Frozen Silence – Silencio en la nieve (2012) Spanish WWII Thriller

Frozen Silence

Set on the Russian front in 1943, this thriller shows a lesser known aspect of WWII, namely Spain’s participation on the Russian front. I may not be the history buff I should be to write a blog like this, so, in all honesty, I have to admit, I had no clue the Spanish were fighting on the Russian front alongside the Germans. The Blue Division or División Azul  (also called División Española de voluntarios, meaning Division of volunteers) was a division of Spanish volunteers, the 250th Division of the German army. Franco had allowed these volunteers to join up. Most of these men were right-wing, falangists, only a very few were communists.

I knew this was a thriller, therefore I didn’t expect to see all that much about the war as such. The 250th Division must have seen some heavy fighting, but we only get a taste of it. Nevertheless I liked this film a great deal. It works as a gripping thriller, but it also conveys a feeling for what it must have been like for the Spanish to fight with the Germans. There was a lot of hostility, and the Germans made them feel their superiority constantly.

The story starts with a chilling image. A frozen lake full of dead horses. When the soldiers of the Spanish division approach they find a dead man among these horses. His throat has been cut and an inscription has been carved into his skin “God Sees Everything”. The Spanish commander appoints a former police officer, Andrade, to investigate the case.

Arturo Andrade goes about this investigation with great care. At first it looks las if the victim was a pro-Soviet agent, later when there are further murders a possible lead points towards freemasons.

There is a longer sequence towards the end of the movie which is reminiscent of the Deer Hunter Russian Roulette scene, only this one here is even more chilling. I wonder if this is truth or fiction. Did they really play Russian Roulette to the extent it’s shown here?

I liked the mood and the atmosphere of this beautifully filmed movie. It has a lot of great scenes. I enjoyed the characters and the story as well and I’m glad it made me aware of the Spanish participation in WWII. I think this is fascinating material and well-worth a “proper” war movie. I’m afraid though that not many Spanish film makers would want to portray the División Azul. After all they were falangists and, as it seems, quite heroic. Depicting their heroism could be interpreted as pro-Franco, I guess.

The movie is based on a novely by Ignacio del Valle.

I found the Spanish trailer but none with subtitles and another trailer below in which nobody talks.

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The Killing – Season 2 (2009)

The-Killing-Season-2

Strictly speaking The Killing 2 isn’t a war movie but since I reviewed Homeland I might as well review The Killing too. I watched season I first and because I thought it wasn’t bad at all, I went and got season 2 without knowing anything about the topic. Sarah Lund is a pretty unconventional detective that’s why she loses her job at the end of season 1 and is sent away from the capital to some frontier post.

When lawyer  Anne Dragsholm is found dead at a WWII memorial, her husband is arrested. The chief inspector has a feeling it can’t have been the husband and despite everything that has happened in series 1, he calls on Sarah Lund and asks her to come back to Copenhagen. Together with detective Strange, she is to look into the case.

At the same time Raben, an ex-soldier held at a detention facility, escapes and a young politician is made minister of justice. Soon after this, two other ex-soldiers are killed and other murders follow. The young politician is also looking into the case as it is possible that Islamic terrorists are at work.

Raben served in Afghanistan and after a few days of investigation it’s clear for Sarah Lund that he knew Anne Dragsholm and the dead soldiers. Very possibly something happened in Afghanistan which led to the killings.

If you are familiar with season 1 you know that Sarah Lund is unconventional but extremely clever and determined. She doesn’t leave any stones unturned. She even flies to Afghanistan looking for traces of a mysterious officer who is said to have killed civilians.

Like in the first series there are numerous red herrings, twists and turns, many suspects and the end is unexpected.

The season plays in a political and military environment and touches on personal and political themes. The tone is bleak and melancholic, the story gripping and the characters are all flawed and complex. This series is about more than just solving a murder, it includes sociological and political themes, portraits of dysfunctional families and a lot more.

I really liked this season. Much more than the longer season 1. I recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers and to those who like movies with military themes.

In the Valley of Elah (2007): A Stunning Anti-Iraq War Movie

This was a surprisingly good movie with a profound anti-war statement. I don’t know why I did not watch it earlier. Somehow it escaped my radar.  I have seen quite a few Iraq war movies and thought I had seen all possible aspects. Well, I was wrong. In the Valley of Elah is a very unusual, interesting look at the war in Iraq and what it does to young soldiers, but it is also a reflection on the changes in values of soldiers. It’s a quite complex movie. To choose the form of a thriller to tell what the director wanted to tell is quite cunning. Even though it’s not a fast movie and  it takes its time to unfold what happened, it is still gripping. The time was needed as it also tries to illustrate a change in perceptions. The father who is looking for his son at the beginning of the movie will not be the same person at the end. There will be no more idealizing the military or the value and honor of soldiers.

Tommy Lee-Jones plays the above mentioned father, the retired military police officer, Hank Deerfield. He did tours in Vietnam and Korea. The military is his life. No wonder both of his sons follow the same career path. The older one became a chopper pilot, the younger, Mike, is a private who served first in Bosnia and then in Iraq.

At the beginning of the movie Hank gets a phone call informing him his son Mike is AWOL. Hank thought he was still in Iraq and doesn’t understand why Mike did not contact him. He immediately drives to the base that is located a few thousand miles away. Being a former military police investigator, he wants  to look for his son on his own. This is not much appreciated by Mike’s superiors. Hank has another reason for wanting to look for Mike. A strange phone call from his son while he was still in Iraq made him very uneasy. Something terrible must have happened there.

Hank does not get much assistance at the beginning. Neither Mike’s superiors nor his comrades are helpful. And when he goes to the police and speak to Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) he is turned down. The military has to look for its personnel, as she informs him.

Even though she seems to be hardened, Emily has a very soft spot. And when Mike’s´ severely mutilated body is found and she realizes the military wants to cover up the murder she decides to help Hank to find out who did it. They start to  investigate together. The closer they come to the truth, the more Hank has to accept the fact that he did not really know his son and that he has no clue what is going on in Iraq. With the help of a film on Mike’s phone and bits and pieces of information from comrades he understands that this is not Korea or Vietnam and these soldiers are of a different kind. He is disillusioned and shocked about what he finds out. And so is the viewer.

This is a multi-layered, well written and well told  tale that is apparently based on true events. We have a multitude of themes here. Changes in the society and its values that also affect soldiers. What does it mean to be a good father? What values do you teach your children? Will they be able to live according to these values when everything around them falls apart? How do you keep young soldiers sane when they become aware that they are part of something that is pointless and wrong?

It is also interesting to think that a veteran probably does not equal a veteran but that it makes a big diference what war a soldier fought in.

The cast of this movie is very well-chosen. Tommy Lee-Jones looks convincingly tired, disillusioned and world-weary. Susan Sarandon‘s despair is palpable and Charlize Theron manages to play a woman whose life is all but a picnic and still looks perfectly beautiful as ususal. Although not Jason Patric´s best role, he is OK as well.