Kazuo Kuroki – Ashita AKA Tomorrow (1988)

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On August 9, 1945, the Americans dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. This film, based on a story by Mitsukaru Inoue, describes the daily life of people in Nagasaki the day before that fateful event. It presents the human drama of people’s lives, and their feelings of joy and sadness. These include a newlywed couple, an expectant mother, and lovers who must say farewell because the boy is called to serve in the army. Each of these people, like others in the city, hoped to live with their dreams for ‘tomorrow’. But tomorrow never comes for them, as their lives are brought to an abrupt and unexpected end. Knowing how the story ends, in this case, doesn’t detract from it at all; rather, it enhances the emotional impact, which is further heightened by the poignant musical score from Teizo Matsumura. ‘Ashita’ is the first film in Kazuo Kuroki’s ‘War Requiem Trilogy,’ which also includes ‘Utsukushii Natsu Kirishima’ (2002) and ‘Chichi to Kuraseba’ (2004) Continue reading

Douglas Sirk – Hitler’s Madman (1943)

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Hitler’s Madman is based on an all-too-real wartime atrocity. John Carradine portrays Heydrich, the vicious SS officer put in charge of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Heydrich is killed by the Czech underground, prompting the Nazis to plan a horrible retaliation. The Gestapo selects the Czech village of Lidice for annihilation: They kill all the male villagers, throw the women and children into concentration camps, and torch Lidice into nonexistence. The victims of Nazi tyranny become martyrs to the underground cause, ending the film on a note of triumph. Based on a narrative poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Hitler’s Madman was produced by the “poverty row” PRC studio, but was sold to MGM and given a class-A presentation at choice theatres throughout the U.S. Continue reading

Marcel Varnel – King Arthur Was a Gentleman (1942)

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King Arthur Was a Gentleman is a 1942 British musical comedy film, directed by Marcel Varnel, starring Arthur Askey as Arthur King. Set during World War II, the plot involves the diminutive Arthur joining the army to prove himself to his girlfriend Susan (Evelyn Dall), who is in the same unit as him. Here, his idealistic notions about King Arthur prompt his messmates to trick him into believing that a sword they have dug up is the fabled Excaliber. Armed with this talisman Arthur strides forth to deal with the Wehrmacht. Continue reading

Ingmar Bergman – Skammen AKA Shame [+Extras] (1968)

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The middle segment of Ingmar Bergman’s late ’60s trilogy of films set on the island of Fårö, Shame is less enigmatic than Hour of the Wolf and more harrowing than The Passion of Anna. It’s impossible to think that Bergman wasn’t in some way affected by the worldwide debate over American involvement in Vietnam when he wrote the script for Shame, though its politics are neutral. Bergman is much more interested in exploring the inability of civilians to get out of the way of a war and what the consequences are when it does touch them. Precisely because Jan and Eva Rosenberg take no sides in the civil conflict they are trying to avoid, their basic reaction to danger is one of pure survival… When Eva tries to recall a remark that would comfort her, her memory fails her; it’s one of the most powerful scenes in the career of one of the world’s greatest filmmakers.

— Tom Wiener, AllRovi Continue reading

Paul Schrader – Adam Resurrected (2008)

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While the Holocaust is certainly a legitimate topic of inquiry for the committed filmmaker, most contemporary treatments of the Nazi camps betray their mission by allowing the viewer to feel altogether too comfortable as they take in the on-screen atrocities. Whether through the establishment of a mitigating historical distance, the adoption of standard genre tropes or the repetition of an established catalog of horrors, films like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and A Secret tend to overly familiarize the events of World War II, allowing the viewer to safely assimilate that conflict’s genocidal horrors. But whatever the flaws of Adam Resurrected, and despite the fact that no physical violence is perpetrated on screen, Paul Schrader never allows the viewer to get comfortably situated, relying on an absurdist central conceit and a rapidly shifting array of intellectual and moral concerns—whose superficial treatment unfortunately leads to a certain diffuseness in the work—to continually de-familiarize his subject. Continue reading

René Vautier – Avoir 20 ans dans les Aurès AKA To Be Twenty in the Aures (1972)

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Summary
In 1961, a group of pacifist Bretons are sent to fight in France’s war against Algeria. Reluctant warriors, they are moulded into killing machines by the inspirational lieutenant Perrin and soon find their first taste of conflict. One of the group continues to rebel against the folly of the war and goes on the run with an Algerian prisoner. For all concerned, the experience will not be easily forgotten – for those that survive, that is… Continue reading