Archive for the ‘World War II’ Category

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

September 11, 2011

Upon my first viewing of “Hiroshima Mon Amour” ten years ago, I didn’t like it. It got better in my second viewing. Having watched it again recently, I’ve developed a strange connection and admiration for this film, the first feature of Alain Resnais. Perhaps one could only connect to it with enough experience and understanding of the subject matter.

The film tells a story of an unnamed couple of a French woman and Japanese man, who are having an intense love affair in Hiroshima fourteen years after Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima. The woman is simply called “Nevers” where she grows up, and the man called “Hiroshima” where he lives. They talk, wander, talk more, and wander again. In the night, against the backdrop of Japanese neon signs and empty streets. The emotions are resonant with those of Wong Kar Wai’s “In The Mood For Love”, although it’s strange to say that because that movie wouldn’t exist without “Hiroshima Mon Amour”.

Having done “Night and Fog”, now an important documentary about the Holocaust, Resnais was asked to make a documentary about the atomic bomb. In “Night and Fog”, Resnais illustrates the horror not by facts and evidences, but by juxtaposing images and a poetic account of a Holocaust surviver. In “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, he takes this one step further by telling the story of Hiroshima without discussing at all the atomic bomb. The film is full of hypnotic dialogues and music. Lost love, memories and forgetfulness are the couple’s main topics.

Stanley Kubrick once said that the atrocities of the Holocaust would not be able to be made into a movie without being humanized and turned into an entertainment one way or the other. In “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, we are asked to feel, to understand in the poetic sense, not literal.

The tragedy of Hiroshima is told in the analogy of the French woman’s personal tragedy. When she speaks of her dead lover and the madness, we feel her sadness that the memories have become nothing more than just an event without the emotional attachment. Or perhaps the emotions have been locked so deep inside, that she is not able to experience it without breaking the literals.

How long will the memories of the Holocaust and Hiroshima last until they become merely an event that we read in a textbook? By translating the emotions of Hiroshima poetically on films, the tragedy is recorded not by facts, but through a cinematic experience. In a way, this is a poetically true documentary of Hiroshima.

The film is described by many to be the catalyst of the French New Wave, along with “400 Blows” by Truffaut. It is beautifully filmed and uses many Nouvelle Vague methods such as jump cutting, non-linear story telling, etc. However, unlike its peers, “Hiroshima Mon Amour” ages better because the style here is only playing a supporting role, the protagonist is the poetry spoken by “Nevers” and “Hiroshima”.


 

Hiroshima Mon Amour” is directed by Alain Resnais, written by Marguerite Duras, starring Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada (who by the way, could not speak any French, and was only memorizing every syllable in his lines.) Buy it on The Criterion Collection.

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The Boys from Brazil (1978)

September 2, 2011

“The Boys from Brazil” is by no mean a great movie, but it certainly has a hell a lot of fun. If you are a sucker for every World War II picture that typecasts everyone with a thick german accent in a sinister Nazi role, you are in for the show.

Adapted from a british novel of the same name written by Ira Levin, the plot is insidiously silly. It involves the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele aka Angel of Death (Gregory Peck) plotting a world domination plan of cloning Hitler. Stepping into the show is young Nazi hunter Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) who dies fairly early into the movie, followed up by the old legendary Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier), obviously based on the real life Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who now must battle the Angel of Death and stop his evil plan.

Anything involving the World War II, the Nazis and Nazi hunters has to be an entertaining movie. It has all the ingredients for the perfect backdrop of an absorbing story – you get the absolute evil, the heros, the war, the apocalypse, etc. “The Boys from Brazil” is a pioneer in the way that it paves the way for movies like “Inglorious Bastards”, Tarantino’s own parody of the genre. A movie like this kind is not to be taken too seriously, but to explore the what-if and throw in a lot of fun along the way.

In real life Joseph Mengele escaped to Brazil after the war and was last seen in Paraguay. Real life Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal reportedly spent half of his post-Holocaust life trying to hunt down the Angel of Death, without success. The doctor is assumed to be dead by now given the old age. And I only wish someone would make a biopic of Simon’s manhunt of the notorious Nazi doctor!

The Boys from Brazil” is directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, adapted by Heywood Gould from a novel by Ira Levin.

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

August 21, 2011

History is written by the victors so its said by Winston Churchill. It has served as some sort of a contemporary truism ever since. The collective wisdom is examined in depth in Judgement at Nuremberg, a fictional account of the famous post-World War II Nuremberg Trials. This time, standing on the trial are 4 notorious Nazi judges, with the most famous being Dr. Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster), the judge among judges, once a symbol of justice in Germany.

The film explores the complexity of the war crimes committed by the state, and those who execute the orders. On one hand we have Col. Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark) who believes in absolute certainty that Janning and his fellows are as guilty as Hitler as part of the genocide. On the other there is Hans Rolfe (played by the excellent Maximilian Schell), the defend attorney and a fan of Jenning, who is on a mission to restore the dignity for his country in the attempt of restoring the glory of Jenning regardless he is guilty or not. Trapped inbetween is the chief judge of the case Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy). Like us, he comes the court knowing already the result of the hearing, but on the way he meets various good hearted germans, including Mrs. Bertholt, a minor character played by Marlene Dietrich. He is, however, a man who seeks the absolute justice, that is outside of the state law and sympathy.

Different from the other movies that deal with the same subject, Judgment at Nuremberg deals with the aftermath of the war. The story asks if these men in question should be condemned guilty just for the sake that they lose the war. Are the Nazi participants as guilty as Hitler in the crimes the state commits? What if their actions are based purely on their love for the country? If one is to betray his/her country, is he/she then also guilty in the context of the state law? All these will be answered in a satisfying conclusion, and on the way a lot of doubt and question regarding the quote from Churchill.

Judgment at Nuremberg is directed by Stanley Kramer, written by Abby Mann. According to Wikipedia, this is currently one of the Top Ten courtroom dramas voted by the American Film Institute.