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Photo by Beata May on Wikimedia CommonsEvery so often comes a film that finds itself the subject of much earnest discussion – not with regard to the subject matter nor to any particular individual performance, nor even because of the use of some dazzling new studio trickery – but rather because it represents a significant advance in the film-maker’s art.

Such a beast is Christopher Nolan’s film of the miraculous evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940.

‘Dunkirk’ has caused much comment and in the case of the critics this has been overwhelmingly favourable – the great majority being of the view that this is a noteworthy piece of film-making that lends new perspective to an historical event.

In this case I am with the critics. I think that ‘Dunkirk’ is a brave piece of film-making.

Consider:

Nolan determined to make an epic film about this major historical event which featured some 400,000 troops on the allied side alone, along with in excess of 800 vessels, without resorting to the use of CGI. The film also lacks entirely the uber-realistic blood and gore that has become a staple of modern war films; it features very little dialogue and no backstories for any of the characters; it has no scenes showing those in command on either side directing the engagement and no enemy combatants are seen at all until the very final scene.

Bear in mind also that this is a Hollywood film about a battle that not only featured no Americans (Nolan also insisted that the cast be entirely British), but which was actually an epic defeat!

As though all of this were not enough, Nolan’s script is also divided into three elements – the action on land, the evacuation on water and the aerial battle over the beaches. These elements – each of which flows across the entire film – take place in three different time-frames. The land action encompasses a week – the naval component covers one day in the evacuation – and the aerial action takes a mere hour. The three strands overlap at the climax of the piece, which of course means that the viewer sees the same action from multiple points of view.

The effect of the decisions taken by the director is that the film captures in a visceral manner just a little of what the experience of being on the beaches at Dunkirk might have been like. No individual’s story is more important than any other. No-one on the beaches knows what is going on, and nor can they imagine the wider picture. All that they know is that if they are to survive this calamity – for which no training can possibly have prepared them – they must fight against all the odds. The film has been described as ‘immersive’ – and that perhaps best sums it up.

The commentarists on the InterWebNet – those driven to add their voice and opinion to any and every matter –  have been less generous. Complaints include a lack of historical accuracy; an inadequacy of scale; the omission of important characters, events or even themes (including gripes concerning the under-representation of nationalities, races and genders!); the incomprehensibility of the narrative to those not familiar with the history and the supposed incompetence of writing which does not indulge in the usual tropes – well defined characters with revealing backstories and emotionally engaging story and character arcs.

We are all of us entitled to our views – of course – as we are to express the same. It does seem to me a little perverse – however – to apparently willfully miss the point in quite such a manner. To sit through Nolan’s impressionistic work and then to cavil that it is not the film that one wishes the director had made is perhaps – and only a little facetiously – somewhat akin to wishing that Van Gogh had possessed a camera with which he could have taken a few snaps of some sunflowers!

Exaggeration – naturally – entirely for effect!

Anyway – five stars in my book…

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film-70638_640Regular readers of this blog will know that the Kickass Canada Girl is a huge film buff. More than that she is also a great enthusiast for the whole cinema-going experience – VIP seats – buttered popcorn – the whole shebang! Before moving to the UK she was a frequent and regular visitor to her local multiplex and it didn’t much matter (within limits, naturally) what was showing. She just loved the whole adventure.

When the Girl arrived in the UK she hoped to replicate the experience here, but her efforts to that end were hampered by two discongruous factors. The first – that cinema-going in the UK is simply not on a par with its North American counterpart – might just have been overcome had it not been for the second – which is that I am quite the lousiest person with whom to share a visit to the palace of dreams.

It’s not that I don’t like films. I do – though I am, it must be admitted, what might be considered a ‘picky customer’. I would claim rather that I have high standards – but let’s not fall out over such niceties.

No – the problem is that I don’t much like going to the cinema. To be precise – and at the risk of coming over as exactly the sort of irritable old f*rt that I indubitably am – the real issue is that I don’t much like other cinema-goers. There’s more to it than that – of course – but a visit to the movie house rarely leaves me with a warm glow where my fellow man is concerned.

The Girl and I visited the cinema over the Easter weekend – to see ‘Side Effects’ as it happens (not bad at all – picks up appreciably in the third act – but I still don’t care much myself for Soderbergh’s signature ‘distance’). I pretty much missed the first twenty minutes or so, however, because I was struggling to get over the effects of the ‘pre-film’ to the point that I could achieve the requisite suspension of disbelief.

These are just some of the things that set my teeth on edge:

  • The 40 minutes through which one has to sit of adverts and trailers for films that one is never going to want to see – all edited using the sort of strobe-like effects that could induce seizures, whilst being played at ear-drum piercing volume…
  • Having then to put up with all those who chose not to sit through the above fighting their way through to their seats in the darkness – just as the main feature is starting…
  • Those who then – having thus entered late and forced their way through to their seats – spend a couple of minutes standing up in front of other people – taking off coats, hats, scarves etc – before finally settling…
  • Those who – having been responsible for the above – then hold a barely whispered conversation for the first 10 minutes of the film until someone ‘politely’ invites them to shut the f*ck up
  • Those who see nothing wrong with being responsible for the seemingly endless cacophony of coughs, sniffs, indelicate mastication, crunkled confectionery wrappers and so forth…
  • Those who insist on purchasing industrial sized containers of popcorn which they then – 1) eat a third of noisily over an extended period whilst alternately slurping indiscriminately at vast vats of ‘coke’ flavoured ice – 2) spread another third over the floor to be trodden into the carpet – 3) finally abandon the remainder in a veritable wasteland of personal detritus for some other poor sap to clear up…
  • Youths who – 1) put their feet on the seat in front and keep kicking one in the back – 2) go to the washrooms en mass every 20 minutes or so – 3) purchase wholesale quantities of confectionery to throw at other people in the dark – 4) leave noisily 10 minutes before the film ends…
  • Those most irritating people who insist on getting up, putting on their coats, talking noisily, pushing their way along the rows and leaving the auditorium the very second the film ends – regardless of the fact that some of us want to sit in the dark watching the credits and absorbing what we have just seen

I could go on – but I feel the Girl’s eyes on the back of my head (metaphorically) giving me a disapproving glare – so I will quit whilst I am (notionally) ahead.

 

When we lived in Buckinghamshire we belonged to a rather splendid film club which rented the screening cinema at Pinewood Studios on weekend evenings. There was a bar – large comfy seats with loads of legroom – an absence of commercials and trailers – an audience with a certain demographic – and an atmosphere most conducive to the celebration of celluloidal confections.

Sadly – since we left we have heard that the studio has terminated the film club’s lease. Really most short-sighted of them…

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