Tag Archives: world war ii

Review – Dunkirk (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Christopher Nolan – Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception, The Dark Knight I-III, Interstellar

Cast:

  • Fionn Whitehead – The Children Act, Caravan
  • Aneurin Bernard – The Facility, The White Queen, War & Peace, Interlude In Prague, Dead In A Week
  • Barry Keoghan – Love/Hate, ‘71, Trespass Against Us, Black 47
  • Mark Rylance – Richard II, The Other Boleyn Girl, Wolf Hall, Bridge of Spies, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
  • Tom Hardy – Inception, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, WarriorThis Means WarThe Dark Knight Rises, The Drop, The Revenant, Venom
  • Tom Glynn-Carney – The Last Post
  • Jack Lowden – ‘71, War & Peace, A United Kingdom, Denial, Mary Queen of Scots
  • Brian Vernel – Offender, The Last Kingdom, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens
  • Kenneth Branagh – Wild Wild West, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Valkyrie, My Week With Marilyn, Murder On The Orient Express
  • Cillian Murphy – Girl With A Pearl Earring, The Dark Knight I-III, Inception, Transcendence, The Delinquent Season
  • Harry Styles – One Direction: This Is Us

Music Composer:

When one looks at the generation that survived World War II (WWII), one can only admire the heroism and sacrifice they demonstrated. It was an extraordinary generation, of the like we may never see again. Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk, underlines their astonishing character.

Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), on the beach at Dunkirk, praying that a German bomb does not land on him.

Dunkirk is about the miracle evacuation of over 300,000 Allied soldiers over nine days between May and June 1940 as the Nazis blitzkriegged their way through Holland, Belgium and into France. The film focusses, predominantly, on three people: Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a British soldier, on the beaches of Dunkirk doing his utmost to get on a boat to sail back to Britain; Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), a resident of Dorset, who answers the Home Guard’s call for anyone with a fishing boat or a yacht to brave their way to Dunkirk to help bring soldiers home; and Farrier (Tom Hardy), a fighter pilot who shoots down German planes over the Channel. It is through these characters that we gain an understanding of what it was like to be at Dunkirk at the time.

Christopher Nolan recreates the situation in and around Dunkirk brilliantly. 300,000 Allied men are stuck on the beaches of north-east France with no way of getting home. It is through Tom Hardy’s and Mark Rylance’s characters that we appreciate the heroism that ordinary folk showed. Statistically, one in three RAF planes were shot down by the Germans during WWII, yet Hardy’s character shows no fear and does his duty as if it were expected of him. Similarly, Rylance’s character knows full well that he (and his son) could be bombed or torpedoed by the Germans, yet he still gets on his little yacht and sails to France to save as many soldiers as he can. It is inspiring to watch. (Compare them to people today, where a keyboard warrior would most likely tweet #saveourboys and believe he/she has done their bit for the war effort, and we realise how far we have fallen in a mere two or three generations.)

Farrier (Tom Hardy), seemingly representing the token force of the Royal Air Force (RAF) all on his own, doing his utmost to save the lives of Allied soldiers by shooting down German planes.

Just as Nolan captures the heroism of the age expertly, so too does he capture the tension of the situation at Dunkirk equally well. One’s muscles tauten as viewers grasp the magnitude of the difficulty the British government faced in trying to rescue 300,000 men in a very finite time (especially with German bombers flying overhead and the fear of a battle for the British Isles still to come). Compound it with yet another superb and gripping score from Hans Zimmer, and the film is unbearable to watch for the entirety of its 107-minute run time. From the rapidly increasing beat of a pulse; to the head-splitting screech of a German bomber; to the nerve-jangling play of the strings; to the ever loudening, conflicting musical verses, layering each other, the music induces the viewer with the intolerable anxiety, panic and terror that the Allied soldiers must have felt back then.

This is quite a feat for Nolan to achieve and it makes up for Dunkirk’s shortcomings: notably, the lack of context, the lack of character development, and the virtual lack of horror. First, by the end of the film, it is not apparent how or why 300,000-400,000 Allied soldiers ended up at Dunkirk in May 1940. Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) would have been the perfect person to elucidate upon this, but he doesn’t.

Second, with the exception of Rylance’s remarkable character, the characters are not given a backstory and are under-developed. Consequently, viewers feel little for the characters (many of whom audiences won’t be able to name or tell apart). This is in stark contrast to other war films, such as Saving Private Ryan (SPR) and Platoon, in which character development is central to the plots.

Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), sailing to Dunkirk on his yacht, despite all the risks involved.

Third, because Nolan (or the studio) chose to go for a mass market appeal, Dunkirk lacks the grittiness (again) of SPR and Platoon. As a result, one does not see the horrific wounds soldiers suffered in Dunkirk and this takes an element of authenticity away from the movie. By comparison, the opening sequence of SPR is authentic because it reveals the horrors of war. If Spielberg had failed to show the blood, the wounds and the screams as the Allies stormed the Normandy beaches, SPR would not have achieved the iconic status it has since achieved.

Over-all, Dunkirk is another excellent Christopher Nolan film. Yes, it lacks explanation about why the situation at Dunkirk arose; it lacks character depth; and it lacks visceral qualities by not showing audiences raw wounds. Nevertheless, Dunkirk gives viewers a genuine experience of what it was like to be at Dunkirk in May 1940 and illustrates the heroism that the (extra)ordinary people of Britain demonstrated to help evacuate the Allied soldiers. When one examines the courage of the people back then, as highlighted by Mark Rylance’s character in particular, one cannot help but be awed and overwhelmed by how great they were.

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Review – In Darkness (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

In Jerusalem’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad VaShem, there is a section honouring the Righteous Gentiles/the Righteous Among The Nations. During World War II (WWII), it is known that almost twenty-four thousand non-Jewish people risked their lives in Nazi-occupied Europe to hide and save Jews from Hitler’s murderous Final Solution. Leopold/Poldek Socha was one such courageous individual. In a powerful but unflattering portrayal of Poldek, the Jews he saved, and the era, In Darkness commemorates the bravery of this unconventional hero.

Poldek Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) leads thirteen Jews through the caverns of the stinking sewers to find them a safe haven from their Nazi persecutors.

In Darkness is a low-budget Polish film that centres round Poldek Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz – The Dark House, Zero, Lech Walesa), a Polish sewer worker in Lvov. Using his extensive knowledge of the town’s sewer system, he hides thirteen Jews in the sewers just before the Lvov Ghetto is liquidated by the Nazis. For fourteen months, Poldek cares for his Jews. He brings them food and other essentials, until the Soviets liberate Lvov in July 1943, when he leads them to safety.

The storyline for In Darkness is straightforward and well put together. At 145 minutes, the film might seem a little long and repetitive, but the distressing nature of the movie ensures that it is not tedious at all.

The intensity of the Jew-hatred, the noise of rapid firing machine-guns and the sight of brutality against innocent people creates an intimidating atmosphere. Like tension in a string, one can feel the Jews’ fear of the Nazis and the local Polish population. The darkness of the sewers and the shaking of the camera enhance the film’s edginess by making the movie seem claustrophobic. At times, notably when Poldek moves the Jews from one excrement-running tunnel to another, the movie becomes almost unbearable to watch.

Poldek's friend, Bortnik (Michal Zurawski). Bortnik is the feared leader of the Ukrainian Nazis in Lvov.

Yet, the ending is probably the most awful and poignant part of the film. As the euphoria of saving the thirteen Jews is at its height, one learns how Poldek died and what was said at his funeral. It should leave anyone with decency sickened! Alas, it’s as unsurprising as it is shocking; a reflection of the profound levels of antisemitism in pre- and post-WWII Poland.

But was Poldek not part of the same society? In Darkness sheds light on his personality and shows him to be a very different kind of hero to Oscar Schindler (played superbly by Liam Neeson in the brilliant 1993 film, Schindler’s List). Whilst Schindler was the dashing businessman who became horrified by the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews, Poldek was not handsome and was quite indifferent to the cruelty dished out by the Nazis. Indeed, director Agnieszka Holland (The Secret Garden, The Wire) reveals on numerous occasions during the film that Poldek was just an ordinary man doing his mundane job and held deep-rooted antisemitic views.

It is not even clear why Poldek ends up hiding and saving the thirteen Jews. Is it because they pay him nicely, so he can afford jewellery for his wife, Wanda (Kinga Preis – The Dark House)? Is it because Poldek knows the unspeakable fate that awaits him and his family if he informs the authorities of the Jews? Or is it out of a sense of moral righteousness? Perhaps not even Poldek, himself, knew. Robert Wieckiewicz vividly captures Poldek’s constant vacillations, as well as his fear of being found out by the local Poles and the Nazis, both of which are always eager to turn in more Jews and their collaborators.

They may be holed up in the dank sewers, but the Jews still manage to celebrate the festival of Hannukkah right under the noses of the Nazis.

Although the cast play very well, Poldek, the people of Lvov and the Nazis are all given critical depictions throughout the movie. But what is more interesting is that Holland has not left the terrified Jews off the hook either. She shows them to be people who are grateful and ungrateful to Poldek; treacherous and edgy among themselves; plus lustful, amongst other things. Hence, In Darkness portrays the thirteen Jews as real people, feeling the pressures of their situation. Again, this is a stark contrast to the Jews in Schindler’s List and other Holocaust movies, like The Pianist or The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas, which depicts them as models of immaculate behaviour.

Over-all, In Darkness is an exceptional but harrowing film. It not only enables us to understand the period, it forces us to experience the torment that the thirteen Jews in the sewers endured for fourteen months. Above-all, In Darkness points out why Poldek Socha should be immortalised among the Righteous Gentiles in Yad VaShem. Despite his antisemitic sentiments and morally dubious reasons for initially hiding the Jews, he showed himself to be a hero. Not a fashionable hero like Oscar Schindler, but one who was willing to stand up to evil and put his, and his family’s, life on the line to save innocent people. Amen!

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