I just created a profile on the arts charity Outside In…
My thoughts on the 1993 wartime epic Stalingrad can be found over at Flickering Myth… reposted below…
The key moral concerns and central aspects of Stalingrad can be seen as part of the vast and ongoing period of German self-reflection that followed the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the unification of East and West. It is a film seen through the eyes of the everyday soldier, the sort of conflicted and oppressed army member who could reasonably claim to be ‘only following orders’ but at some point (or so we are led to believe) will justifiably break rank and abandon the party line.
A strong sense of the pure claustrophobic horror of this World War 2 turning point is made explicit in this historical epic. Amidst the blood drenched cityscapes of the Russian location there is paranoia and a calling to question of every impulse and moral ambiguity. In a sense, the film is simply saying ‘war is Hell’. But there is also a clear message that the German military were also amongst those who were abused by the Nazi war machine, a fact that carries substantial weight in this culturally dated but nevertheless impressive drama.
Featuring a strong cast of performers who believably portray this Godforsaken location with emotion and character, the film is full of characters being instructed to ‘shoot anything that moves’, with the mixed messages and confusion of battle coming through as loud and clear as the firing squads.
Beginning in the summer of 1942 as the German Army are relaxing on the Italian island of Sardinia, the set up to the film starts off in amazingly relaxed fashion. The German army are a long way from the Eastern Front, but after some more wine in the sunshine that is exactly where they are going. From then on, it is pretty much terrifying battle scarred action all the way. The film takes a fairly large horror film element, which casts paranoia and close-combat isolation together in fantastically dark fashion. There is even a shambling Russian soldier who edges along in the underground catacombs like some kind of a Soviet zombie.
The reality of war and the wounded is brought intensely home, but the central scene of the film comes around half way through when a soldier declares “We’re not Nazis” and another character replies “But you went along with it.” This central question of whether this is worse is a troubling philosophical point that goes far beyond even the worst excesses of blood, violence and gore.
An important and moving film, Stalingrad plays a vital part of the German artistic industries process of dealing with this most difficult part of the nation’s history and consciousness.
My review of French arty eco-erotic drama Grand Central is over at Flickering Myth right now. . .and also appears below…
There is a simple enough metaphor running through the heart of this alternately frustrating and picturesque film. It is that love and passion is a nuclear reaction. It can also be a sickness, inspired by this most fear inducing of energy sources. Unfortunately this sickness, while inducing plenty of painful paranoia does not inspire much in the way of imaginative inspiration…
Focusing on the unskilled Gary (Tahar Rahim, star of A Prophet, 2009) as he attempts to find a job at a nuclear plant in the Rhone valley, the film can be seen as something of a tale of abuse. Subjecting the young man to gradually increasing doses of nuclear contamination plus mostly outdoor sex sessions with the engaged Karole (Seydoux), the erotic drama meets environmental thriller is certainly original in its main concerns. However, the story begins to pale as it becomes clear that the essential plotting and characterisation does not progress much futher than the sex, paranoia of discovery and an inexplicit feeling of possible racial abuse.
Aside from the film itself, the soundtrack from French film composer and avant garde synth-pop artist Rob is well worthy of a listen. As an extra note of quality it works extremely well within the context of the images of the verdant pastures of the valleys and fields.
The film is shot wonderfully well with the French countryside looking perfectly resplendent, as the two lovers meet up for their regular trysts in the shadow of the nuclear plant. But the perfect capture of the valley side can not disguise the fact that the film as a whole is served up slightly confused and luke-warm. By the end the audience could well be wondering what the actual message was.
My review of the conspiracy thriller Australian TV series The Code is over at Flickering Myth and appears below…
The vast expanse of the Australian outback certainly looks like a beautiful and mystical place. From the spiritual majesty of Peter Weir’s Walkabout (1971) to the raw bestial horror of Wolf Creek (2005) and countless others, the cinema screen has striven to capture the mysterious depths and contours of this physically and psychically challenging landscape.
The Code (shown on BBC4 in the UK) is a TV show hoping to bring some of this largely cinematic vision to the small screen. And it succeeds, layering believable characterisation and motivation along with a build up of tension and dread as it progresses through its ‘who’s more corrupt than who?’ storyline
This form of who and whydunnit creates the perfect atmosphere to explore a range of different subjects. Following Canberra based online journalist Ned Banks (Spielman) and his computer hacker brother Jesse (Zukerman) as they try to find out just why they’ve been sent a video of a road accident deep in the outback, the story keeps the viewer gripped with tried and tested TV methods. It’s slick, it’s exciting and each 55 minute episode ends with an artfully produced cliff-hanger…
As the two brothers delve deeper into the mystery, aided and abetted by outback school teacher Alex (Lucy Lawless – yes, that Lucy Lawless of Xena and Spartacus fame), the contrasts between the wild almost unearthly (to European eyes at least) landscape of the outback and the seats of power in the Canberra government become ever more stark.
Much of this intrigue is captured though the use of smartphones and computers, and the show’s production takes a striking graphical approach to bringing the IT element out. As a geek-pleasing construct, the use of a ‘screen within a screen’ approach, showing off exactly what the tech wizards (mostly the Asperger’s Jesse) are up to online is a critical device. This devotion to top-level tech marks out the show as a world away from the 80’s and 90’s face of Oz Tv which largely came to these shores in the shape of Ramsey Street and Summer Bay.
The attention given to Jesse’s condition and the ability to largely get it right is also a success-story for the show. Rarely have forms of autism been shown in a realistic way in the popular media, and hopefully this sensitive and intelligent portrayal marks an overall maturing of the medium. After all, if the Scandinavians can get it right, why not the Australians?
All in all then, The Code provides plenty of food for thought both in sociological and political terms. An excellent modern thriller series – hopefully more will follow.