Tag Archives: WWII

Movie Review – Destination Unknown (2017)

Review of Holocaust Survivor doc is at Flickering Myth and below…

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An in-depth and personal look at one of the bleakest points in history, Claire Ferguson’s Destination Unknown surveys the human stories at the heart of the events of the holocaust.

Skillfully inter-playing the stories of 12 survivors with archival footage from during wartime, the film allows an insight into the memories, passion and courage of these individuals. The film documents their various routes to escape the confusion and systematic evil of Nazi work camps such as Kraków-Płaszow, Mauthausen and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Amongst those interviewed by producer Llion Roberts is Mietek Pemper, who helped Oskar Schindler compile the famous List and save thousands of people. Also featured is a survivor’s tale of meeting the fearful Amon Göth, the sadistic commandant of Kraków-Płaszów.

The struggles to survive did not simply end with the closing of the war.  One of the things that the film does so well is highlight the tragic psychological damage that was done to these people, and the pain that does not simply go away after escape, survival or victory. Indeed in the case of Ed Mosberg, who gives lectures dressed in prison uniform, the past and pain of it does not seem to have dissipated very much at all. There is the sense that there is some power in keeping it where you can still see it.

The post-liberation period of the war is dealt with in some detail. The sheer chaos of Europe trying to come to terms with itself in the fallout of the war is given personality and intensity through these people’s stories. Mostly all in their eighties and nineties, the film lets them speak and does so with clarity and vision.  A wonderful feature of the film is the energy given off by these survivors. When they have been through so much, it is amazing that they can still laugh and smile and dance. Yet, as evidenced through home video footage and photographs some can and do. And that tells us so much about human strength and resistance.

Destination Unknown is a powerful film and, ultimately, a profoundly moving one.

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Stalingrad (1993) Blu-ray Release out now…

My thoughts on the 1993 wartime epic Stalingrad can be found over at Flickering Myth… reposted below…

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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.

Allies (2014) Out Now

Review of WWII drama Allies is over at Flickering Myth and appears below. . .

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A film directed by Dominic Burns
Starring Julian Ovenden, Chris Reilly, Matt Willis, Edmund Kingsley, Leon Vickers, Frank Lebouef

Synopsis: It is 1944. A group of elite soldiers are called upon to infiltrate enemy lines and capture Nazi strategic plans…

 

As its title suggests, Allies concentrates on that familiar war drama trope of the brothers in arms comradeship that seems to develop inevitably during intense war time. Following a team of crack troops enlisted for specific operations during conflict and led by a French/American super soldier (the steely eyed Ovenden), the film is an entertaining enough look at life on the frontline.

Containing a decent turn from ex-pop star Willis as a Lahndahn gunner and the ex-footballer Lebouef as an unlikely Resistance leader (who, spoiler alert, lasts all of five minutes) Allies has something of a celebrity TV movie feel about it. This is not to detract from some of the genuinely well worked scenes on show, it is just that the narrative and a few of the performances has a slightly staid approach to them.

Nevertheless, the scenes between the committed main leader (Oveneden) and his broad-speaking second in command (Reilly) are well worked, alternately funny and insightful about the soldier’s experience.  An unlikely romantic union between the Scottish lieutenant and a French farmer’s daughter provides a realistic look at the kinds of liaisons that frequent developed under the extreme duress of wartime occupation.

This look at civilian (and armed) Resistance in France during WW2 gives an extra layer of historic value to the drama. Aside from this, much of the actual story is fairly disposable, consisting of stock methods and war time devices. In fact, I think I even heard a Wilhelm scream (look it up!) during one of the battle scenes. Oh well, as a whole, film is a largely likeable project with its heart in the right place and it develops some interesting personable scenes between the main players.

 

The Four Just Men – out now on DVD

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My review of half-baked patriotic Ealing Studios film out now on DVD is over at Flickering Myth now…