As we noted last week stories about war are, perhaps, the best, most natural material for the movies.
Because war is a constant in human history and because war brings out the best and worst in man, every country that has a movie industry will, sooner or later, produce a body of war movies that reflects a particular national experience. Here, Seraphic Secret introduces three more films that represent very different visions.
The Red and the White, 1967, a Soviet-Hungarian co-production. This film violates almost every rule of drama by which yours truly lives, breathes and works. Set in 1919 in Central Russia the film shows the anti-Bolshevik Whites fighting the Soviet Reds. Both sides are intent on exterminating the other. There is no main character, no heroes, there is no love story, no narrative arc, no satisfying resolution. There are only long tracking shots that create a wide screen panorama where each side take turns committing atrocities, presented as highly ritualized murders. Once I understood director Miklós Jancsó’s stylized method, this viewer was hypnotized by the Cinemascope images where exquisitely polite officers casually exterminate the enemy. Not to be forgotten is a scene in the woods where the Whites order a group of Red nurses to dance a waltz, a reminder of more civilized times. Will the Whites slaughter the frightened nurses at the end of the dance? The suspense is nearly unbearable. Available on Netflix at no charge if you are a member.
Bravo Two Zero, 1999, Based on Andy McNab’s best seller this is an excellent two hour BBC miniseries. In January 1991 during the Gulf War, an eight man SAS force was inserted behind Iraqi lines. The mission was to locate and destroy Scud missile sites. Sergeant Andy McNab, played by the resident tough Brit, Sean Bean, was the commander. As often happens with these types of missions, getting into enemy territory was the easy part. Getting out was another matter entirely. “Bravo Two Zero’s” narrative structure is classic, first skillfully sketching in each member of the team, preparations for the op, and then the mission. There is a firefight in the desert where the SAS team takes on hundreds of Iraqi troops which recalls the final battle in “Zulu”—one of Seraphic Secret’s favorite war movies—where disciplined fire turns the tide of battle though the numbers are completely lopsided. The SAS team was the most highly decorated British patrol since the days of the Boer War. Only five of the eight soldiers lived to receive their decorations. Available on Netflix at no charge if you are a member.
Johnny Mad Dog, 2008, French-Liberian co-production. A group of almost feral child soldiers rape, murder and pillage in the 2003 second Liberian civil war. Jacked up on cocaine and blood lust the soldiers, ages 10 to 15, worry that Chuck Norris or the Israelis might be poised to attack. Forced to murder their parents, dressed in outlandish costumes, these children have been turned into nihilistic killing machines whose motto is: “Don’t want to die, don’t be born.” Johnny Mad Dog—the children have no names, no families, no direction beyond the next casual atrocity—is the leader of this particular militia. As they converge on Liberia’s capital, Laokole, a beautiful young girl—her Christianity is the source of her strength and decency—played by Daisy Victoria Vandy, tries to protect her dying father and younger brother. You know that Johnny Mad Dog and Laokole will eventually meet. And even though it’s a movie, you dread the outcome because you feel as if you’re watching a documentary, which, in a way, you are. This is an astonishing movie that transcends the genre. It would be dumb to label this anti-war—is there a more tedious designation?—because there isn’t really a war being fought. What we’re witnessing is the corruption of childhood by depraved adults whose evil is beyond imagination. All the actors were non-professionals. Some of the children were, in fact, child soldiers. No wonder the performances are so chillingly realistic. This film is only available in a non USA format DVD.
Warning Label: All three films feature scenes of intense violence. Do not screen any of these movies when children are present.