Six more films, lifted from a middle stack this time, and containing a varied selection once again. This has also shown me how many times I have bought films that are not very good, lured by the subject matter, or the presence of an admired actor in the cast.
I would like to say something positive about this film, but I am afraid I cannot. Because I am interested in the First World War, I tend to buy any and all films relating to the period, hoping for the best. On this occasion, I was bitterly disappointed. This is ostensibly about Canadian soldiers, in the build up to one of the largest battles of the war, that lasted for almost four months, during 1917.
There is some background, an unlikely love story, and some battle scenes. That’s about it. It is impossible to engage with any of the characters, or to believe in the events shown, though they are all based on truth.
5,000 Canadian soldiers lost their lives in this battle, and this film is a poor tribute to their sacrifice. Best avoided. I might end up using this as a coaster.
The Officers Ward (2002)
By complete contrast, this superb French film (Original language, English subtitles) takes a realistic and difficult area of the same war, and examines it in detail. The pioneering experiments in plastic surgery, to try to overcome the disfigurements of injuries. Something we may well take for granted now, but at the time, it was almost unknown.
Adrien is injured early in the war, his face badly disfigured by shrapnel. He is transferred to the Officers’ Ward of the title, where he finds himself with others in the same situation. The mirrors are removed, to avoid the soldiers becoming suicidal at their appearance. Modern surgical techniques are tried, along with early prosthetics, to attempt to give these men some semblance of normality. It doesn’t always work, and even at its best, is barely acceptable. But there is no alternative, and we are there to see the struggles of all concerned, both victims, and medical staff.
Adrien is left struggling to come to terms with the outcome, and wondering what his former sweetheart will make of him, once he recovers. This film allows no happy endings though, and tells it as it was. Even with that, it is still marvellous, and a complete work, in every way possible.
Lakeview Terrace (2008)
This is a formulaic and ultimately disappointing American film. It tries to be different, by turning the idea of racism around, and having a protagonist who is black, yet racist against his new neighbours. Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) is an experienced Los Angeles police officer. When his new next-door neighbours turn out to be a white man and his attractive black wife, his resentment soon surfaces.
I won’t bother with too much detail here. You can imagine the rest, I am sure. Abel begins a war of nerves against the couple, with security lights, hosepipes, and everything he can think of to disrupt their happy life, including officially harassing them when on duty. He eventually spirals out of control, with an unfortunate outcome.
This is little more than an average TV film, and best seen for free. Fortunately, I didn’t pay much for it, and I doubt that I will ever bother to watch it again.
Is this a horror film, a serious drama, or a comedy? In truth, it is a little bit of each of those genres, rolled into one. And it has a great cast, including Robert Carlyle, and Guy Pearce, with music from Michael Nyman, and Damon Albarn. But what is it about? (I hear you cry)
it is set in the 1840s, in the then mostly unexplored areas of California. Captain Boyd (Pearce) is an army officer, sent to a remote outpost, Fort Spencer. There are only seven others at the fort, and they are a mixed bag of characters. A stranger arrives, (Carlyle), telling of a disaster that has befallen his wagon train, and how they have been abandoned by their guide, and forced to eat human flesh to survive.
The soldiers see it as their duty to form a rescue party for the survivors, and set out to look for them, led by the stranger. I am sure you can guess the rest…I really liked this film. Despite the unsavoury subject, (excuse the pun) the accomplished cast relish their roles, (pun intended) and provide us with an unusual and entertaining film, that though set in the west, is not a western. I will leave it to you to place it in the genre that you see fit.
Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (1996)
This is a Serbian film (Original language, English subtitles) about the civil war in Bosnia. It looks at this tragic war through the lives of two best friends, the Serb Milan, and Bosnian Muslim, Halil. Before the outbreak of the war, the two live in the same village in Bosnia, still part of Yugoslavia at the time. When war breaks out, the friends find themselves on opposite sides, and much of the story is told in flashback, where we see the young men in happier times, and the slide towards hostilities.
Trapped with his unit, Milan remembers a tunnel, and suggests that they hide there, as they are surrounded by Bosnian Muslim soldiers. The opposing force includes his old friend, Halil, and eventually, the men meet once again, with hard questions for each other, and even harder answers.
The events of this war are well-known, but often little understood. How friends and neighbours can suddenly descend into a frenzy of atrocities, and ethnic cleansing is shown here, with an attempt to explain some of the reasons behind it. But for those of us who were not involved, the violence and the hatred remains almost impossible to comprehend. A powerful and moving film, giving much to think about.
The Magdalene Sisters (2002)
This incredibly moving film, written and directed by the excellent Peter Mullan, is based on real events that continued in Ireland, until modern times. The Magdalene Asylums were laundries, owned and operated by the Catholic Church. The role was to serve as a home and workhouse for ‘fallen’ girls in Ireland. This could mean anything; from girls known to have had sex with boys, to some with learning difficulties, or a proclivity toward promiscuity. They were given over to these homes by their families, who wanted to avoid the ‘shame’ attached to the wayward daughters.
The film follows the fate of four different girls, all placed in the asylum for various reasons. They are worked like slaves, and subjected to extreme violence from the nuns in charge, as well as being used sexually by the visiting priest, who is supposed to be caring for their spiritual welfare. A brilliant cast, including Geraldine McEwan, Anne-Marie Duff, and Eileen Walsh, all give heart-rending performances. This is a film that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
And it is worth noting that the last of these laundries only closed in 1996.
I hope that you enjoy some of this latest selection. I cannot recommend two of them at all, and one is worth watching, depending on your personal taste. But the other three are superb films, and will each reward the serious viewer.