What if… A War Movie Related Distraction for Hot Summer Evenings

It’s hot and sultry outside and inside it isn’t much better. A little game might come in as a welcome distraction. I’ll ask a few questions which you may or may not answer. If you want to read my answers, you will find them after the questions.

1. What if all of the war movies would have to be destroyed but you could keep one, which one would you choose?

2. What if you could choose to make a war movie, which war would you choose for your film? 

3. What if you could replace one actor in a war movie, which actor in which movie would you replace?

4. What if you could wake up in a war movie, which one would you want to experience?

a) You can’t be harmed

b) You can be harmed

5. What if there would be no more new war movies, would you mind?

6. What if you could decide about a remake, which movie would you choose?

7. What if you could meet one war movie character in real life, who would you want to meet?

8. What if there was only one sub-genre of war movies, which one would you prefer?

9. What if you could have one book turned into a war movie, which one would you like to see on screen?

10. What if you could change one war movie, which one would you change and what would you change?

1. Black Hawk Down. There aren’t many better anti-war films out there and hardly any that will give you an idea of what combat might be like.

2. I really have a thing for the Napoleonic Wars and would probably make one of that period.

3. Nicolas Cage in Windtalkers. Maybe it would always be a shitty movie but it would certainly be much better without him.

4.a) Intimate Enemies but I don’t want to elaborate why.

4.b) Hope and Glory. I’m not romanticizing the Blitz but it’s a movie that has something very nostalgic.

5. No, I guess not. There are so many good movies out there and if there were no new ones, maybe it would mean that we do not have any wars anymore.

6. I’m not keen on remakes but if I really had to choose maybe The Longest Day as it would be a great opportunity for an all-star cast and a little bit of cutting would do it no harm.

7. Sgt. Elias (Platoon). Just love that character.

8. Infantry combat. It is the most harrowing.

9. One of the novels of Heinrich Böll, a post-war novel.

10. Yes, please, let me change We Were Soldiers. No more religious crap from the man with the double standard.

Europa Europa aka Hitlerjunge Salomon (1990) The Story of a Jewish Boy Hiding Among Nazis

Agnieszka Holland’s movie Europa, Europa is based on the true story of Salomon Perel. It is frequently mentioned as one of the top 100 war movies. It’s a harrowing and quite unbelievable story, still I have to confess that I did not like it.

The Perels are a Jewish family living in Germany at the beginning of the war. When anti-Jewish acts become more and more frequent, they are attacked and the daughter is killed. Salomon’s parents send the young boy and his brother to Poland where he should try to survive at any cost. He looses his brother early in the movie and ends in a Russian communist orphanage. Here he is given a passport and has to undergo some serious communist re-education. When the Germans invade Russia, the orphanage is attacked. They all flee and Salomon gets captured on the way by a Nazi patrol. All the Jews are shot immediately and it is only thanks to an extreme presence of mind that Salomon manages to make them belive that he is a true German and that he can be extremely useful as interpreter since he speaks Russian fluently. The soldiers take him along and he fights with them, helps them as a translator. He has to be super careful that no one sees him naked and this will stay a constant topic throughout the movie. The fact that he is circumcised would give his identity away.

A German officer hears of the young boy and that he is an orphan. He likes the bright boy and thinks of adopting him but first he sends him to one of the Nazi elite schools where he will be educated and trained. Here again, he has to be careful in order to not be found out. There are a few incredible scenes in the school. In one scene a teacher shows that one can see unmistakably, that, despite his dark hair, Salomon is of pure Aryan breed. The pupils are taught to hate the Jews and how to detect them. The absurdity of such scenes is incredible and Nazi madness made apparent.

Salomon is barely 16 years old and falls in love for the first time. Although the girl is willing “to do it”, he has to say no. The danger of being detected is too big.

It is incredible to think that he got away with it for so long. He blended in so perfectly, was such a good actor and so cold-blooded that they never even suspected him to be Jewish.

After the war Salomon finds out that his whole family died in a ghetto in Poland. He leaves Europe and settles in Palestine. At the end of the movie we catch a glimpse of the real Salomon Perel.

It took me a while to figure out why I didn’t like this movie. I didn’t like it because I didn’t like Salomon. I suspect that I found his behaviour cowardly. He isn’t much better than a collaborator. It disgusted me to see him act and talk like a Nazi. Sure, he was only a boy, he wanted to survive, he lost his family… I think sometimes it’s better to die than to sell out. Bit harsh, I know, but surviving is not everything.

I’d be really interested to know what others think of this movie.

Europa, Europa is part of the Children in War Movies List

Henry of Navarre aka Henry 4 (2010)

Based on Heinrich Mann’s eponymous novel Henry of Navarre aka Henry 4 is a large-scale epic about one of the bloodiest chapters in French history. This is a fascinating and eerily beautiful movie. It is a French-German co-production which explains why there are as many French as German actors.

I’m quite familiar with French history from Louis XIV on but what came before is somewhat blurred. I knew about the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day (La St. Barthélemy) and the Edict of Nantes, was familiar with the Queen Margot and Catherine de Medici, I had even heard the famous saying “Paris vaut bien une messe” meaning “Paris is worth a mass” but I wouldn’t have tied all this together and associated it with Henry of Navarre, future King Henry IV of France. What a bloody story, full of treachery, passion, fanaticism, civil war and murder.

Henry, King of the little kingdom of Navarre, is forced to go to war at an early age. By the time he turns twenty it is all he knows. It is the time in which France is divided in two. Catholics are on one side, Protestants (Huguenots) on the other. The Civil War or Wars of Religion rage and tear the country apart. Paris and the court are held by Catholics who are to a certain extent ruled by the Pope. They don’t get married without the assent of the Holy Father. The people of the kingdom of Navarre and Henry himself are Protestants. The opposing parties meet on the battlefield more often than anywhere else.

France is unofficially reigned by the scary Catherine de Medici, the King’s mother. Charles, the King, is an anxious man, constantly afraid of being poisoned or murdered. His fear is well grounded as we will soon find out. Catherine de Medici had the reputation of being a cruel, despotic woman who had people executed on a whim. But even she is tired of war and arranges a marriage between her daughter, the beautiful Margot, and Henry of Navarre.

The marriage is overshadowed by the death of Henry’s mother, presumably she was poisoned. As soon as they are married someone orders to massacre all the protestants in the city which will be the famous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

The following two-thirds of the story follow Henry until he finally becomes Henry IV, King of France. Many people had to lose their life to make this a possibility.

The movie excels in making these people come to life and shows us a King who was far beyond the ordinary. He was  much-loved, tolerant and accepting of people of every religious conviction. This may well have been the first step towards France becoming a secular country, something it has remained until today. Henry was also a womanizer, a trait the film-makers enjoyed to illustrate.

For those who aren’t familiar with the story of Henry IV, I’m not going to reveal too much. It should suffice to say that love plays a major role. He will also divorce the Queen Margot as she cannot give him the much-needed heir and will get married to Marie de Medici.

I didn’t know much about Henry IV, so I’m not sure how well-chosen Julien Boisselier is. He’s a pleasant, likable looking man and did a very good job.

Ulrich Noethen as Charles IX, is very convincing. He is an experienced actor who has starred in movies like The Downfall.

Having studied old French literature I had to read Agrippa D’Aubignés Les Tragiques. It’s a harrowing account of the times and the Wars of Religion. I liked that Agrippa played a prominent role in the movie. He is played by the excellent German actor Joachim Król. Agrippa was one of Henry’s best friends and only left him towards the end, to withdraw from the world and start to write his famous book.

The most fascinating character of them all, is Catherine de Medici. Hannelore Hoger, a German TV star, plays her very well. She gives an uncanny, eerie and quite scary Catherine de Medici.

All in all, I enjoyed Henry of Navarre a lot and will re-watch it. If you like epic movies, beautiful cinematography and French history you will enjoy it.

I’d like to thank Showbox Media Group for sending me a review copy of the movie.

Henry of Navarre is out to buy on Blu-ray and 2 disc-DVD on 4th July 2011, courtesy of Showbox Media Group.

L’Honneur d’un Capitaine – A Captain’s Honor (1982)

What an excellent movie. Even better than I thought it would be. It’s my second Schoendoerffer and it is as good as the more famous Dien Bien Phu.

L’Honneur d’un Capitaine or A Captain’s Honor is part court-room drama, part infantry combat. It is a thought-provoking look at the way France tried to come to terms with the war in Algeria. It shows one nation’s struggle to face the injustice it committed in the name of peace-keeping.

20 years after his death on the battle field Cpt. Caron is publicly accused of having been a torturer and an assassin. The man who accuses him is a famous professor of sociology who claims having known Caron well enough to be sure of the accusation. The accusation happens during a TV show. Some of the guests leave in outrage. It isn’t only about Caron. It is about what really happened in Algeria. To this day there is a rift in France. On one side are those who claim that the French army has tortured in Algeria and on the other are those who say it didn’t.

Caron’s widow decides to drag the incident to court. She wants justice for her husband and his reputation. Her uncle, a famous lawyer and member of the Parisian high-society, advises against it but finally gives in and even wants to help her in court.

Before they go to court, they try to gather information and this part gives the movie another dimension. It links WWII, Indochina and Algeria.

At 17 the future Cpt Caron was part of the French Resistance, he later served in Indochina and was captured by the Vietminh. This is illustrated by original footage, many of it taken in battle and in the prison camps during the liberation. Those French soldiers looked exactly like the Jews in the German camps.

The drama that unfolds in court is very gripping. We really want to know what happened. Did he, or did he not do it? In order to find out, they have convoked former soldiers and officers who served with or under him. They take apart each and every element of the accusation. The film moves back and forth between the court in the 70s and the battlefield in Algeria in the 50s.

During 18 days Cpt. Caron led a special alpine infantry unit. Three of the men of this unit had been captured by the fellaghas (anti-colonialist rebels). This usually meant torture and slow death at the hands of those rebels. The Cpt. tries everything to get the men back. During these 18 days many unpleasant things happen. Algerian informants are tortured, killed and disappear. After a while it becomes apparent that it isn’t so much about whether it has really happened, everything does indeed point into that direction, but whether Caron gave the order.

It is fascinating how they deconstruct the accusations bit by bit, but every time they have proven that it may be a wrong accusation, another one is brought up.

Without giving away too much, I’d like to describe one scene that I found particularly  amazing. Caron and a few of his men are at the foot of a mountain, while the rest of them are somewhere high up. It is said that during this part of the campaign an Algerian prisoner was killed. And indeed, the soldier in the court room states that Caron gave the order. He was up there with the men. Another officer however testified that, no, he hadn’t given the order. He was standing next to Caron during te whole incident. What had happened? Caron told them to bring the prisoner down (descendez-le in French) but they had understood to take him out (also descendez-le in French). Depending on where a person who says “descendez-le” stands, it could either mean “take him out” or “bring him down”.

This is just an example how the movie works, what type of complexities it shows.

It is a movie that makes you feel very uneasy (if you are French). The thing is, if the Cpt, who was such an exemplary officer, is found guilty, one can assume that torture and murder was a fairly common practice. But if he isn’t found guilty, if he is innocent, this does not automatically mean that these atrocities didn’t happened. This is where the movie excels, it it is excellent at showing the psychology of those who want to believe either the one or the other.

I haven’t found a trailer but attached the scene in which Caron’s widow watches the Indochina footage. There are no subtitles but that doesn’t matter as they only speak a few words in the beginning.

Winner of the DVD Giveaway Henry of Navarre

As promised I have drawn the winner of the DVD Giveaway Henry of Navarre today.

I used random. org. and the winner is

Guy Savage

Congratulations Guy. Drop me a line at allaboutwarmovies at gmail dot com.

I have received my review copy yesterday and will be watching it shortly. At 148 minutes it is quite long. Maybe it would have been a worthy candidate for my 12 French war movies list. I’m eager to find out.

Henry of Navarre is out to buy on Blu-ray and 2 disc-DVD on 4th July 2011, courtesy of Showbox Media Group.