips) exploring the legendary true story of Commander Guy Gibson and his elite squadron, The Dam Busters (1955). The film captures all the thrilling action and suspense of the magnificent exploits of a group of young pilots and their crews, charged with taking out the supposedly impenetrable Ruhr river dams of Germany with an ingeniously designed bouncing bomb. Starring Richard Todd as Gibson and Michael Redgrave as scientist and engineer Dr Barnes Wallis, the film also immortalised composer’s Eric Coates’s masterpiece: The Dam Busters March.
The impact of The Dam Busters on modern filmmakers spans the decades: director George Lucas hired the film’s special effects photographer Gilbert Taylor to work his magic on the original Star Wars; and The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has long been attached to a remake, based around a screenplay by actor/writer Stephen Fry.
THE DAM BUSTERS DVD / Blu-ray / EST and Collector’s Edition | Courtesy of STUDIOCANAL’S Vintage Classics label from June 4th, with a host of extras including an exclusive‘Making of The Dam Busters’ documentary. The Collector’s Edition will include the feature in 1.37 and 1.75 aspect ratios, a 64-page booklet, a rare aerial photographic print of the Möhne Dam following the raid (signed by the surviving members of the original 617 Squadron), an RAF Chastise Lancaster Bombers poster and a set of 5 art cards. Pre-order here: https://amzn.to/2I4z400
Dir: Mike Newell | Writer: Kevin Hood, Thomas Bezucha, Don Roos, Annie Barrows (novel) | Cast: Lily James, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay, Michiel Huisman, Tom Courtney, Katherine Parkinson, Glen Powell, Penelope Wilton | 124′ | UK
Mike Newell’s screen adaptation of a chicklit novel is as over-stuffed in the early scenes as its title suggests, but stick with it and you’ll be won over by this moving story of book club camaraderie made memorable by its dazzling performances and appealing characters. What’s more, you’ll be rushing to visit the picturesque island in the English Channel, and you might even join a book club.
It all starts in 1946, when an plummy young novelist Juliet Ashton (James) is struggling for inspiration and about to set off on a book tour with her agent Sidney (Matthew Goode in superb form). A surprise fan letter or sorts from a Guernsey resident Dawsey (Michiel Hiusman) captures her imagination, so leaving Sidney and her American boyfriend in the lurch, she sets off instead to the former Nazi-occupied Channel Island, intrigued by this interesting man and his book club with a rather strange name. It soon turns out that Dawsey is rather a dish himself, and his potato pie society was formed out of necessity during an encounter with German soldiers on a post-curfew night out.
Newell and his team have captured the verdant lushness of summer and the settings and period details are ravishingly recreated, and its inhabitants turn out to be delightful as well. Plot-wise there is sufficient intrigue and dramatic heft to keep our interest stimulated, the dialogue delicately pokes fun in all the right places, and the support cast are really charming and genuine: Katherine Parkinson is convincingly amusing at an loopy earth-mother and Tom Courteney as the amiable postmaster. Penelope Wilton overdoes it slightly as the mother who’s lost her daughter, in a lukewarm subplot that whilst adding a scintilla of wartime intrigue and realism, feels somewhat submerged by the upbeat nature of the main storyline. This is about the positiveness of collaboration and community, rather than the negativeness of division and conflict.
And although Juliet’s enthusiasm and free-spiritedness drives the narrative forward at first, the romance that develops at its heart untimately feels unconvincing as lovers have no palpable chemistry whatsoever. Luckily the strength of the other performances generates enough enjoyment to carry this through, despite this rather fluffy and schematic ending. MT