Defiance (2008) The Bielski Partisans

After having moaned about the accent situation in Defiance (which you can read here) it’s now time to get to the review and I must say, all in all, I didn’t think the movie was all that bad. And we have to bear in mind that it’s based on a true story, the story of the Bielski partisans or Bielski brothers.

After having found that their parents had been killed by the Nazi’s who systematically exterminated Polish Jews, the four Bieski brothers flee to Belorussia and hide in the woods. The two older brothers Tuvia (Daniel Craig) and Zus (Liev Schreiber) have both lost their wives and children as well. While hiding in the forest they are joined by a group of Jews and decide to stay together and try to survive in the forest. After a while, more people seek refuge in the woods and the Bielkis take them up. Tuvia in particular brings back people from every food searching expedition which creates huge tensions between the brothers. It is clear that Tuvia is the leader and this is another source of tension as their leading style is different.

After a few weeks or months the camp in the forest is almost a little village, there are now hundreds of people who need to be fed, who need shelter and protection as the Germans swarm these woods. On the other hand there is strength in the number as they have people with all sorts of professions among them. Nurses, carpenters, teachers. After a few more months the tension between the brothers escalates and Zus leaves the group and joins Russian partisans. This is initially ideal for the group as this means additional and armed protection.

The movie shows how they struggle. The winter is particularly hard for them, many fall ill. It’s incredibly difficult to find food for so many people and they are surrounded by enemies. They have to fight quite often and there are combat situations as well. There are also a few love stories that will lead to relationships that last a life time. We also see them execute different missions, like saving people from the ghetto before they are sent to the camps.

I found the movie interesting and fascinating because it is a true story. In the end the Bielski brothers saved at least 1500 people. That’s quite amazing. I’m quite fond of Daniel Craig and thought he was a good choice for Tuvia.

While I wouldn’t say this is a must-see movie, it’s not bad at all and when you are not familiar with the story, it’s quite interesting. In any case what these brothers achieved is amazing.

Here is a photo of the real partisans

If you want to read about them here are a few articles The Bielski Partisans and Tuvia Bielski and a wikipedia article Bielski partisans.

Why It’s Occasionally Necessary to Watch the Dubbed Version of a Movie – The Case of Defiance

While I will write a proper review about the US movie Defiance, starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, in a day or two, I feel like writing about fake accents here because that is something that bothered me while trying to watch the movie.

Nothing drives me up the wall like fake accents or illogical accents. And no matter how much some people try to convince me that it’s not important, it is. I’m a linguist and a translator. Languages are important to me. If it isn’t important to you, that’s fine, but some will feel like me, I’m sure.

If a Russian speaks English with a Russian accent I’m pretty sure I may think this is cute but if an American or British actor speaks English with a Polish accent for no other reason than some illogical attempt at authenticity, then it’s not cute. The movie Defiance was one of those bad examples. I tried watching it three times, every time I gave up after half an hour and had to stop it. Yesterday, on the fourth attempt, I remembered that I had a German DVD. While dubbed movies are something I truly do not like, it was blissful to change to the German version. All of the actors were just speaking German and although Russians and Poles would hardly speak German in real life (in their own country among their fellow country men!), they most certainly would not speak English with a Russian or Polish accent. Now I see that this is an attempt of authenticity, but for me it’s plain silly.

While I was thinking about this, I remberered the wonderful Cate Blanchett in The Man Who Cried and that her Russian accent didn’t bother me at all. On the very contrary, I found it admirably well done. So why did Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber annoy me, while Cate Blanchett didn’t? Because Cate Blanchett plays a Russian who meets English-speaking people and it’s logical, or possible that she should have an accent, while it isn’t logical that Daniel Craig’s characters traipses around the Russian forest speaking English with his brother and on top of that with an accent.

To make me prefer a dubbed version it takes a lot. Two other movies which improved greatly in their dubbed versions were Memoirs of a Geisha and Frida. I’m not sure which one wound me up the most but I think the prize has to go to Frida.

I’m aware that watching a dubbed version isn’t an option for native speakers of English. I’m sorry for that.

Whether I liked Defiance in the end and what it is all about will be the topic of my next post.

What do you think of accents and dubbing in general?

Bertrand Tavernier’s Capitaine Conan – Captain Conan (1996)

Have you seen Capitaine Conan? You haven’t? Well then I’d like to know why you are sitting here, reading this blog when what you should really do, is chase a copy of this unique and brilliant movie? This is one of the best war movies I have seen in a while. I’m doing pretty bad with movies these days and have found my attention span is quite short but this movie had me glued to the screen. WWI movies tend to be a bit repetitive, it’s either the atrocity of the trenches, facial wounds, the analysis of the shortcomings of the high command or the incredible amount of dead and lost soldiers. All of it worthy themes but done a few times and quite brilliantly too. That’s why it was such a surprise that there is hardly any of this in Capitaine Conan. 

Capitaine Conan is based on the largely autobiographical novel Captain Conan by Roger Vercel who won the prestigious Prix Goncourt for the book. Vercel based the main character on one of his comrades.

The most interesting aspect is that the movie (and the book) takes place on the Bulgarian border where French and English troops fought a guerrilla like war against Germans and Bulgarians. There are trenches but a lot of the combat is hand-to-hand combat, man against man.

The lieutenant Capt Conan is an insubordinate, extremely wild and brutal soldier. But also someone who cherishes camaraderie. Instead of eating with the fellow officers, he rather sits somewhere with the men. He leads a group of 50 men that he calls his wolves. They are all equally fearless, brutal and, as it seems, addicted to violence but also a tight-knit group, ready to do anything for each other. There is nothing they like more than fighting man against man and mostly with knives. Because Conan is highly efficient and can turn around the course of hopeless battles, his superiors let him do as he pleases but when the war ends, things go wrong. His bloodthirsty men are too easily bored. They start to commit one crime after the other. Pillaging, raping, robbery. Conan who calls himself a warrior, as opposed to a soldier, isn’t any better and let’s his men get away with everything. Conan has long-lost his sense of right and wrong and all that he cares about are his men. War has turned him into a brute.

Among this violent crowd is a more gentle lieutenant, who wants to become a school teacher in peace time. If it wasn’t for him, who is appointed as prosecutor, Conan and his men would be court-martialled. The friendship between these two men grows slowly but once it’s established, it is indestructible.

It’s quite difficult to do this movie justice as it is very complex and quite fast-paced. Conan is a fascinating character and the way Tavernier depicts him we can’t help but admire him. In the world of WWI, in which there are so many officers who never dirty their hands but make the most important decisions without having a clue, someone like Conan, with a sense of honour and dignity, despite the brutality, becomes admirable. He is ruthless but he has a sense of loyalty and justice. The problem is, that men like him cannot go back to a normal life, once the war is over. They have gone too far.

After the war has ended, they are boarding a train and sent around without really knowing where they go. They stop in Sofia for a long time and are finally sent to the Russian border to fight the Bolsheviks. The scene in which the general informs them of the Armistice is one of the greatest scenes in any war movie ever. It’s so absurd. We see the guy talk about victory and glory, while the rain is pouring down, half of the men are running away because of diarrhea and the highly decimated band plays an off-key Marseillaise and looks like a bunch of flea-infested hobos.

I really hope I could give a halfway good impression of this wonderful movie and how rich it is. It’s very witty with super fast dialogue that I hope is well captured in the subtitles. I have a French DVD so I turned them off. It’s one of the huge problems of French cinema in translation. French cinema does live to a large extent from the dialogue which is usually fast and a lot of it isn’t translated. This isn’t a comedy but it has a lot of funny elements because it shows how absurd war is and because it juxtaposes many different levels of French society and different French regions.

As I said, the movie is available with English subtitles but the only trailer I found is a French one with Spanish subtitles. It still gives a good impression of the movie.

Goodnight, Mister Tom (1998 TV)

The TV production Goodnight, Mr Tom is based on Michelle Magorian’s successful eponymous novel. It illustrates the story of the children who were evacuated from London during WWII telling one boy’s heartbreaking tale. Although quite accurate when it comes to WWII, it’s a family movie.

Shortly before Dunkirk a group of young boys and girls is evacuated to a picturesque British village. Some of the villagers are happy to take care for a child, others, like Mister Tom, have to be forced. Mr Tom is an old grumpy widower who never got over the death of his wife and young son during WWI. He keeps to himself and hardly speaks to people. At first he really isn’t thrilled to have a young child stay with him but after a few days he starts to like the boy. The kid is very shy and quiet and wets his bed nightly. Mister Tom takes this catastrophe surprisingly lightly and doesn’t even use the belt the boys’ mother has sent him hoping he wpuld use it. It seems as if the mother, a zealously religious woman, regularly punished the boy.

It’s one of those stories in which an old, lonely person and an abused child become friends and take care of each other. The boy starts to put on weight, becomes more lively and enjoys life again until the day when his mother who still lives in London, sends for him.

When the boy doesn’t stay in touch, Mister Tom gets alarmed and undertakes a trip to London. In the village, while they had their air raid shelters which they had built themselves in the garden, they were rarely if ever bombed. Most planes just flew by on their way to London. London however is constantly bombed and in the mess and the chaos Mr Tom has a hard time to find the boy’s house.

The rest of the story is quite dramatic and says a lot about how children were treated in those times. Not only by their parents but also by the authorities.

It’s quite a nice story but more than that the movie captures the life of the civilians during WWII quite well. It must have been quite an adventure for all these city kids to be sent to the country. For a while it must have felt like holidays. Surely, they were homesick but compared to their life in the city, they had a lot of freedom. It was quite tragic too. Many a child lost his parents while it stayed somewhere else.

I couldn’t find a trailer but attached part I of the movie. The whole movie can be watched on YouTube. This part contains an interesting intro that gives some background information.