The Gala films which I avoid at the actual festival, are reaching our screens. I have just been to see Fury (Brad Pitt and pals). This is a very good, but not mind-expanding war film. It does not begin to touch Lebanon, a festival film which I saw in 2009 before I started this blog. [More of that later].
Fury is set in the Second World War (I think after the Battle of the Bulge, a period which was amply and excellently covered by the HBO series Band of Brothers) by the time the American tank regiments are entering Germany. Fury is the name of a tank, which has survived with the team more or less intact through Africa, the Normandy landings and all the way to Germany. In this at least, it is unique. Right at the start of this film they lose one tank driver, enter a new tank driver who has been in the army for eight weeks. So this is both a war film and a coming-of-age film. Some American war films have a disastrous habit of being like a traditional Western: the good guys chase the bad guys (in this case Americans versus Germans) across a vast territory (Monument Valley/Germany) and this is no exception except that the acting and the dialogue are brilliant, the tension is massive and you simply cannot imagine what will happen next, and what happens is terrible, messy, bloody, noisy and terrifying.
Mr Turner, the new Mike Leigh film is out this Friday and The Imitation Game comes out on November 14th. Both these will be good to see. Mike Leigh is always a good watch and Timothy Spaull gives a gruff, rather growly rendition of the Great Master, but this biopic is more his domestic life than his artistry, this is the man not his painting – though that comes into it obviously.
The biopic of Alan Turing, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Turing is probably marred by the addition of Keira Knightley, playing the ingénue code breaker. I know that there were women code breakers, one of my first boyfriend’s mother was one, but I am quite sure they were a great deal more serious and more sensible that Ms Knightley, who for all her charm cannot act, and plays herself whether she is in Love Actually, Atonement or any other cinematic vehicle including perfume advertisements.
The Imitation Game is a belated attempt at rehabilitation for an inventor who (to its eternal shame) was destroyed by the British Establishment. Alan Turing was one of the most brilliant mathematicians ever seen in this country, and a superb inventor. His achievement in the war, and against all the odds, was suppressed not only because it was top secret but because he was a homosexual. In fact what he invented and successfully got operational was the first calculator/computer, a machine that could calculate every possible solution to the Enigma codes that the Germans were using to communicate with each other, both on land and at sea.
The Enigma machine was an invention of a brilliant and complex German engineer, Arthur Scherbius at the end of the First World War. Used by many countries, it came into its own encrypting German communiqués during the Second World War. So sophisticated were the encryptions that they were nearly impossible to decipher, until that is a machine was captured in 1941, but even then the code encryptions were frequently changed and it took careless operators making mistakes to give any clues, and decrypting took too long.
Lebanon: The Soldier’s journey is available on DVD, made in 2009 and presented in the London Film Festival it was a film I went to see by accident. If you believe is teleology, then believe this: it was a film I was meant to see. The cinema (Vue 7, Leicester Square) was packed, I was in an aisle seat, the auditorium filled and no one came to claim my seat, though it was not until the film started that I became aware that I was at the wrong screening. The person at the door had not checked my ticket and so let me in to the wrong screen AND although every single seat was taken, my seat for some reason was never claimed by the correct occupant. The film is the story of a very frightened and inexperienced tank crew who get “lost” during an action in the First Israeli-Lebanon War (1982). They never leave the tank, and the whole film is taken from their point of view (do not ask me how actors and film crew were all inside a tank, I have no idea! But it was horribly claustrophobic).
At the Q&A afterwards, the Director-Screenwriter, Samuel Maoz told us about his own experience as a tank crew commander, why he wrote/made this film and what it meant to him. The acting (Yoav Donat, Itay Tiran and Oshri Cohen) and the screening is beyond brilliant, it is moving and horrible as the tank crew panic and drive the tank about in an ecstasy of fear and loathing. All the while you need to remember first that the Israeli Army is conscripted and that the Israeli-Lebanon war was unmercifully brutal.