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Keeping clear of the crossfire from WWI anniversary exercises, Peter Wix moves his armchair observation post to after the 1930s intermission, there to reconnoiter a selection of films that focus on non-combat aspects of the second-half of the Great War, i.e. WWII.

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TOKYO STORY YASUJURO OZU 1953

Tokyo Story patiently and unaffectedly shows how easily lives, certainly those based on building a family, can seem to be “nothing but disappointment”. An aged, small-town couple visits their grown-up children in Tokyo. The trip is obviously not one they will make again at their time of life, but will their grown-up kids be aware of this or even care? The younger, city-accustomed and more Americanised generation has moved away from those who survived WWII, folk formed by more polite ancestral manners. But how ungracious and selfish the new lot have become! is is a landmark movie about dignity. Its slow pace is rare now and likely to trouble all but true cinephiles, yet it remains a masterpiece.     10/10

GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES HOTARU NO HAKU 1988

Meanwhile, another Japanese film takes the malicious rebombing of Tokyo during WWII as the starting point for the haunting and tragic story of a teenage brother and his infant sister as they try to survive as war orphans unable and eventually unwilling to get help from a defeated and abstracted family and community. Poetic and ultimately shocking, it is a lovely reminder of the error many of us make in associating animation in lm with children’s entertainment, which is perhaps one of the strongest legacies of decades of Disney success, however wonderful some of Walt’s films were. Many strong animation films have appeared since this, but Grave of the Fireflies carried the torch, so to speak. Try to find a sub-titled version; the US dubbing on the one I found was disconcerting, but the film’s power always shone through and the tissue box may need replenishing.   8/10

GLORIOUS 39 STEPHEN POLIAKOFF (2009)

He seems to get a right kicking from those who don’t like him, but I will stand up for Stephen Poliako . And it is an error to dismiss his incursion into big screen cinema with Glorious 39 because it is not simply an entertaining thriller. Poliako provides us with controversial historical details of secret machinations beneath the fog of WWII, heated by imagination, and pantomime suspense can be sacrificed for the chills unleashed when your mind works out what is actually being said. is history seems to matter to Poliako . What really happened? Our views of the late ’30s usually don’t encompass the military treating people badly, an aristocracy willing to sacrifice the lower and middle classes to Nazism for a deal which would protect their privileges, a society that will encircle and suffocate those who run and tell, the mass extermination of pets, the school closures leaving some children abandoned to look after themselves, officious types intoxicated by their crumbs of power, “a vision of hell” indeed but one our understanding of British history should embrace in the name of honest research. There moments of uncomfortable melodrama, but what the lm says should not be overlooked.    7/10

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES WILLIAM WYLER 1946

As skillful as they come, but this highly regarded lm belies its own criticism of how comfy the US was domestically in WW2. While it describes how those who spent the war at home failed to understand returning soldiers maimed and radically changed by the fighting, the last quarter of the film steers towards a make-do sentimentalism and the idea that our personal lives are all we can really save. European cinema was, post WWII, moving towards realism and an inevitably pessimistic outlook, i.e. trying to tell the truth. But Europe lost the bloody long war of the first half of the 20th century, and the USA undoubtedly won it, and perhaps victors win the right to lie. It is not that Wyler (Ben-Hur) or Hollywood were making a picture to justify the conflict – although it never comes close to direct condemnation – but it promised more up to that last quarter, perhaps a chance to shake the post-war mood and mentality out of the concentric echoes of the past and towards a more honest standpoint. It is, nevertheless, a fine character study, and it movingly portrays the ordeal of servicemen trying to find a job after the war, a theme picked up in profile at least by Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant recent work The Master. Watch out near the end for the stunning shots of an aircraft graveyard.     8/10

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