Directed by Nicholas RayFrance, United States | 1957
The action scenes are grisly, unromanticized and terse, brutal slashes of explosions and shrapnel that have no glorifying outcome, only death. Even the early raid on the Nazi headquarters, the only out-and-out action setpiece of the movie, is too blistering (yet still classically shot) to be all that rousing, and the shot of a soldier busting a portrait of Hitler seems more a show of childish impudence than a victorious gesture. Throughout the film, the action filmmaking quotes, directly and indirectly, the same training exercises seen at the beginning of the film, making war into a sick game. Ray frames numerous shots to maintain suspense while robbing the film of its potentially inspirational power, his framing always emphasizing the isolation of the commandos instead of overpowering dedication and conviction.
Directed by Ingmar BergmanSweden | 1963
The Silence doesn’t have a narrative form so much as an obscure musical pattern, which at a concise 92 minutes feels like a winding slow-burn towards a pensive climax. Bergman maps out the separate journeys of the three characters in this foreign land of “Tivoli”, a fictional town where the inhabitants speak an inscrutable language and go about their daily activities with mechanical precision. It’s logical to assume that the journey of each character is meant to intersect in some way, at least metaphorically, but Bergman keeps them self-contained, providing no recognizable motif with which to connect them. Instead, they’re arranged in counterpoint to one another in an almost free-associative manner.
Directed by Billy WilderUnited States | 1953
Holden may have disliked the role, but Wilder had enough sympathy for both of them. It’s a common point that Wilder always felt like a Hollywood outsider, and that likely engendered his sympathy for outsider protagonists and anti-heroes. This is all the more evident in light of one of the key changes made between play and film; in the former, Animal played the role of comic relief as well as spy, while in the film Wilder transfers the spy-role to another character. It’s probably no accident that he chose to allocate it to the most archetypal “All-American good-guy hero” in a cast full of them…
Directed by Jean-Pierre MelvilleFrance | 1949
Holding to the perimeters of the room, the camera finds vantage points in the rafters, low on the floor, and even within the fireplace. As Robain and Stéphane sit, the camera adopts their position and glares upwards at the towering shape of Vernon. The low-angle lighting accents the angles of his face and finds a magnificent counterpoint in the soft-lit features of Stéphane – a countenance that surely ranks alongside Maria Falconetti’s in the annals of cinema.
Directed by Stanley KubrickUnited Kingdom, United States | 1987
…even an artist of Kubrick’s piercing intellect and artistic insight has trouble finding anything new to say about war or any new way to depict it. A better title for the film would’ve been “Straight Jacket”, as it constantly feels like Kubrick is trying to shed the traditional limitations that his subject matter has imposed on him, and FMJ’s best and worst moments are always the result of his success or failure at that endeavor. Kubrick faced this same problem before with Paths of Glory. But while Paths found him at his most dramatically conventional (and, arguably, dramatically potent), FMJ finds him attempting to incorporate the more ambiguous and provocative stylings of the films he cultivated from 2001 onward.
Directed by Chan-wook ParkSouth Korea | 2000
What is so remarkable in J.S.A. is that this story of male friendship is not forged in the thick of combat, the romantic notion of so many war films, nor is it specifically destroyed by it, the reserve of that other type of war story. Instead, though they meet their ends through violence, what is pointedly asserted is that the patriotism, base dehumanisation, and otherness espoused by the military prevented anything from blooming from the seeds the men sowed. Their work was for nought while it destroyed them. Even as Major Jean discovers the truth, she recognises it must be obscured and buried. What greater tragedy could one imagine? Like seeing the Berlin Wall come toppling down only to see no one willing to step over the divide.
Directed by Ridley ScottUnited States, United Kingdom | 2010
For most, the comparisons would end there, and I certainly won’t compare the depth, humanity and poignancy, nor the dramatic form or characterizations of Shakespeare to Robin Hood. These relative failings have largely been the focus of the negative reviews leveled at it, frequently concluding that this is nothing but yet another empty-headed epic. Yet I think these criticisms have missed the heart of the film, which lies in its pristine, neo-classical craftsmanship.
Directed by Ingmar BergmanSweden | 1963
The language barrier shapes all discourse in the film. In this world there is an unavoidable silence between the protagonists and all those around them. Words have little power and they are a scarcity throughout. Gesture and props might allow them some function in communicating with the locals but no true connection can be forged, not even as Anna finds some manner of sexual solace with a waiter (Birger Malmsten) she meets nearby. The sex, though fevered and shrouded in erotic shadow, is nonetheless anonymous and ungratifying.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1985
Hidetora’s life is saved due to the misplacement of his short sword, the only tool that would guarantee him an honorable excursion to the afterlife. But he dies metaphorically in that castle with flaming arrows and rifle shot exploding around him, unable to end his own life or to have someone else end it. Hidetora’s forgetfulness is a sign among a multitude of signs that he has been unmanned as a warrior-king. His senility is first apparent when he fails to see the designs of his older sons or guess the motives of the youngest…
Directed by Mikhail KalatozovUSSR, Cuba | 1964
Watching I Am Cuba is like bearing witness to the most wondrously bizarre, anomalous, anonymous miracle. Here’s a film rooted in the tradition of Soviet cinema, containing the visual poetry of Andrei Tarkovsky, the communist, socialist propaganda of Sergei Eisenstein, the documentarian eye of Dziga Vertov, the organic abstraction of Alexander Dovzhenko, with a cinematic virtuosity that borrows from all of them, while remaining uniquely its own.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1980
His identity-struggles, after three long years playing someone else—the grandson loves him and he the child—and his humiliation and banishment when the time comes is heartbreaking. As Nobukado says, “the shadow of a man can never desert that man. I was my brother’s shadow. Now that I have lost him, it is as though I am nothing.” The thief too has given his flesh to another, and his love so wholly that he is a thief no more.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1958
The hidden fortress itself is manipulated through editing to appear as a sort of negative stronghold, with secret channels connecting it to strategic places such as the freshwater pond where the gold is kept by Rokurota. As we travel with our band of knaves, Kurosawa uses twisting avenues and bridges to lengthen his locations; if instead it were open plains, his telephoto lens would effectively collapse all this imaginary space. Really we haven’t gone very far from one province to the next, but Kurosawa makes us believe we have, and we go with him.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1957
Kurosawa renders Washizu as an impotent caricature of Macbeth. Not only does the director take Asaji’s machinations to ridicule and motivate her husband much further than Lady Macbeth’s, but he completely removes Macbeth’s conflicted monologues, his heroism and vehemence, his sense of guilt and his final words of contrition. The sense is that Washizu is compelled to act rather than innately ambitious. He is still a tragic figure, but a wave in a ceaseless tide of human tragedy.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1944
But we have to remember that a key plot element is the girls asking to have their production quotas increased. In one sense it’s admirable that these girls conquer their personal struggles for the sake of their country, but in another sense they are being exploited. Fortunately, Kurosawa’s camera never is. Instead, using the lens the girls have so diligently crafted, he magnifies their personal stories by superimposing the “fight!” wartime ennui upon their lives. This is his humanism.
Directed by Paul GreengrassUnited States, Spain, France, United Kingdom | 2010
One thing that sets Greengrass apart from his fast-cutting, shaky cam contemporaries is his ability to merge the realism of the setting with the heightened, manipulative drama of a classic Hollywood film. Greengrass’ filming methods are indicative of this. He frequently sets up entire scenes, merely sketching the outline of what has to happen, but letting his actors improvise from there. The fact that he’s using real military men as opposed to professional actors (besides Damon, of course) adds to the sense of dramatic realism.
Directed by Peter WatkinsUnited Kingdom | 1964
Another Watkins trademark is usefully employed in Culloden: utilizing the talents of non-professional actors. We get to know a whole host of characters in uniform, each with distinct features and predilections, each with a reason for fighting no matter how delusional. The Scots by and large are a rabble of men, cobbled together from various clans for various reasons, foremost among them money for their families and glory for their names. Watkins treats us to full-frame close-ups with laconic sketches drawn from the characters’ own lips, giving the audience a sense of personal investment in the battle to come and raising our ire at the whole bloody mess.