Movies on the War in Algeria: A List

The War in Algeria, or the war that was officially no war, is a particularly dark spot on French history. For all the parties invloved, the French and the Algerians alike. Some of the movies on this list have been prohibited in France for a long time. I have only seen and reviewed Intimate enemies aka L’ennemi intime which is a very good movie but I know that a few of the others on the list, first of all La battaglia di Algeri aka Battle of Algiers and Chronique des années de braise are very good movies as well. I got L’honneur d’un Capitaine which, like some of the others, is only available in French. Lost Command has quite an interesting cast but I have my doubts whether the movie is any good and the first one on the list is decidedly a B-Movie.

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John Rabe aka City of War: The Story of John Rabe (2009) The Good German of Nanjing or The Nanjing Massacre

Based on The Good German of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe the movie City of War: The Story of John Rabe tells the true story of the German businessman John Rabe who saved the lives of 200’000 Chinese.

Rabe had been in Nanjing for 27 years when in 1937 Siemens told him that he was promoted and to return to Berlin immediately. What he didn’t know was that they had planned to close down the factory and stop building the giant dam that would have brought water to a huge number of Chinese people. Rabe realized that they were doing nothing less than destroying his life’s work.

The replacement they sent from Germany, Fleiss, a Nazi through and through, is an obnoxious and condescending idiot. During the evening before the Rabes are to go back to Berlin, the Japanese fly an air raid over Nanjing and open fire on the factory as well. Rabe opens the doors and lets the people find shelter inside the compound. The giant Nazi flag he was reluctant to put up, is fetched and hung above the inner yard to show the Japanese that they are flying over the territory of their ally.

A French schoolmistress, British diplomats and an American doctor (Steve Buscemi) manage to talk Rabe out of his plans to return to Germany and convince him to stay with them in Nanjing. They want to open a safety zone for the civilians and need him as their head. He accepts the deed and stays with them while his wife returns on her own.

Rabe  (very well-played by Ulrich Tukur) is a courageous man. The movie tells this atrocious story of the rape of Nanking in gruesome details. There is no Japanese act that isn’t horrible, as a matter of fact there is only one Japanese character that was a bit likable. This seems extremely biased. I have never seen a recent movie demonizing a whole people like this. The Nanjing massacre was an atrocity that is barely known today but that doesn’t make a whole nation evil.

I think you already got it, I have huge reservations regarding this movie. Another one stems from the fact that it won best picture. The movie interweaves original footage and movie material quite artfully and the picture is stunning. Glossy and very beautiful but that does a huge disservice to the topic. How can you show scenes of people being beheaded in such eerily beautiful colors, intense, shiny, fresh, esthetic? It’s really odd. Besides I didn’t really like Rabe. The way he treated his people was condescending, obedience was all that counted. He did change eventually but still I found that off-putting. “The Chinese are like small children?” he said at one point.

Rabe’s life ended very tragically. After having helped such a lot of people he went back to Germany in 1938 and, after the war, wasn’t denazified but lived isolated and impoverished until he died.

John Rabe is a German/French/Chinese co-production but there is also a Chinese movie with a similar title (City of Life and Death: Nanjing, Nanjing) about the same events. I think that is the movie I should have watched.

This was too esthetic for the topic and without the original footage it would have had no depth whatsoever. I think it’s unfair to use this type of original footage (really gruesome) to try to give meaning to an otherwise shallow picture.

71-Into the Fire aka Pohwasogeuro (2010) DVD Giveaway

Following yesterday’s announcement this is the official giveaway for the South Korean movie 71-Into the Fire. Here’s what it’s all about.

On August 11th, 1950, 71 boy soldiers of the South Korean army singlehandedly held back the elite North Korean 766 Commando Brigade for a full 11 hours. Most were still in their school uniforms and had only fired a single bullet in training!

Their astonishing bravery under fire enabled allied forces to hold a strategic bridgehead at the Nakdong River and gain a tactical advantage that would help turn the tide of the entire war. Nothing less than the freedom of their nation was at stake. Their ingenuity, tenacity and brotherhood helped them to achieve the impossible.

This is their remarkable true story…

As I said yesterday this giveaway is courtesy of the distributor cine-asia. I’m giving away 2 DVD’s (region 2) of the movie 71-Into the fire.  To enter, simply leave a comment with your e-mail address and let me know why you would like to have this DVD.  Should there be a lot of interested people the first one to leave a comment will get one, the second will be drawn from the remaining names. The giveaway finishes Thursday 31 March. The winners will be announced on April 1st.

THE DVD IS REGION 2 CODED

Upcoming DVD Giveaway Announcement 71-Into the Fire (2010) An Outstanding Looking South Korean War Movie

I’m glad and would like to thank cine-asia that I have the great opportunity to give away two DVD’s of this new DVD release of an outstanding looking South Korean war movie.

More about the movie, some special clips and giveaway details will be posted tomorrow. To whet your appetite here’s the movie trailer.

The DVD is REGION 2 coded. Please bear this in mind should you want to participate.

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.

Battle for Haditha (2007) A Powerful Movie on the War in Iraq

The British movie Battle for Haditha is one of the best war movies on the war in Iraq because it manages to capture the complexity of the situation. It’s an extremely moving film that for once doesn’t glorify anything and achieves to show the ugly truth. It tells the true story of the cruel massacre of 24 civilians amongst which were women and children.

In 2005 a group of US Marines was ambushed by Iraqi insurgents. One of the officers got killed, two others were severely wounded. The remaining ones went on a killing spree that cost the lives of those civilians. For this war crime the commanding office was awarded a bronze medal. The US Army tried to cover up the whole story but four months later eye-witnesses told the truth.

As ugly as this story is Battle for Haditha doesn’t blame anyone but shows in great detail the parties involved in this massacre. Even if the movie doesn’t ultimately blame the US Marines, and in particular Cpl Ramirez whose nerves were on edge, it does point a finger at the US government. And rightly so.

The movie moves back and forth between three different viewpoints and ties three very different stories together. We see those young Marines who often join the Army because they have no chance to do anything else. They are shipped to Iraq but haven’t really got a clue what they are doing there. They face severe hostilities, they frequently come under fire, they are blown up and shot at and stressed out.

While the group around Cpl Ramirez moves toward the city of Haditha, two Iraqi men join the Mujaheddin and are instructed how and where to bury a bomb that they will also detonate with a mobile phone. The street that has been chosen is frequently used by Army convoys or reconnaissance on the way to Haditha. The two men have to hide in an empty building and survey the street until an US Army vehicle shows up and then blow up the bomb.

Close by is a housing complex in which two extended families live who are preparing for a party. One of them sees those men digging and they know what will happen. They are extremely scared. Should they report it, they might be executed by the Mujaheddin, if they don’t they might be arrested by the US Army. It’s a big Iraqi family, many children but also the parents and grandprents live together. They are very close and affectionate.

The two men who bury the bomb are just simple men without any political convictions. They are afraid of the Mujaheddin and they are dirt poor. Helping the Mujaheddin is a way to make some money and they do not foresee the consequences. Besides they are promised glory in heaven.

Broomfiled chose hardly any real actors and especially no stars to give this movie an even more authentic feel. The parts of the movie that show the Iraqi insurgents and the family are spoken in Arabic and subtitled which further enhances authenticity.

As far as anti-war movies go, this is a great movie. I think it also manages to illustrate some of the complex feelings and thoughts of all the parties involved.

The biggest achievement however is that Battle for Haditha manages to show us one or many likable characters in each of the three groups. They are all just humans hoping for a better life. One of the likable characters is the unfortunate Cpl Ramirez who, when he sees that one of his friends was killed, literally loses it. I don’t know what became of him. The worst is that the High Command tried to cover up the whole story and tried to justify the war despite every single incident pointing out its injustice.

No Man’s Land (2001) An Outstanding War Satire

Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land is without any doubt one of the best war movies I have ever seen. The actors are outstanding, the story is different and manages perfectly to convey the tragic absurdity of war. It also very funny, unless you have never heard of black humor or satire.

The movie starts with a group of Bosnian soldiers on their way to the front, bickering and teasing each other and lost in the darkness and the fog. They try to find the way for a while but it’s useless. After some more bickering and sharing of cigarettes, they stop and go to sleep. Horror on horror, when they wake up they realize they are in between the front lines and very close to the Serbs. The fun is definitely over now and as soon as they start to run, the Serbs open fire. Ciki is catapulted by an explosion into an empty foxhole, in the middle of No Man’s Land.

He hides in the foxhole until two Serbian soldiers arrive to investigate if there are any enemies around. They find Cera, who has also been catapulted into the foxhole and, thinking he is dead, they booby-trap his body.

After a while they finally discover Ciki who shoots one of the two Serbs. Two enemies are now trapped in between their lines, together with a unconscious man, attached to a mine, whose every move could make the thing explode.

What follows is one of the most comic farces I have ever seen. Trapped in between enemy lines, they start to quarrel and fight, all the while the poor Cera moans because he needs to go to the toilet, is uncomfortable and thirsty, wants a fag… Ciki keeps on asking him if he is OK which is, considering the circumstance, in a grotesque way funny as well.

A lot of the humor stems from the dialogue. Although they find themselves in the most dire circumstances they still argue and quarrel like a family at the Sunday dinner table; petty grievances, teasing, sulking, all included. Considering they might end up being killed it’s tragically comic. On top of that, the three are really endearing characters.

The movie also criticizes once more the inefficiency and cynicism of high command and the ultimate uselessness of the UNPROFOR troops who, as usual, aren’t allowed to do anything. On top of that a group of sensation-seeking journalists appears and makes matters worse.

Both camps send people into the foxhole which becomes a sort of neutral zone. Journalists are there, de-mining experts, UN troops and what not. Everybody wants to give their opinion, no one is capable of helping.

If you want to know whether poor Cera will be saved, you will have to watch the movie.

No Man’s Land is outstanding and manages like not many to make a very profound anti-war statement.

One word of caution: Should you just have stopped smoking you shouldn’t watch this movie. I have hardly every seen such a lot of smoking going on in any movie. Even a lifelong non-smoker like myself started to feel a certain urge after a while.

I almost forgot to mention that No Man’s Land is a Bosnia & Herzegovina/FR/IT/Slov/UK/BE co-production.