60 posts categorized "War"

January 07, 2017


Story of WomenBased on the true story of Marie-Louise Giraud, Claude Chabrol’s provocative World War II era drama features Isabelle Huppert as a lower class single mother of two in Nazi occupied France. Marie’s war-ravaged husband unexpectedly returns home just as she finds her calling as an amateur abortionist for local women, many of whom work as prostitutes servicing German soldiers.

Claude Chabrol’s “The Story Of Women” delves into the conditions of a small occupied French town that transforms a mother of two into a hardened opportunist.

Marie’s motivations shift as she reaches a comfortable lifestyle that enables an affair with a German soldier.

Isabelle Huppert walks a fine line as an anti-heroine whose broken relationship with her husband (François Cluzet) culminates in a betrayal of outrageous proportions. 

Much of this film's power draws from Chabrol's ambiguous handling of Marie Giraud as an imperfect, if industrious woman. Huppert plays the part with a seething passion locked beneath an implacable feminine exterior. Neither Huppert nor the director pass any judgements on Marie's actions, nor does either shy away from her wartime imposed survivalist attitude to the world around her.

Because abortions were criminalized in France [from 1920 to 1975], due to a grievous loss of French males in World War I and II, Marie-Louise Giraud became an ideal scapegoat for the French courts after being indicted for her crimes.


Not Rated. 108 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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May 21, 2014


Cranes Are FlyingThe cranes of the film’s title refer to the large majestic fowl admired by a couple of Russian working class lovebirds named Veronika and Boris — played by Tatyana Samoylova and Aleksey Batalov — during the waning days of World War II. The cranes symbolize the lovers’ hope for skies filled with natural beauty rather than birds of war — namely German warplanes.

During its first act, Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov captures the couple’s exuberant affection for one another in stylized medium and close-up shots that emphasize Moscow’s urban architecture around them. That Kalatozov borrows formal compositional techniques from German Expressionist Cinema, for such a deliberate anti-war film, adds to its irrefutable power.


The lovers’ scenes together are given imperative compositions to emphasize the confining nature of outside forces that threaten the amorous pas de deux they share. In spite of the war that rages around them, Veronika and Boris seem to share a bright future together. When they return to their respective apartments after spending precious moments together, the lovers each throw themselves onto their beds in a similar fashion. Boris calls Veronika Squirrel, a term of endearment she insist he never stray from using. The audience swept up in the infectious romantic energy that Kalatozov creates onscreen.

The visual simplicity that Kalatozov uses to establish the story allows the filmmaker to gradually — painstakingly — develop the film’s thematic complexity toward a psychological and emotional crescendo that reveals key self-destructive elements of war.

Boris volunteers with a friend to go off to war. He doesn’t warn Veronika of his plans. Whether he does so to spare her some small amount of worry, or because he doesn’t value her opinion is hardly a matter of importance. Once on the battlefield, a fellow soldier’s insult, regarding the photo of Veronika that Boris carries with him, insures that the two men will share in a dangerous recognizance mission together.

Back at home Veronika staves off romantic advances from Boris’s insistent cousin Mark, a concert pianist given a deferral from conscription — supposedly due to his prodigious musical talent. A German bombing raid leaves Veronika homeless and her own family dead. Boris’s physician father Fyodor invites her to come live with his family even as they are forced to relocate east of Moscow.


Being in such close proximity to Mark, allows him to take advantage of Veronika when circumstance allows. Their forced marriage is a mockery that Veronika escapes while working as a nurse in a hospital with Fyodor. A pivotal sequence involving a wounded soldier left inconsolable after discovering that his girlfriend has married another man, speaks volumes about the judgmental attitudes that misrepresent Veronika’s character in the eyes of society. The tone-deaf speech that Fyodor publicly gives the soldier about the kind of woman who would do such a thing, stabs into Veronika’s heart with lasting damage.

“The Cranes Are Flying” benefits greatly from Tatyana Samoylova’s sturdy performance; her youthful beauty shifts from soft to hard over the course of the story. Veronika becomes a symbol of maturing femininity whose purpose is to promote peace, but the hypocrisy that drove her there remains with her.

Rated PG. 97 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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July 23, 2013


Come and SeeOne of the most emotionally challenging and brilliant films of all time, Stalingrad-born Elem Klimov's "Come and See" (1985) is an exemplar of late Soviet cinema that sets the standard for antiwar films with its undiluted expression of cinematic poetry in the service of an unbearably brutal anti-war narrative about 628 Belarusian villages burnt to the ground along with their inhabitants by German occupation forces during World War II.

Absolutely essential yet still obscure in the West, the film is a disorienting vision of a genocidal hell that challenges Hieronymus Bosch's most gruesome compositions. An electric, buzzing stench of death and social decay hangs over the picture's volley between neo-realistic, formal, and documentary styles that Klimov uses to convey as wide a range of wartime experiences as possible. The director takes the viewer on a quicksilver descent into the madness of war through the eyes of his 14-year-old peasant-protagonist, Florya. Alexei Kravchenko's extraordinary performance as the film's subjective guide encapsulates a lifetime of suffering over a period of a few vicious days of the Nazi invasion. 


Florya tries to join a ragtag troop of Soviet partisans camped in the middle of a forest, but gets abandoned alongside a teenaged girl named Glasha, who temporarily served as a lover to the resistance group’s leader. A Nazi bombing raid on the forest — one of the most evocative scenes in an unforgettable film — leaves Florya with a severe case of tinnitus. Klimov uses Florya's sensory deprivation with a twisted soundscape to bring us into Florya's agony and panic via a claustrophobic sonic space that conveys the audience's sense of being wounded. The next morning, Florya and Glasha frolic in the rain during a brief reverie where they forget the looming terror that awaits them. Over the muted sounds of sped up radio music, Glasha does a Charleston-styled flapper dance atop Florya's rain-soaked suitcase. There's a dreamlike quality to the couple's short-lived musical respite before an outlandish stork conveys an unnerving omen of unexplained incidents to follow. Wild animal life plays an important part of the image system filigree that Klimov uses to connect the story to its ecological foundation in the landscape of Belarus. 

Over the course of the film Florya transforms from a boy into a broken old man. The effects of war rip out his soul and leave behind a hollow shell.

When Klimov sat down to write the script with his collaborator Ales Adamovich, the intellectual director crafted an acutely personal story about a boy who goes to fight against Nazi troops occupying his native Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1943. "Come and See" is Klimov's paean to loss. It is his attempt to cinematically compartmentalize and contextualize his wartime experiences as a child fleeing the battle of Stalingrad in the company of his mother and younger brother, by raft across the Volga, as his city burned to the ground behind them.


Not Rated. 142 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


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