Since You Went Away (1944) A Tale of the American Homefront

This is a story of the Unconquerable Fortress: the American Home…1943

I started watching this movie a few months ago but the very patriotic tone put me off. That’s why it is all the more surprising that now, that I have watched all of it, I really enjoyed it. It is patriotic, it is very religious but still, I found Since You Went Away very watchable. It’s an ideal family and Christmas movie. Some sad things happen but they are not shown, just spoken about which makes it safe to watch it even with smaller children.  By the way, the movie poster is misleading. This is a black and white movie.

I was familiar with UK and French movies about the home front during WWII but can’t remember any US films. This was made during the war which, for me at least, justifies the patriotic tone.

Claudette Colbert plays the pampered housewife Mrs Hilton whose husband decides to join the war and leaves her and their daughters (Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple) on their own. It seems that this doesn’t only put them under an emotional strain but that their financial situation is very precarious too. The salary of an officer doesn’t cover all the expenses and Mrs Hilton doesn’t know how to make ends meet. The first thing she has to do and which breaks her heart is letting her maid, Fidelia, go. Fidelia has been part of the family and the children are very attached to her. After one of her children mentions that it would be patriotic to have an officer as lodger, they advertise and finally rent the master bedroom to an old retired grumpy Colonel.

It’s clear that this is a family in which all the members are very attached to each other. Even the family bulldog is part of it. But also, Tony (Joseph Cotten), a friend of Mr Hilton, is accepted like he was a family member and comes to stay with them before he will see action in Italy. The two girls are typical teenagers. The older one is in love with Tony. He is flattered by the young girls infatuation and at the same time he declares his eternal love to the mother. But all this is done in a nice way. It’s obvious they will not have an affair.

After Tony has left, Jane, the older daughter meets the grandson of Colonel Smollet and falls in love with him. They even think of getting married but he also leaves for Italy.

The very contrast of the decent and efficient Mrs Hilton is the somewhat loose Emily Hawkins who knows how to exploit the war effort by running a cabaret.

Despite all the lovey dovey moments some bad things happen in this movie and it gets really dramatic when they are informed that Mr Hilton is missing in action.

I think that one of the aims of the movie was to show people how to grieve and keep up the morale at the same time. It was obvious that it was very likely to lose loved ones or that they would return badly injured or as invalids. Post-traumatic stress is as much a theme as how to deal with losing a husband on the battle field.

I thought this gives an excellent idea of how hard life on the home front was and that many a housewife had to toughen up considerably to make it through those difficult times. Emotionally and economically as well. It also shows the various opportunities the women had. Becoming nurses, collecting stuff for the soldiers or even training as welders.

I found it interesting and moving at the same time and, as I said already, it would make an excellent Christmas movie choice not unlike It’s a Wonderful Life. There are a lot of cozy fireplace scenes, snow and Christmas parties.

I couldn’t find a trailer but the opening scenes introduce the score and the filming very well. A lot of the emotions and themes are shown through images of objects and photos. That’s quite a subtle way to include the past and the history of the family without relying on flashbacks.

I included the movie on my Children in War Movies List after Crooked Mick pointed out that it belonged there.

Nacht fiel über Gotenhafen aka Darkness Fell on Gotenhafen (1960) One of the Biggest Ship Disasters in History

What a surprisingly good movie. I discovered it purely by chance and didn’t expect much but it was well worth watching. The central theme of Nacht fiel über Gotenhafen aka Darkness Fell on Gotenhafen is the tragic sinking of the huge cruise ship Wilhelm Gutsloff. The Wilhelm Gustloff was named after a famous Nazi leader. In the final days of the war it was used to transport refugees from Eastern Prussia to safer German territory. The disaster of its sinking is called by some “the unknown disaster” and if it weren’t for websites like WM.S. Wilhelm Gustloff-The Unknown Disaster it would probably stay widely unknown outside of Germany. The Gutsloff was torpedoed by a Russian submarine and sank with over 6000 people on board. Most of them died, among them 4000 children. The sinking of the Wilhem Gutsloff is seen today as one of the symbols of the Downfall of the Third Reich.

Before watching I thought the whole movie would focus on the final hours but that wasn’t the case and that’s why it was such a great movie. Apart from a few melodramatic elements in the beginning, it’s surprisingly well done. Another main theme of Darkness Fell on Gotenhafen is the situation on the home front, what the women and children had to endure during the war in the city.

The film tells the story of one woman and starts with a ball on the Wilhelm Gutsloff on her maiden voyage as a cruise ship. Maria is engaged to Kurt but Hans is in love with her as well. Later, during the war, Maria and Kurt are now married and Kurt is fighting with the army, Hans, who is officer on a ship, is visiting the city and meets Maria. He is still in love with her and seduces her. She gets pregnant and afraid of the reaction of her husband and because the city is constantly bombed, she flees to a friend in the country, somewhere in East Prussia. She meets a group of interesting characters, a French POW and the widow of a an Army General.

Maria and her friends believe at first that they are safe in Prussia. They are far from any front and assume the war will soon be won. When tales of the Russian approach are heard, they don’t believe them at first until it becomes certain that Germany is about to lose the war and the Russians approach fast. Hans who wanted to see his son, has been staying with them for a while. He tells them about the Gutsloff that will evacuate a great number of women and children. He can convince them that they have no other chance. Finally  they abandon the house and flee together with many others to the Gutsloff. The Russians have already arrived and kill and shoot people.

The ship waits the whole night until it is allowed to sail. Nobody sees any danger. They think the Russians are still too far away and fought back by the German fleet. When the ship finally sails it is soon torpedoed. The ship sinks fast, too fast for most of the passengers.

One could say, the movie has five parts. Each part focusses on other elements of the war. First the war is only a foreboding, then we see how the civilians in the cities struggle, the fear and loneliness of the women, how many flee to the country and how they still believe the war can be won although its lost already. The moments on the ship are excellent and tell quite a few mini-stories. The end is done very well too, dramatic but not melodramatic.

I was surprised that there were such a lot of strong female characters in a 60s movie. Brigitte Horney, one of the great German actors, is outstanding in her role as widow of a General.

The movie has an English title but I have no idea whether it has been subtitled or not. And there was no trailer to be found. If you understand German, you can watch it on YouTube.

War Romances: A Very Long List

I’m amazed about the length of this list and even more so as I know exactly I have certainly forgotten quite a lot. It seems as if the combination of love and war was extremely well liked. Some of the movies I have included are somewhat more on the war side, like Enemy at the Gates, others are much more romantic. I was also surprised to see that I have seen a lot of them. And also liked quite a a few. Some of my favourites are Admiral, The Man Who Cried, Gloomy SundayKing Arthur, Aimée and Jaguar and The Cranes are Flying. Others like House of Fools sound interesting but I haven’t seen them. What struck me was how often the main theme is about two men falling for the same woman. Amazing. As if war wasn’t complicated enough.

A Farewell to Arms (US 1932) Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. Affair between an English nurse and American soldier during World War I.

Dark Journey(UK 1937) Conradt Veidt and Vivien Leigh. Spies of from opposing sides fall in love.
Gone with the Wind (US 1939) US Civil War. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in the movie based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel.

A Yank in the RAF (US 1941) Tyrone Power and Betty Grable. Americans serving in the British forces meet and rekindle an old flame.

Casablanca (US 1942) WWII, Morocco. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in one of the greatest classics of cinema history. (See my review)

For Whom the Bell Tolls (US 1943) Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in a movie based on Hemingway’s novel of the Spanish Civil War.

Crash Dive (US 1943) Starring Tyrone Power, Anne Baxter and Dana Andrews. A submarine lieutenant and his commander fall in love with the same woman.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (UK 1943) Roger Livesey and Deborak Kerr. British soldier falls in love with various incarnations of the same woman.

To Have and Have Not (US 1944) Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in a WWII drama about an American expat and a French resistance fighter. Set on Martinique.

I’ll Be Seeing You (US 1944) Ginger Rogers, Jospeh Cotten and Shirley Temple. Soldier falls in love with a girl he meets in a train

I Live in Grosvenor Square (UK 1945) British aristocrat falls in love with American airman

Piccadilly Incident (UK 1946) WWII. War separates husband and wife with tragic consequences.

A Matter of Life and Death (UK 1946) David Niven and Kim Hunter. Pilot falls in love with radio operator.

From Here to Eternity (US 1953) WWII, Pearl Harbor. Love and drama before the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. Great actors (Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra), great story.

Battle Cry (US 1955) Love and drama among a group of young Marines.

The End of the Affair (UK 1955) Deborah Kerr, Van Johnson, John Mills in the movie based on Graham Greene’s novel about a novelist who falls in love with a married woman during WWII. There is a later version of the same movie, see below.

A Town Like Alice (UK 1956) Peter Finch and Virginia McKenna starring in a WWII romance set in Asia. A British woman, POW of the Japanese, falls in love with an Australian soldier.

D-Day, The Sixth of June  (US 1956). On their way to the Normandy a US and a British officer remember their love for the same woman.

A Farewell to Arms (US 1957) Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones in a movie based on Hemingway’s novel. It tells the story of an affair between an English nurse an American soldier on the Italian front during World War I.

Sayonara (US 1957) Marlon Brando as US air force major who falls in love with a Japanese performer. Based on a novel by James Michener

The Cranes are Flying (Russia 1957) WWII. Extremely moving film about a young woman who waits for her lover to return from the war. (See my review)

South Pacific (US 1958) WWII, South Pacific. A young American nurse and a Frenchman who might be an agent fall in love.

A Time to Love and a Time to Die (US 1958) WWII. Russian front. German soldier on leave falls in love.

Ballad of a Soldier (Russia 1959) A Russian masterpiece. A young soldier falls in love with a girl on a train. (See my review)

Hiroshima Mon Amour (France 1959)  WWII, Japan. A love story between a French woman and a Japanese man after the war. The woman lived a romance with a German soldier during the war. (See my review)

Doctor Zhivago (US/Italy 1965) Omar Sharif and Julie Christie starring in a war romance set during the Bolshevik Revolution. Based on the novel by Boris Pasternak.

In Harm’s Way (US 1965) A classic John Wayne movie. WWII, Pacific. A naval officer falls in love with a nurse (Patricia Neal). A story of second chances. (Here is my review).

Closely Watched Trains (Czechoslovakia 1966) WWII. Set in occupied Czechoslovakia. A young man working for the railway company falls in love for the first time. Based on Bohumil Hrabal’s novel.

Landscape After Battle (Poland 1970) Poland after WWII and the liberation of the concentration camps. A young poet falls in love with a Jewish girl.

Summmer of my German Soldier (US 1978, TV) WWII, US home front. An American girls falls in love with a German POW.

Hanover Street (UK 1979) Margaret is a nurse in England during WWII and married to a secret agent. Things get complicated when she falls for David, an American pilot. Starring Harrison Ford, Christopher Plummer and Lesley-Ann Down.

We’ll Meet Again (UK 1982 TV mini-series) WWII, Britain. American bomber pilots in the UK.

Winds of War (US 1983, TV mini-series) Robert Mitchum and Ali McGraw. WWII, America, until the attack of Pearl Harbor.

A Year of the Quiet Sun (Poland/Germany/US 1984) A US soldier in Europe falls in love with a Polish refugee after the war.

An Indecent Obsession (Australia 1985) Nurse falls in love with psychiatric patient.

Top Gun (US 1986) Not set during a real war. Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis star in this movie about a young fighter pilot who falls in love with a female instructor. Macho bravado and romance.

And a Nightingale Sang (UK 1989, TV) Starring Joan Plowright. One family’s struggle to survive during the Blitz. Funny and touching. (See my review)

The Last of the Mohicans (US 1992) Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe in an epic of the war between British and French colonialists and Indians.

1942: A Love Story (India 1993) Bollywood drama  starring Anil Kapoor. A young Indian couple, both from wealthy backgrounds, find themselves caught up in the 1940′s Indian revolutionary movement against their families who are under the thumb of a sadistic British general.

Braveheart (US 1995) 13th Century Scotland. The fight against the British rule. Some love this epic, some hate it, still it’s impressive for many reasons. Starring Mel Gibson and Sophie Marceau.

The English Patient (US/UK 1996) WWII, North Africa and Italy. Two interwoven love stories. The first is the tragic story of a married woman falling for a Hungarian count. The second tells the love between a nurse and a soldier from a bomb disposal unit. With Kirstin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes, Colin Firth and Willem Dafoe. (See my review)

In Love and War (US 1996) WWI, Italy. the story of the love between Ernest Hemingway and the nurse Agnes von Kurowsky starring Chris O’Donnell and Sandra Bullock.

Aimée and Jaguar (Germany 1999) WWII, Germany. Holocaust. Two women fall in love in Berlin during the war. One of them is Jewish and in the Resistance.

The End of the Affair (UK/US 1999) Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes in the movie based on Graham Greene’s novel. A novelist falls in love with a married woman during WWII in London. She leaves him without an explanation. Two years later he has her followed to try to find out why she left him.

Gloomy Sunday (Germany/Hungary 1999) Set in WWII Budapest. Starring Joachim Król and Ben Becker. This is such a beautiful movie. Another love triangle. A young woman loves a Jewish restaurant owner. One day he hires a young pianist. She falls in love with the young man but still loves the older one. They save the life of a German man who also falls in love with the woman. When WWII breaks out the German comes back. He has turned into a Nazi officer who loves to abuse his power. Gloomy Sunday tells  also the story of the famous Hungarian song Gloomy Sunday that is said to have caused more suicides than any other song ever.

The Man Who Cried (UK/France 2000) Starring Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Christina Ricci. A Russian Jew falls in  love with a gypsy during WWII in Paris. She befriends another Russian who helps her find work in a theater. For lovers of sumptuous movies and opera.

Dark Blue World (Czech Republic/UK/Germany/Denmark/Italy 2001) Czeck fighter pilots in England in WWII. Two pilots, a very young one and an older one fall in love with the same woman.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin ( UK/US/France 2001) WWII, Italian troops in occupied Greece. Based on Luis de Bernières eponymous novel, starring Penélope Cruz and Nicolas Cage. An Italian commander falls in love with a Greek girl whose fiancée is fighting in the war as well.

Enigma (UK/US/Germany/Netherlands 2001) Dougray Scott, Kate Winslett and Jeremy Northam starring in this WWII drama about a young heartbroken man trying to break the Enigma code.

Pearl Harbor (US 2001) Real blockbuster cinema.  WWII. Pearl Harbor. Two young bomber pilots are in love with the same young woman, a nurse. Slick, good-looking movie with equally good-looking actors (Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck).

Enemy at the Gates (US/UK/Germany/Ireland 2001) Showdown of two snipers in Stalingrad. The Russian sniper is a local war hero and in love with a Jewish woman who is in the resistance. Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz and Ed Harris in a beautifully shot war drama. (See my review)

House of Fools (Russia/France 2002) A war movie that is no war movie. Set in a mental institution during the Chechen war.

Charlotte Gray (UK/Australia/Germany 2002) Cate Blanchett in a movie based on Sebastian Faulk’s novel. She plays a Scottish nurse who joins the French Resistance looking for her boyfriend, a RAF pilot who got lost in France.

Yossi and Jagger (Israel 2002) Love between two Israeli soldiers stationed on the Lebanese border.

Resistance (US/Netherlands 2003) Starring Bill Paxton and Julia Ormond. WWII, occupied Belgium. A reconnaissance plane crashes. The pilot, Ted, is brought to Claire and Henry Daussois who are in the Maquis Resistance. Ted and Claire fall in love.

Cold Mountain (US 2003), Renée Zellweger, Jude Law and Nicole Kidman in a story of the American Civil War.

Head in the Clouds (UK/Canada 2004) Starring Charlize Theron, Penélope Cruz, Stuart Townsend,Thomas Kretschmann. A romantic drama set in 1930′s England, Paris, and Spain. Three people share an apartment in Paris, one lives a hedonistic life, the others want to join the fight against fascism.

Island at War (UK 2004, TV mini-series) WWII. The channel islands during German occupation. After the island is invaded by German forces, life changes drastically. The series focuses on three families.

A Very Long Engagement (France/US 2004) Audrey Tautou in a movie about a woman whose husband doesn’t return from the battlefields of WWI and sets out to look for him.

King Arthur (US/UK/Ireland 2004) An epic adventure of war and romance starring Clive Owen, Keira Knigthley, Mads Mikkelsen, Ray Winstone and Ioan Gruffud. The re-telling of the story of King Arthur and his Knights.

The Christmas Card (US 2006, TV) A US soldier visits a town from where a Christmas card has been sent to him during his tour in Afghanistan.

The Poet (Canada 2007) A Rabbi’s daughter and a German soldier fall in love in Poland in WWII. Starring Nina Dobrev and Daryl Hannah. (See my review)

Closing the Ring (UK/Canada/US 2007) Christopher Plummer, Shirley MacLaine and Mischa Barton in a love story that plays then – during WWII – and now. A woman between two men. One is a pilot and gets lost after crash landing in Ireland during WWII. In today’s Ireland a young man finds the wedding ring and brings it to the woman living in the US. Set in Ireland and the US.

Admiral (Russia 2008) Russian revolution. A real heartbreaker. The true story of Admiral Kolchak and his lover. (Here is my review)

Dear John (US 2010) Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in a weepy romance about a young Marine who falls in love prior to 9/11. When he leaves for Iraq their love is tested.

What about you, have you seen many of these movies? Did you like them? Have I forgotten one you would like to recommend?

Where Eagles Dare (1968) War Themed Action

I’ve never seen Where Eagles Dare before and must say I was pleasantly surprised. It’s entertaining and cinematographically stunning.

It’s a fabulously scenic film with some pictures that would even look good in a vampire movie. Plus we get to see two great actors, Clint Eastwood and  Richard Burton who, teamed up, give this movie a special something that I found very appealing.

The story is the tale of a suicide mission. A group of mountaineering soldiers, led by British Major Smith (Richard Burton) and American Lt. Schaffer (Clint Eastwood) are sent to free an American officer captured by the Germans and held in a castle in the mountain, called Eagle’s Nest.

From the moment they parachute out of the plane it’s obvious that the mission they are on is a fake one. What they really need to do, is uncover double-agents.

From the moment they land in the snow-covered woods, until they climb into the castle, the action and tension is relentless and is even intensified, when they have to escape from the castle again.

It’s quite a violent movie, with loads of explosions and a great deal of merciless killings. But it is also very suspenseful, there is plenty of action reminiscent of a modern-day movie. (It seems as if this was Quentin Tarantino’s favourite war movie and that he wanted to do a remake. I hope he will not and that the similarities one can find in Inglourious Basterds is all there will be.)

It was a pleasant surprise to find a female agent who has quite a great role, and fights and shoots just like the men.

I loved the cinematography, the steep mountains, covered in snow and the castle, nested on the top of a hill, gave the movie a Gothic feel.

The fact that I always feel uneasy in cable-cars made watching this movie quite impressive as some of the most gripping scenes take place on the top of a cable-car.

Apparently the movie has been criticized for not being anti-war. I think, that there are for sure movies with a clearer anti-war statement, which is one of the reasons why I think this is more of an action movie with a war theme than a real war movie.

In any case,  I found it very entertaining and I loved Clint Eastwood in this.

I’ve heard that Where Eagles Dare is one of a pair, the other one being The Guns of Navarone. There is a certain likeness, logically, they have both been written by Alistair MacLean. I couldn’t say which one I prefer, I think they both have a lot to offer.

Which one do you prefer?

Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom (1995) A Story of the Spanish Civil War

At the beginning of Ken Loach’s movie Land and Freedom, we see a young woman sorting out the things her late grandfather has left behind. She finds a suitcase full of black and white photos, newspaper articles and letters that show her a hidden part in her grandfather’s life. Little had she known that he had fought in the Spanish Civil War and loved a Spanish woman.

In 1936 David Carr (Ian Hart) is an unemployed miner and member of the British Communist Party. When someone from the Spanish Communist Party shows up and tells them about the Civil War in Spain in which the people fight against General Franco’s Army and the rich landowners, David spontaneously decides to go to Spain and fight for the rights of the people.

On his train journey he meets people from the Spanish militia, part of the POUM, a communist group that fights independently of the International Stalinist Brigades. He has no particular place to be and decides to join them. The people in the little group he is fighting with are all idealists. They come from all over the world, the US, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the UK. They want to fight for the rights of the peasants and the poor and not join the Stalinist Brigades which they consider to be corrupt and only interested in their own cause.

David who at first seems to think he is living some kind of adventure, soon faces the harsh reality. Not only is the fighting often heavy and there are casualties but they are badly trained and equipped and the Stalinists keep the weapons from them. When one of those faulty guns explodes, David is injured and sent to the hospital. Blanca, one of the group visits him in Barcelona, after he has come out of the hospital. They spend a night together but she leaves disgusted when she finds out that David has decided to join the Stalinists.

David will regret his decision soon enough and return to his old POUM group. The movie ends tragically and on a note of utter disillusionment.

Land and Freedom was absolutely not what I had expected and I assume that is exactly what Ken Loach was aiming for. We all have our ideas about the Spanish Civil War, some very romantic ones mostly. We know that Hemingway fought in Spain and so many other writers, painters… It seemed to have been one of the very rare wars with a justified cause to fight for. Ken Loach destroys all our romantic ideas and that is why the movie is good and annoying at the same time. He tries to show how it must have been. The fights and differences within the Communist Party and their subgroups, the endless talking and theorizations. The middle part of the movie is one long annoying and boring conversation and dispute about collectivism.

An aspect I wasn’t familiar with is the fact that women were only allowed to fight alongside the men at the beginning of the war. Later it was decided that they had to do “womanly” things like cooking or being nurses. I thought that women fought all through this war. Another shattered illusion.

Loach has earned a lot of praise and got also a lot of scolding for this movie. Some think that finally someone told it as it was, others think he dirtied the memory of the Spanish Civil War.

I am a fan of Ken Loach‘s movies, he has done quite a few that I liked a lot, although I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I liked Land and Freedom, I must say, I appreciated it. I felt somewhat stupid for having to realize that my idea of the Spanish Civil War had maybe been a tad too romantic as well.

Unfortunately there was no trailer of Land and Freedom, only the first part of the movie.

Roma, Città Aperta aka Rome, Open City (1945) Roberto Rossellini’s Neorealist Masterpiece

Rome, Open City, which is part of Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy, was first meant to be a documentary. It eventually  became a movie which incorporated a lot of original footage, in part due to the shortage of film. The black and white movie Rome, Open City is one of the most important movies of the Italian Neorealist movement. Apart from a famous cast, including Aldo Fabrizi and the great and talented Anna Magnani in one of her best roles, Rossellini hired many people from the streets to enhance the authentic feel.

It’s a fantastic movie and one of the most important movies of European film making. Furthermore it’s another one on my list Children in War Movies as children play an important role.

Roma, città aperta takes place towards the end off WWII. At the core of the story are the Priest Don Pietro Pellegrini, the widow Pina who is about to get married to Franceso, her little son Marcello and Giorgio Manfredi, the head of the resistance. Because Giorgio almost gets caught he hides and the priest and his friend Francesco try to help him and organize his escape. Francesco has a girlfriend, Marina, but he keeps her at arm’s length knowing very well that he is about to leave. Marina, a vain and weak woman, gives away his hiding place to the Gestapo. On the one hand she wants to take revenge, on the other she is venal. Since the war began she regularly sells her body to all sorts of people, also Germans. When bribed by a sleek German commander and his lesbian assistant she gives in. In exchange she gets drugs.

When the Gestapo arrests Giorgio, Pina runs after him into the street and is shot by the Germans. This is an extremely famous scene, one that stays with you for a long time. What follows Giorgio’s and his friends’ arrest is similar to all the other Resistance movies I have seen. The men are tortured. The priest isn’t tortured but also questioned and when he doesn’t say anything, he is executed. The children of the street, among them Pina’s little son, witness the execution of the beloved gentle priest with horror.

Rome, Open City is gritty and realistic. It shows many details of the life in Rome during WWII. How the people lived in close quarters, how they struggled to provide themselves with food. It also shows how many people were active in the Resistance. All the main characters are part of it, also the priest which is an important detail that wants to show how unified the Italians were in their fight against the Germans.

Rome, Open City is a classic. It has many memorable scenes and dialogues. It also analyses the deeper meaning of war and guilt. The priest states more than once that maybe the war happened for a reason. With a central character being a Catholic priest it’s obvious that the movie is saturated by Catholicism. The church  takes an active part in fighting evil.

This movie is a must for cinephiles and people interested in war movies alike. If you need the subtitles it will be a bit difficult to follow this movie. Although I speak Italian I had to watch with subtitles as they can’t be turned off and noticed that far over 50% of the dialogue, which is very fas,t is missing.

300 (2006) This is Sparta!

Whether you like 300 or not, the least you can say is that it is quite original. I can’t think of any other war movie relying so heavily on CGI and adding so many fantastic elements.

This is a Rock’n Roll retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. Part fact, part highly fictionalized story, it is a romp no less starring some of today’s best-loved stars like Gerard Butler (Good-bye Frankie, P.S. I Love You, Beowulf & Grendel), Lena Headey (The Broken, Terminator series) , Michael Fassbender (Centurion, Fish Tank, Inglorious Basterds) and Dominic West (The Wire, The Devil’s Whore, Centurion).

At the beginning of the movie we are introduced to the Spartans and their ways. They are warriors and already trained to become warriors at a very early age. They don’t like deficiencies or disabilities. A child that shows sings of weakness will be discarded. Discipline, endurance and self-control are the key words. At school we were taught the story of a Spartan boy who hid a fox under his coat. The fox started to eat him alive but the boy wouldn’t flinch. Every thing that we see about the Spartans in the movie is factual. Also the role of the women. Unlike in Athens, women were highly educated and treated like equals.

The war started because the Spartans did not, as demanded by the King of the Persians, Xerxes, kneel down and subdue. No way. On the contrary. Why would they, after all, this was Sparta. They were not even impressed by Xerxes huge Army against which a little number of 300 Spartan soldiers looked almost ludicrous and would probably not stand a chance. Surprisingly as this may seem, they defended themselves incredibly well. The Persians really got their asses kicked.

If you want to know what the outcome of the battle was you will have to watch the movie.

300 is quite impressive and, although it isn’t one of my favourites, it is entertaining and, despite some fantastic elements, historically accurate. I always found the Spartans highly fascinating. Somewhat crazy but interesting.

The King of Sparta and his wife are very attached to each other which gives the opportunity for a bit of romance as well.

Is this movie purely a guilty pleasure or is it more? I think it is a mix.

Ridley Scott’s G. I. Jane (1997) Navy SEALS, Military Life, Sexism and a Whole Bunch of Unanswered Questions

Ridley Scott’s G. I. Jane is an extremely entertaining movie. I just need to enumerate who’s in it and you might be tempted to watch it if you haven’t done so yet. Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, James Caviezel, Anne Bancroft. The story is interesting if somewhat implausible but certainly providing us with some food for thought about different things.

Lt Jordan O’Neil (Demi Morre) is an ambitious young woman. She would like to climb the career ladder no matter what it takes. Being pretty sure this will need some combat experience she is willing to go the whole way. Only women aren’t really allowed to undergo combat training. Senator DeHaven (Anne Bancroft) is equally ambitious. Sensing that supporting the admission of women to the Army might boost her career she does everything to get permission to let a test candidate, G.I. Jane, undergo training. To make matters worse the people against her and this undertaking decide to choose the hardest possible training, namely the Navy SEAL training.

The selection of the right candidate takes some time. Senator DeHaven doesn’t want a masculine looking woman, she doesn’t want a homosexual woman either as this could undermine the exercise. When she sees as picture of beautiful Jordan O’Neil, she knows, it is her and no other that she wants for this test run.

What follows is one of those stories that show us how a resilient human being can fight even the most adverse circumstances, overcome weakness and prove her strength.

Jordan undergoes the SEAL training and where many men fail, she excels. She makes it through the initial week and the following weeks. During this time she is closely supervised, challenged and in the end also brutalized by the Master Chief (Viggo Mortensen). Of all the boot camp bastards that we get to see in this type of training focused movies he is by far one of the most complex and interesting. Not just because he quotes poetry but also because he changes considerably and ultimately because he isn’t a bad sort at all. He has to be mean. Sure, there is this one scene in which he overdoes it but doesn’t he have his reasons?

The movie shows 2/3 boot camp and 1/3 actual combat. This las part is highly fictionalized and serves mainly the purpose to show how worthy a soldier Jordan has become.

The movie is a bit on the sentimental side and – yes – it is stretching quite a few things but I like it and have watched it before. I think Demi Moore was a terrific choice and it is one of Viggo Mortensen’s best roles. Also Anne Bancroft as a real b**** is great.

Does it say much about women in the military? It certainly does look at the adversity a woman would have and does face, it looks at the prejudices and preconceptions. Jordan has to start to do it exactly like the men before she is only half accepted. It shows also that it isn’t only that men think women can’t do it but that men are constantly tested by the presence of women. Temptation as well as compassion play into it. Seeing a wounded female soldier might be harder to take than seeing a wounded man. And what If she has to rescue you and she is a slender woman while you are a big, bulky man, weighing twice as much?

My top favourite scene is when a bunch of soldiers, one of them of African-American origin, discuss if a woman should be admitted to this type of training and the African-American soldier points out that his grandfather was only allowed a s a cook during WWII. It is obvious that the prejudices African.Americans had to face were similar to those women had and have to endure.

Don’t watch it, if you are looking for answers, watch it when you want great entertainment and a probably very realistic look at the Navy SEALS training.

I am left with quite a lot of questions. Are there women today in the Navy SEALS? Is it in any way a realistic movie or not at all? Why exactly did the Master Chief mistreat her like this?

Answers anyone?

Les femmes de l’ombre aka Female Agents (2008) Women in the Resistance

Not every slick-looking movie with good-looking actresses on the French Resistance is a good movie. Unfortunately not or Les femmes de l’ombre would have been great. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t bad it’s just not great. If you want an entertaining period drama, this is your movie (ok, there are a some torture scenes that dampen the experience a bit but nice clothes and make-up make up for it). It’s a little bit like Black Book aka Zwartboek but less convincing. The theme would have been interesting and worth dedicating a movie to.

Based on true events, it follows the story of Louise Desfontaine (Sophie Marceau), a sniper with the French Resistance. When things heat up in France she leaves for England and joins the SOE. One day she is contacted by an agent who happens to be her brother Pierre (Julien Boisselier) whom she suspected of being a collaborator. He hires her and four other women to rescue a British spy who has been captured in France by the Germans. The Germans aren’t aware of his identity and think he is German. The women will have to team up, two disguised as nurses, two as exotic dancers (yes, you will see them topless, it’s a French movie) and the fifth will place bombs under German cars.

The five women are a composite group, one is an ex-prostitute (Julie Depardieu), one the ex-girlfriend (Marie Gillain) of the Nazi officer (Moritz Bleibtreu) who tries to hunt them down.

What at first looks like a success soon goes awry. Louise’s brother get’s caught and we all know what that means.

The women go back to Paris on another mission and here things goe definitely very wrong as one gets captured and immediately crumbles under torture (one finger nail off and she spits it all out).

I can really not say why exactly I wasn’t too convinced. Because I have seen the brilliant L’armée du crime aka The Army of Crime before? Or some of the movies on Nordic Resistance that are truly good? I think it is in part due to a slightly off-key cast. Every woman wears heavy make-up which is nice, only Sophie Marceau has to look somewhat stony faced and unattractive (she isn’t successful, she’s too beautiful to look unattractive). I think the producers and directors were aware they would be criticized for their choice of too pretty women and tried to balance this out by not showing a heavily made up Sophie Marceau. She is the sniper after all… Why, if they didn’t want her to look her very best, did they not cast another actress? Because she is a great actress? I always suspected her to be far from accomplished, and she really isn’t too good. I would have preferred her to look as beautiful as she can and not try so hard to look efficient. (I’m thinking of Demi Moore as G.I. Jane who was much more convincing.) I think you can actually be cold-blooded without looking it. And I am not a big fan of Moritz Bleibtreu either. At least not in supposedly serious roles (I have seen him in German movies in which I found him very good). Julien Boisselier and the other four actresses are very good, especially Julie Depardieu and Marie Gillain.

Les femmes de l’ombre aka Female Agents is entertaining, just don’t expect to much of it. If you want the real deal, watch L’armée du crime.

Under Fire (1983) War and Journalism or Whose Side Are You On?

I don’t take sides, I take pictures (Nick Nolte as Russel Price in Under Fire)

The least you can say about Under Fire is that is an extremely interesting movie with four fascinating character portraits played by four outstanding actors.

Under Fire belongs to the war movie subgenre of War and Journalism. There are quite a lot of movies in this sub-genre and a great many are from the 80s. The Year of Living Dangerously, Circle of Deceit, The Killing Fields, Salvador, Missing and later movies like Welcome to Sarajevo (see my post).

The movie opens in Tchad. The photographer Russel Price (Nick Nolte) and the mercenary Oates (Ed Harris) meet and discuss their work. Oates points out that Price isn’t much better. He is profiting as much from every war there is as Oates is. None of them is more interested in politics than the other. When they part we know that they will meet again.

Before Price departs to the latest war zone, Nicaragua, we are introduced to two other journalists, Claire (Joanna Cassidy) and Alex Gazier (Gene Hackman). Claire and Alex are a couple but she breaks up with him before leaving to Nicaragua and we already sense she will be romantically involved with Russell.

At first when arriving in Nicaragua, Price isn’t interested in background information. He wants to know if the beer is good and what the food is like. Fortunately the movie nevertheless fills us in on the basics. We hear that the revolutionaries, headed by a guy named Rafael, fight the government of president Somoza who is supported by the US and a few other details. Claire and Price meet the French agent Jazy (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a dubious character, that seems to be in favour of the rebels, they also meet the president and his press officer.

While they are in Nicaragua – falling in love, getting to know the country – something happens to Price. He meets Oates again and sees him kill one of the revolutionaries in cold blood. This makes Price understand his own actions and how cynical they are.  He becomes aware that he cannot stay out of this anymore. It bdawns on him, that the Sandinistas are right, that the government is corrupt and supported by the US who are afraid of a communist Nicaragua. In order to support the revolution, he takes a fake picture. He serves the rebels but triggers a flood of violence during which Alex is killed by the president’s soldiers (this is based on a true story). He takes a picture of this as well and triggers a reaction in the US…

What I really liked about this movie is how subtle it portrays the different people. Nolte, Hackman and Harris are very convincing, each takes another position, stays for another point of view. The cynic mercenary Oates is probably the most stringent character, the one who will make you the most uneasy, although Jazy isn’t a bad example of double standards either. Claire was the least convincing character, she rather served as a enhancer for the others.

Apparently the movie has been considered to be problematic in the US because it openly takes position for the Nicaraguan revolution. I think this is great and daring. It is an ugly chapter in US politics and many efforts have been made to forget about it as soon as possible (Noam Chomsky has written quite eloquently about this).

The movie is visually extremely convincing. John Alcott, Kubrick’s cameraman, has filmed it documentary-style.

The topic of War and Journalism always makes me uneasy. I think we should be informed but I cannot understand how people can take pictures like vultures of dying and dead people and stay uninvolved. Maybe it is not so much journalism as photo journalism that I find problematic. I am really glad for movies like Under Fire. They are valuable and important and illustrate how everything is linked, how one deed leads to another.

There is a trailer on iMDB.

Here is just a video with scenes from the movie and the original soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith.