Tag Archives: five star films

Aging Gracefully

They Shall Not Grow Old

by Hope Madden

For those of us who haven’t experienced it, war is nearly impossible to fathom: the horror, terror, inhumanity and chaos of it. Filmmakers have been trying to make sense of it for audiences since film began.

Peter Jackson may bring us as close to comprehension as any director has, not by dramatizing war or by reenacting it, but by revisiting it.

The Oscar winning director and noted World War I fanatic sifted through hundreds of hours of decomposing footage, restoring the material with a craftsmanship and integrity almost as unfathomable as war.

He then recreated sound and audio, employing lip readers and researchers to guarantee the quality was a match for the beautiful restoration.

Over this he layered audio, pieces from BBC interviews with WWI veterans conducted in the 1960s and 70s—candid, moving and oh so British.

These he braids together into a cohesive whole, taking us from the wide-eyed patriotism that drew teenagers to volunteer, through their training and then—with a Wizard of Oz-esque moment of color, depth and clarity—into battle.

At about the 10-minute mark of They Shall Not Grow Old, the obsessive maestro differentiates this film from any war doc you’ve ever seen.

Quite unlike the disastrous 48 frame per second gimmick Jackson employed for The Hobbit, the restoration, colorization and even 3D here all serve a singular purpose: to immerse you in these moments, these lives, these battles.

The fact that this immersion pulls you 100 years into the past is beyond impressive, but the real achievement is in the intimacy and human connection it engenders.

The clarity of the faces, the tremor in the voices, the camaraderie and filth and death—all of it vivid as life. It’s as informative as it is enthralling, an equally amazing achievement in filmmaking and in education.

Watching Jackson’s Tolkien films betrays the filmmaker’s perfectionism, vision and—perhaps above all—deep respect and love of the source material. The same shines through the images of these young men. And though, as the storyteller here, his respect borders on awe, he never for a moment stoops to sentimentality or emotional manipulation. He is not trying to make you feel something. He is trying to tell a lost story, and one that has no business being lost.

For Your Queue: Two 5-Star Options

We have two five-star options for your queue this week from the brilliant Michael Haneke. The filmmaker won the Oscar for best foreign language film for his breathtaking 2012 effort Amour, available this week on DVD.

The master craftsman tackles the devastating consequences of a stroke in one lifelong relationship. He sidesteps easy emotion, avoids sentimentality, and embraces the individuality of one marriage – therefore unearthing something both universal and intimate. He’s aided immeasurably by flawless turns from both leads, Emmanuelle Riva (Oscar nominated) and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band),  from 2009, is Haneke’s brilliant analysis of evil, full of exquisite beauty and a quiet power that will haunt you.

Set in a small village in Germany in the years just before World War I, the story centers on strange atrocities that begin to affect both person and property.  As the incidents mount and the mystery deepens, the local schoolteacher thinks he can identify the guilty.  He shares his theory with the village pastor, and lines are drawn when the pastor does not agree.

In previous films,  Haneke has mined cruelty both physical (Funny Games) and mental (Cache).  Here, he examines the depth and possible origins of both, and the result is harrowing.

Golden Glode winner and Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Film, The White Ribbon is that rare work which is not just a film, but an experience. It effectively moves the conversation beyond the film’s setting, and into how the lessons apply to other periods in history and even to present day social, political, and religious movements.