Tuesday, March 11, 2008

War Movies

Usually when we think about war movies we picture big battle scenes, sweeping shots of armies approaching each other, and lots of blood and gore.

I love war movies. But not that kind of war movie. The ones I like are of the human drama variety. Stories of people in London during the Blitz, hiding out in Casablanca while awaiting travel visas, or acting as members of the resistance in France or Holland.

I appear to have been stumbling across a lot of movies of this sort lately, so I thought I'd mention a few that people may not have seen, or that you may have forgotten.

Playing now in theatres is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. This takes place in London at the brink of German invasion, and indeed at the end we see the shadows of Blitzkrieg as planes fly overhead and air raid sirens shriek. The story is not really a war story in the traditional sense, yet every action taken by the characters is heightened and made more awful or beautiful in light of the impending devastation. This movie isn't going to go down in history as important in any real way. But the performances are lovely, and it is fun.

On the theme of London, I do have a few favourites to mention.

On the classics front is Mrs. Miniver. This is a two kleenex box film for me, and only to be watched on special occasions when I feel truly up to the hours of crying. But it is so good. Greer Garson is the mother and a relatively important person in their British town. It is all about her dealing with the war and its effects on her family. Watch it with your kleenex handy.

Another more recent favourite is Enigma. This takes place mostly at Bletchley Park with the the encryption code breakers. A killer good cast including Kate Winslet, Dougray Scott, Jeremy Northam, Tom Hollander, Matthew MacFayden, and more. The script by Tom Stoppard, based on the Robert Harris novel. It is just such a beautifully done movie. A joy to watch over and over.

Also, Mrs. Henderson Presents, starring Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins, vaguely about a real theatre in London that did earth-shaking and world changing nude-reviews. This one is another that takes place in the war, and which involves ordinary characters' lives being hugely affected by what is happening. Directed by Stephen Frears, it is yet another example of a small British film that really hits the mark without trying to be a blockbuster.

And then, on the Resistance front, I have a few other movies I really like.

Charlotte Gray came on in 2002, but I didn't find it until about 2004. It stars Cate Blanchett as a British woman who finds herself doing spy work in France, and working with the resistance, played mostly Billy Crudup and Michael Gambon. It is not an entirely successful film. But on the other hand, the scenery is delightful and I really love the character interactions between Cate Blanchett and Michael Gambon. The acting is so strong that it makes up for some of the other flaws. This one's also based on a novel - by Sebastien Faulks.

And finally, the other movie I just watched, as it finally came to be on the hold list at the library, Zwartboek, also known as Black Book when seen with English subtitles. This movie takes place mostly in The Hague, in the last few years of the war. A Jewish woman who has been hiding with a family in the Country is thrust into the greater danger when her hiding place is hit by a bomb. She winds up in the Dutch resistance acting as a spy. It is a fabulous movie. The characters all speak multiple languages throughout the film - Dutch, German, French, English... - so you need the subtitles no matter what. The plot is intricate and fascinating, the acting is excellent. An awesome resistance movie.

I haven't mentioned any of the fighty movies that I actually like, or any of the really excellent Holocaust films. Those can wait for a different post. I'm sure I've even left out a number of my favourite homefront type films. But these are some of the ones I like these days.

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