Sunday, March 24, 2013

Abel Gance | Napoléon  (1927)

Focusing on the early days of a man who (devastated and) changed the face of a whole continent, from military school cadet to conqueror of Italy, Napoléon is a film as bold, extravagant, innovative and legendary as its subject. Abel Gance's deliberate choosing of myth over history and of scopic sensation over explanatory narrative provide for a formidable dream-like experience of ambition, warfare and politics.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Liliana Cavani | The Skin  (1981)

A very personal adaptation of a scandalous book, Liliana Cavani's film may well appear thirty years after its release as a feminist take on the birth of the 'globalization' process. In 1943 Naples, after almost twenty years of fascism and an invasion by the Wehrmacht, Italy is being invaded again, this time by its liberators: the Allied Forces under American command. The clash of cultures, and particularly its effect on women, is the main subject of La Pelle.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Douglas Sirk | Hitler's Madman  (1943)

Considered a minor film in Sirk's filmography, shot in a week as a low-budget independent production before being bought by MGM, Hitler's Madman is often dismissed as a propaganda piece. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable work for two reasons: some of the director's main themes - however surprising it may be, considering the subject, to those who are unfamiliar with them - are illustrated here, and furthermore it contains the most stunning interpretation of Reinhard Heydrich ever filmed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Robert Parrish | The Purple Plain  (1954)

The Purple Plain fits the (ever-changing) borders of the war movie genre, yet it just as well could have been a western. It is a psychological journey, a story not of redemption but of reconciliation of a man with his kind, within a ruthless and deadly environment... of which he has become an integral part. His ascetic direction well tempered by one of Gregory Peck's finest interpretations, Robert Parrish delivers here a superb tale of the survival instinct prevailing over self-destruction.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Miklós Jancsó | The Red and the White  (1967)

The Russian Civil War opposed communist Reds and counter-revolutionary Whites, in a highly confused national and international context following both the October Revolution and the end of the First World War. A considerable number of nationalities including Hungarian, either as volunteers or within expeditionary forces, took part in a conflict that spread  for five long years throughout the margins of the vast Russian empire. Contrary to WWI and in spite of what the opposition in colours suggest, this wasn't a war with steady sets of alliances and clear frontlines.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Masaki Kobayashi | The Human Condition  (1959-61)

Ningen no joken (人間の條件) is an exploration of the moral challenges faced during war by men - that is, individuals of the urban middle classes in a late modern and post-modern world, by which I mean me and most likely you, my reader. The trilogy addresses namely the subjugation of enemies in part 1: No Greater Love; the military organisation in part 2: Road to Eternity; and death and survival in part 3: A Soldier's Prayer. A visible blend of  'christian' and 'asian' spirituality- not unlike that of The Thin Red Line, brilliant cinematography, clarity of expression and disquieting beauty make Kobayashi's film a masterpiece.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Howard Hughes, James Whale | Hell's Angels  (1930)

Hell's Angels could have been a masterpiece. Or at least a 'great flawed film' according to Truffaut's characterization of Marnie. Unfortunately it is neither, for too many indecisive compromises between discordant directions eventually make for a disjointed, self-contradictory work. However, it remains a fascinating thing to watch, and not only because of schadenfreude (since it is a failure of such epic proportions that only true hubris can achieve). It is the clashing of two powerful undercurrents that make it at the same time baffling and fruitful.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

William Wellman | Wings   (1927)

Prior to the United States entering WW1, Hollywood had issued two super-productions which partly dealt with the ongoing war: Thomas Ince's Civilization and D.W. Griffith's Intolerance. Although the Hun was certainly portrayed as the foe, both films were openly pacifist as was most of american public opinion at the time. Ten years later, Wellman's work revived the war epic pattern with a huge scale production, in which war had become an exciting adventure for young men providing they fight in the sky - for Wings was also to be the mother of all air war movies.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tay Garnett | Bataan  (1943)

Set during the first stage of the Filipino theater of WWII, Bataan tells the story of an improbable group of U.S. soldiers who volunteer to hold a position at all costs, with the sole purpose of delaying an unstoppable Japanese offensive. It has been said that Tay Garnett's opus redefined the war movie genre, imposing a recipe that would be used in tens of Hollywood later films until the 70s, particularly those about WWII and Korea.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Howard Hawks | The Dawn Patrol  (1930)

The Dawn Patrol can be placed in several contexts: it is the director's first war movie as well as his first talkie ; besides, it is part of the wave of American aviation films, military or not, that followed Lindbergh's 1927 Atlantic crossing and included Wellman's Wings as well as Hughes & Whale's Hell's Angels. However, contrary to the two aforementioned and to its own original poster baseline, The Dawn Patrol is not an epic. Nor does it fit the usual overtones adopted at the time (and still pretty much today) for most war movies, be it adventure, sacrifice or pacifism.

John Ford | Drums Along the Mohawk  (1939)

Oddly enough, Hollywood has produced remarkably few films about the American Revolutionary War, and only a few of them are good - a situation mirrored, on the other side of the Atlantic, by that of French movies about the French Revolution. From a military historian point of view, Drums... is certainly not among the best. It shows a prominent consensual bias - whereas the English and Loyalists are almost non-existent, the Patriots are too good to be true - which certainly disregards the complexity of the situation. However, this bias makes ample room for the depiction of the settlers' life, and thus for the evocation of the effect of war upon people. Therein lies the brillance of this film.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Jean Jacques Annaud | Black and White in Color  (1976)

[originally posted on]
In a nutshell: two French and German outposts in 1914′s central Africa, cut away from their respective metropolitan authorities, mimic the European conflict once they have learned its existence – six months after the hostilities have been declared in Europe. Focusing on the French, the movie is a satire of patriotism and the ‘civilizing mission’ of french colonialism.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Luchino Visconti | Senso  (1954)

[originally posted on]
In a nutshell: on the eve of the third Italian war of independence, in the Austrian-occupied city of Venice, the Contessa Serpieri (Alida Valli), a married Italian aristocrat, falls hopelessely in love with a younger Austrian lieutenant (Farley Granger), a notorious seducer. For him, she will betray both her social position and her beliefs in Italian independence, while he will exploit her love, and in turn betray his own career and country, up to a tragic ending.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

King Vidor | The Big Parade  (1925)

[originally posted on]
The biggest hit of american cinema until Gone With the Wind was a war movie. Its commercial success was a surprise: in 1925, so close to World War I, the subject was still considered to be doomed at the U.S. box-office. King Vidor’s The Big Parade definitely reversed the tide, and its later influence on so many filmmakers makes it a must-see for the readers of this blog.