1917

While in Chamonix, last week, I went to see a film for the first time in many months (as the latest installment of Star Wars does not count!).  As it happened, there was a English version of 1917 (and the theatre was full of English speaking spectators, in this most British of French Alpine towns!). I had no prior opinion about the film, for once, having missed my national public radio cinema critic show. The setting was rather impressive at the beginning with the crossing of the deserted “no-man’s-land” between bomb holes and decomposed cadavres, in a constant rush to save thousands from a planned massacre, but then the story stalls into an allegory that becomes almost cartoonesque, from the cut orchards to the plane running into their barn, to the eerie lighting of the ruins, to the episode with the refugee, to the fall in the river and the sad Wayfaring Stranger song (which made me think of the dwarven song in the Hobbit!) and to the anti-climactic reaction of Benedict Cumberbatch. By making the fate of so many depends on the unrealistic bravery of a single man, Mendes’ film may point out (rather cheaply) at the absurdity of it all. But it also contributes to perpetuate the myth of the hero, arriving against all odds (and then some) to save them all (if at the 13th hour). Granted, the film is effective and I was on the verge of tears by its ending, when the brother receives the bad news, but by focussing on the most unrepresentative soldier of the whole front, freely running in the (killing) fields rather than being stuck in the rotten mud for months, it missed the terrible fate of the overwhelming majority, condemned to die without redeeming heroic actions.

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