After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a close friend who commanded a tank in the Sinai and killed at least 35 Egyptian tanks—“You forget to count after a while”—in a drunken moment said to yours truly: “You know what’s great about desert warfare? No civilians. No cities. No nothing. Just you and the enemy. If it wasn’t so damned bloody and awful it would be romantic.”
Seraphic Secret watches movies in thematic clusters.
Last year I concentrated on the work of specific actors, among them: Clara Bow, John Gilbert, Mary Nolan, Lon Chaney, Esther Ralston and, adolescent sigh, Brigitte Bardot.
For the past few weeks I’ve been screening war movies, with an emphasis on films from Russia and Finland.
World War II brought Russian casualties in the millions. Soviet generals used mass instead of maneuver, throwing full regiments into suicidal headlong attacks designed to wear down the enemy through attrition. German soldiers were disciplined and equipped with the finest weapons, but eventually the Russian winter and the endless supply of Russian soldiers broke the German front.
Of course, Stalin’s political purges thinned the herd of capable Russian officers, but in truth, even Marshall Zhukov, Stalin’s most successful general, was not tactically subtle. He was a ruthless commander who did not hesitate to sacrifice the lives of millions of peasant soldiers who feared the political commissars of the Red Army as much as they feared the despised Nazis.
And so, just as American war movies give us a pretty good idea of the American mind and heart during times of war, Russian and Finnish films have a point of view that affords us profound insights into specific attitudes towards war, peace, duty, patriotism and of course love.