Letters from Iwo Jima

  

Following Flags of our Fathers a few weeks ago, I watched Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima last weekend. I had wanted to see those movies for quite a while (!) but never found the time till now.. While being a long time fan of Clint Eastwood (the director), I was rather disappointed with Flags of our Fathers, because part of the movie takes place in America after the battle. The intensity of the Iwo Jima battle and the many lost lives occurring therein does not level with the side story of the flag and of the soldiers substitution and of their tour of America. While I presume this opposition is voluntary and aims at exposing the absurdity of this état de fait, as well as the transformation of those soldiers into icons, mostly against their will, it is somehow too intellectual and remote to relate to. I also felt the three soldiers chosen for the task were too caricaturesque. Again, this presumably reflects the choice made by the authorities to boost the war bonds, but it does not help in making the movie emotionally intense, something to share in, as a more linear story-line (as in Saving Private Ryan) would have…

 

The second movie of the diptych, Letters from Iwo Jima, is much more powerful for this reason: a small group of soldiers is followed throughout the battle, with few flashbacks and no flashforwards. The battle scenes are rather subdued, compared with the very strong battle actions of Flags of our Fathers, and the successive deaths of all characters are more like removals than battle kills, in a subterranean huis-clos… (Actually, there is much less mirror plays between both movies than I would have thought: there is no scene paralleled from one movie to the next, except for the landing of the American troops.) It is a common feature of both movies that  the enemy is rarely visible, hardly ever identified as a human being. In Letters from Iwo Jima, there is only one American soldier that comes into contact with the Japanese soldiers, when injured. (I do not remember if any live Japanese soldier is visible throughout the other movie.) The fact that the dialogues are in Japanese makes the story more genuine, which is a good scenario trick, as it blurs any unrealistic or caricaturesque feature… In retrospect, the characters also are caricaturesque, from the baker who is drafted to war against his will to the fanatic and idiotic nationalists, to the charismatic, intellectual, and intelligent commandeer in chief who sees beyond the propaganda but nonetheless sticks to his duty.  Still, despite or because of those scenari tricks, I deeply appreciated this movie.

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