Lions for Lambs (2007)

I watched a lot of war movies before I started this blog. Unfortunately I cannot review them anymore after a while that’s why I have to re-watch a lot of them, also some that I didn’t really like the first time. Lions for Lambs is one of them. I can’t really say I didn’t like it. I watched it and forgot it the moment I turned off the TV.

I’m reading an interesting book at the moment. It hasn’t been translated but I add the full title for my German readers. The book is called “Antikriegsfilm – Zur Ästhetik, Geschichte und Theorie einer filmhistorischen Praxis” and it’s as dry as the title makes it sound. It’s an academic analysis of anti-war movies and I will write more about it soon. In any case, Lions for Lambs is mentioned as one of the typical modern – meaning post 9/11 – anti-war movies. The movie isn’t analysed as the book focusses on combat movies but it’s mentioned and since I had the DVD I watched it again.

I found it more interesting this time but still consider it to be a failed movie. It has an idea but no real story and in order to cover that up, Redford (he is the director as well) chose to tell three parallel stories. Obviously none of them on its own would have made a whole movie and together it’s a patchwork circling around the same theme: Is it justified to go to war in order to maintain peace?

The movie moves back and forth between three different stories. One focusses on cocky senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) who wants to convince journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) that it makes sense to send troops to Afghanistan and that this time they will win the war. He says that he has certain information that there is an entry route from Iraq, crossing Iran, into Afghanistan. Roth is a very clever journalist and has soon found out that what he wants her to write is pure propaganda. She thinks she should write an entirely different piece instead.

While these two are discussing, a Harvard professor of political science (Robert Redford) tries to motivate his most promising student. He tells him about two other students he had, two people from underprivileged families, who finally signed up to assure their university fees will get paid. Lack of money and misguided idealism made them take a hasty decision.

While they all discuss, the two former students have just been shot down over Afghanistan. They were part of the troops sent by senator Irving. They hit the ground alive but are soon surrounded by enemy troops and spend the rest of the movie not making a difference but fighting for their lives.

All the people in the three stories are trying to make up their minds about extremely important questions and decisions. The story that worked best for me and which I really enjoyed is the one between Tom Cruise’s and Meryl Streep’s character. They are such excellent actors, it’s a joy to watch them.

The biggest problem of Lions for Lambs is that its intentions are far better than its execution. Still, if you want to see a movie that shows the different arguments, pro and contra military intervention, and if you don’t mind that it is very wordy, you might like it.

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The Diary of Anne Frank (2009) The BBC mini-series

The Diary of Anne Frank is a BBC mini-series in 5 parts, each of which is half an hour long. There are far over 20 movies or TV series that depict the life of this famous thirteen year old girl. Anne Frank spent two years in hiding, in an annex and the attic of an old house in Amsterdam during the last years of the second world war. Because they were Jewish, her father decided to hide in order to avoid being deported to a concentration camp. They hid there together with family friends, all in all 8 people and a cat, in very close quarters. Anne, a precocious and highly intelligent teenager, kept a diary of this time, the famous Diary of Anne Frank, on which this and any other movie is based.

The incredible tragedy of Anne Frank’s story is the well-known fact, that after hiding for two years successfully, they were still found and deported to various camps where they all died, in some cases just a few months before the end of the war.

The father was the only survivor. And what “survived” as well, was Anne’s diary that she had to leave behind when they were discovered. The lovely Miep, who hid them, and brought them food every day, kept it.

There are different ways to tell Anne’s story I remember one movie also showing her in the concentration camp. That was a very good but very bleak movie. This mini-series is completely different.

I found especially the first parts to be very educational. This could and should be shown in schools and can also be watched with younger children. I found out later that the BBC aimed at this public. In so far it is very well done. The girl Anne and her daily life, her struggles, conflict with the grown-us – in particular the mother – first love and many other things are shown nicely. We also see how stressful it must have been to hide like that and be around the same people day in and day out. They had no privacy, no independence, no freedom.

This cozy feel is a bit of a problem for grown-ups, I would say, it’s a bit too cute. On the other hand, the end is extremely powerful, much more powerful even than the end of the one in the concentration camp. But you really have to watch the whole series to experience this ending. We see nothing graphic, nothing brutal, just the people being led out and the name of the concentration camp and the date of their death. Very moving. All the quarrels, and petty grievances they went through, all the weaknesses we saw, they all of a sudden get another dimension. In retrospect even the most annoying of the characters becomes endearing. It seems so ironic that they were caught so late, after so many years of deprivations, just when they started to rejoice after having listened to the BBC and heard about D-Day…

Filmgenres Kriegsfilm (2006) A Very Good German Book on War Movies

I know this is not of great importance to the majority of my readers who might not read German, still I feel it is important for those few who do to inform them about this book that is one of the best books on war movies that I have.

Each chapter is written by another author and most of them are very good. The authors  review and analyse in chronological order some 65 war movies.  As just said, the book does not only contain reviews like you find them in many other books but an in-depth analysis of every movie is provided as well.

What I appreciate most is that it includes movies from many different countries.

The choice is very convincing as well. Sure, there are some movies missing that I would have liked to see included but that is always the case. Be it books or lists.

A further asset is the introduction in which the editors (Klein, Stiglegger, Traber) try to define the genre and name topics and themes.

Highly recommended reading.

Filmgenres Kriegsfilm bei amazon.de

The Truce aka La tregua (1997) or Primo Levi´s Odyssey from Auschwitz back home

The late Italian writer Primo Levi was one of 650 Italian Jews who were deported to Auschwitz. He was one of only five to survive.

All of his life he suffered of survivor´s guilt and feelings of shame remembering how much they were degraded. In 1987 he very probably committed suicide. I say probably since it was not 100% established but everything points to it.

He wrote two famous books about the Holocaust.  If this is a man aka Se questo è un uomo about his time in Auschwitz and  The Truce aka La tregua about his odyssey back home from Auschwitz to Italy.

Francesco Rosi’s movie The truce aka La tregua is based on the second of those books.

Did you ever wonder what happened to the prisoners of Auschwitz after they had been freed by the Red Army? Being free was one thing but getting back home another one altogether.

Levi´s odyssey brought him first farther away from his home country Italy, to Minsk.  You could not just board a train at leisure. The railway lines had mostly been destroyd. And what about food without money in countries whose populations were starving? It takes Primo months until he gets back.  He finally arrives after stressful moments of a long and complicated journey, mishaps, dangers but also of  joy and rediscovering the beauty of life.

I knew John Turturro from his movies with the Coen brothers where he plays mostly a comical character. This is a very different role but it felt as if it had been created for him. He plays this sad, pensive and gentle intellectual in a very endearing manner.

The last scene shows Primo writing. That’s what he will do from now on, that and working as a chemist. And he will leave two of the most accurate and painful accounts of Auschwitz and the journey home that we have.

People who read the book La tregua criticize the movie relentlessly but I think we should also see it as a homage to a man who had the courage to testify but never really got over the fact to have been one of a very few to survive.

I liked this movie, I really did, probably thanks to Turturro´s soulful acting.

During the last scene of the movie, when we see Primo Levi writing, we hear a voice in the off reading his poem If  This is a Man aka Se questo è un uomo.

Please, take a few minutes and read it.

Voi che vivete sicuri You who live safe
Nelle vostre tiepide case In your warm houses,
voi che trovate tornando a sera You who find warm food
Il cibo caldo e visi amici And friendly faces when you return home.
Considerate se questo è un uomo Consider if this is a man
Che lavora nel fango Who works in mud,
Che non conosce pace Who knows no peace,
Che lotta per mezzo pane Who fights for a crust of bread,
Che muore per un sì o per un no. Who dies by a yes or a no.
Considerate se questa è una donna Consider if this is a woman
Senza capelli e senza nome Without hair, without name,
Senza più forza di ricordare Without the strength to remember,
Vuoti gli occhi e freddo il grembo Empty are her eyes, cold her womb,
Come una rana d’inverno. Like a frog in winter.
Meditate che questo è stato Never forget that this has happened.
Vi comando queste parole. Remember these words.
Scolpitele nel vostro cuore Engrave them in your hearts,
Stando in casa andando per via When at home or in the street,
Coricandovi alzandovi When lying down, when getting up.
Ripetetele ai vostri figli. Repeat them to your children.
O vi si sfaccia la casa Or may your houses be destroyed,
La malattia vi impedisca May illness strike you down,
I vostri nati torcano il viso da voi May your offspring turn their faces from you.

Quote from Joseph Kessel´s Account of the French Resistance L´armée des ombres aka The Army of Shadows

The following short quotes are taken from the introduction to Joseph Kessel´s book on the French Resistance L´armée des ombres aka The Army of Shadows. The  introduction written by the author himself in 1943 is a testimony to the difficulty of writing this book. He wanted to stay true to the facts which he had experienced himself during his years in the Resistance and also protect those who appear in these pages.

Jean-Pierre Melville based his beautiful movie L´armée des ombres aka Army of Shadows on Kessel´s account. Seldom has a movie been so true to the haunting atmosphere created by a book.

This book contains no propaganda and it is no work of fiction either. No detail has been forced and none has been invented. (…)

France has no more bread, no more wine, no more fire. But above all she has no more laws. Civil disobedience, individual or organised rebellion have become duties towards the home country. (…)

Never has France been engaged in a more noble or beautiful war than in the one that is fought in cellars where her free newspapers are printed, in the nocturnal terrains and secret rocky coves where she receives her free friends and from where her free children swarm out, in the torture chambers where despite the pliers, the needles reddened by fire and the broken bones, the French die as free men.

Everything you may read in this account has been experienced by French people.

(Translated from the original French by allaboutwarmovies)

Film review and trailer will follow tomorrow.

Rape and Love among Ruins: Anonyma – The Downfall of Berlin aka Anonyma – Eine Frau in Berlin (2008)

I was not sure if it was in good taste to use the title I gave this post but somehow it sums  up the film in a very few words. It is as if I had wanted to find two ways to speak about this movie: With brevity first and later at great length.
The Downfall of  Berlin has two contrasting parts taking place  shortly before and after the war ends. The beginning shows the taking over of Berlin by the Russian Army and the  mass rape that was soon every woman’s daily reality. The second half is dedicated to the love story with a Russian Major and the home-coming of Anonyma’s husband. All this takes place among ruins which accentuates the subliminal theme of the fragility of the depicted relationships.
The movie starts in 1945,  at the end of the war when the  Red Army troops enter the city of Berlin. What the German women had to endure from the moment the Russian Army set foot on the Ground of the city is an unparalleled horror.  Mass rape, brutalities and cruelty are the order of the day. One of these women, Anonyma,  kept a diary in which she carefully noted all the shocking events for her husband who had been sent to the Eastern front.
As the horrors go on she decides to look for a protector who might shield her from being constantly raped and abused by other men.

I have seen a few movies dealing with the German civilian population at the end of the war. There is a common moment in many of those movies. The inhabitants of a village or town hear troops approach and one of them is sent to find out who is coming. When the messenger returns there is this crucial moment when everybody just wonders whether he has spotted  Russian or American troops. Should it be the Soviet Army, the civilians flee in terror, whenever they hear it´s the Americans they are overjoyed.

A lot of the discussions whether this is a good movie circle around the comparison with the book and the liberties that have been taken to turn it into a movie.
First published in English in 1955 it has not been reissued until 2003, after the author’s death,  and this time under the pseudonym Anonyma. The reception of the book in Germany in 1959 was very harsh and aggressive and shocked the author a great deal. Germany was not ready for the  content of this  book.
The author of the diary was a  journalist and well-travelled woman. In  noting the horrible events and describing in great details the daily terrors of the women facing the Red Army she has left us an invaluable first-hand account.
The movie shows that hardly any woman, young or old,  escaped being raped.
There is a brief part in the movie when Anonyma meets a friend that she hasn’t seen in a long time and asks her “How many?” And they both know without any further clarification what they are referring to. Some 2´000´000 German women were raped in this time.  Payback for the massive loss of Russian lives.
It was criticised that the movie was not able to  transmit the whole extent of the horror that the book  shows. And of course the invention of the love affair which does not take place in the book was criticised as well. I  liked this doomed love story a great deal even though I normally do not like it when grim facts are sugar-coated by romance. But as a matter of fact this is a very realistic love story. Not very sugary at all and even though not in the book I think it manages to add another dimension.

Anonyma is a very fine movie, especially since it is in large parts bilingual German/Russian. The Russian cast is absolutely great. I especially liked Yevgeni Sidhikin in the role of Major Andreij Rybkin who becomes Anonyma´s protector and lover. Apparently already well-known in Russia we might see some more of him in the future. I was not too thrilled by the German actors. Apart from Nina Hoss who plays her role with an almost severe dignity, they are a bit too dramatic and wooden at times.

The shocking story of mass rape  is told in a very convincing manner. Evident but not voyeuristic. Without being shown  too explicitly we know what is going on.

I consider this to be an important movie as it shows how much the Germans suffered as well.
From reading German reviews on this movie I see that to this day the feeling of guilt runs so deep in Germany that they still feel uneasy to mourn these events.

And nowhere have I ever seen this called a war crime. Why not? Because the war was almost over? That would be a little bit cynical. Or because the aggressor has no right to complain?

Maybe it is just because no matter how it is called, no one really wants to speak about it. Rape like torture are hard to deal with. For both. Those who commit it and those who endure it.

I would really like to read comments, thoughts and whatever not about this movie from others.

amazon.com  Anonyma – The Movie

amazon.com Anonyma – The Book

True Blood and The Vietnam Vet

I read a lot. All sorts of things. Classics, literature, prize winners, pure entertainment, crime and thriller, some Fantasy… I am curious when I hear people enthuse about a book. That´s how I got lured into reading the first two in the Southern Vampire Series, Dead Until Dark and Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris. I do not really want to go into this reading experience here (I do understand why the series is succesful), nor is this the place to analyse women´s obsession with vampires (…. maybe…or,…..no, I don´t even go there…), what caught my attention early on was the character Terry Bellefleur. I felt he was very intense and with very few words Charlaine Harris captured the personality of a truly traumatized person. Without elaborating this character much she added another dimension to the already multi-faceted people swarming these books. Like in many Vampire novels before the Sookie Stackhouse series, one of the major themes is the outsider, someone who has lost contact with the society or was never part of it. And since the Southern Vampire books are populated with so many different types of fictitious and real outsiders like vampires, shape-shifters, homosexuals, Afro-Americans, addicts, the addition of a Vietnam vet seems of almost stringent logic.

I had read the books before even hearing of the series but was very curious to watch it. Six Feet Under will always be my favourite series so it was only logical I would at least have a look at what magic Alan Ball would be weaving  in True Blood. I was not disappointed. This series is just great fun. Very sexy and daring. Great cast, great stories, greatest intro song to any series ever (sure, it is only my humble opinion).

Writers and director took quite a few liberties especially with the cast. Many characters are much more developed than those in the book. Some are totally different, like Tara. Other types of outsiders are added, like alcoholics.

And what about our Vietnam vet? Miraculously transformed into an Iraq veteran to offer identification to the younger audience and to raise the awareness and understanding of and for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. This is more or less the explanation given by the producers. Quite nice, only it does not work for me. It does not feel right. I cannot explain it, but to me he is and will always be a Vietnam vet. No matter how much rationalization they put into his “transformation”.

When the actor Todd Lowe, whom many know from Gilmore Girls, was asked how he did prepare for the role, he explained he pictured a Vietnam vet that he had known as a young man. A homeless guy that talked him into giving him his cigarettes.

I wonder if there is not another reason to switch from Vietnam to Iraq. Maybe the age? Would a Vietnam vet not be much older than a guy returning from Iraq and Afghanistan? Of course this is a rhetorical question. Maybe the producers, even though they are extremely inclusive of marginal groups did not want to embrace the elderly? Now, don´t tell me this is not food for thought. Aren´t we living in a society that is ever so obsessed with age? Aren´t the vampires  ageless…always young, always beautiful? There is a certain logic in ostracizing the elderly from a vampire movie, right?

Or – which is not much better – did they think it was too hard to believe that someone could still suffer from PTSD after having come back such a long time ago? If so, what do they know?

I think they should have let this be. And I don´t buy the explanations. I would have preferred Terry Bellefleur to be an elderly Vietnam vet.

What about you?

I have to post the opening credits here for you, they are just too good to be missed and, let´s be honest, when will I ever get another chance to do this in a blog on war movies? Although…Come to think of it… what about a post dedicated to Generation Kill and  Alexander Skarsgard….