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They Shall Not Grow Old

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

They Shall Not Grow Old

They Shall Not Grow Old is a movie unlike any other ever made. Filmmaker Peter Jackson’s gift to us is his restoration of a film made during World War I. The original was faded, broken, and jerky. Jackson’s brilliance here lies in his determination to use the original film adding only color and music to bring it into this century. He adds no actors, no modern characters, and invites to stay for his on-camera comments after the film ends. I hope you stay.

From the one hundred hours of original film, Jackson chose to use just that of the British role to commemorate the “war to end all wars.” Because there are no modern injections, the audience watches young men from age fourteen up as they lie about age in order to join the army. In a big difference from today, the enlistees are looking forward to serving with their peers and we watch them blend as they get to know each other in their shared purpose.

Each has brought a backpack with one shirt, one pair of socks, a razor and a toothbrush for the duration. As we watch the physical training that toughens the new soldiers and teaches them how to use their guns, one says, “a man’s best friend is his rifle,” while wondering whether he would ever be able to shoot a man. When they are ordered to board ships for their unknown destination we know reality is about to hit them.

As they arrive the soldiers face the dead, bloody bodies of their peers lying in the trenches they had dug. And then comes the stench of the death of soldiers and horses, the lice, the rats and then the cloud of approaching poison gas. As they capture German soldiers, the British realize they are just boys, like themselves. They like them. And finally, the noise of battle turns into dead silence.

Dragged into holes and trenches with no one giving orders, a whole generation of two countries died, including one million British boys. As the war ended, those who lived returned to civilians who had no comprehension of what they had suffered. What hurts so is that more than a hundred years after this film was made, war is still the final solution to unsolvable disagreements among nations.

Peter Jackson uses his after-film screen time to explain how they created superb history from the broken old film. The filming is immediate and grueling because it brings war alive in a way we have never before seen. There are no actors here. Every man in this film was real.

When Jackson returns to walk the fields where the war unfolded a century ago, the trenches and holes and hills are covered with healthy green grass where one million men died. After this superb film, we are left with one question: why? War follows the inability of men to solve problems. Modern weaponry orders us to learn that lesson.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : They Shall Not Grow Old
Word Count : 499
Running Time: 1:39
Rating : R
Date : 24 February 2019

Never Look Away

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Never Look Away

The title: Never Look Away. The length: three hours and eight minutes. You plan to skip it? For all that time I never once wanted to leave my chair and the whole film still runs quietly through my mind. Its length is part of the reason. It takes all that time to do for us what writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck intends while painting his portrait of an artist based on a leading German artist, Gerhard Richter.

It is 1933 and the opening scenes set the horrendous tone of Nazi control. In an art gallery tour, the Nazi guide announces which paintings are good and which are bad. Kurt (Cai Cohrs), a small boy, is there with his aunt Ellie who feeds him the message of free expression while they walk through the art show under the shouted instructions of what they are to like or dislike. Ellie’s stream of free thought lands her in the hands of Professor Carl Seband (Sebastian Koch) who is heading the new sterilization program that will deal with unwanted women.

While the country is soaked with Nazi horrors, young Kurt (Tom Schilling) grows up knowing he will be a painter and we in the audience follow his search for his artistic core. The Nazi culture is utterly invasive but Kurt is embedded in his search for how and what he wants to paint.

As history unfolds around him, we in the audience become fascinated with his personal quest. Though the realities of the Nazis abound, we follow Kurt as he searches for the focus of his great talent. He can paint, but what will he paint? That happens only after he moves from the artistically conservative Dresden to Dusseldorf under the prodding of his fellow artist friend.

Even in this city that encouraged freedom, Kurt finally sits in frustration before blank canvases in his frustration at discovering who he is as an artist. He senses a something deep in his core and hasn’t yet discovered what it is. His search becomes our focus. Watching him explore his talent as his emotional tools unfold is thoroughly intriguing in the hands of this fine actor. His father-in-law: “Mozart was dead at 30, and you still don’t know? You’re still a student?”

This is a story of a man in search of what he wants to create with his deep talent and we in the audience have become silent partners in his determination. Tom Schilling’s creation of the artist in search of himself is a thoroughly compelling mystery, deepened by his fine acting and the quiet way he moves through his confusion. It is deeply refreshing to follow an artist who is looking not for fame but to realize himself in the crushing times he and his family have lived through.

Though many intriguing small plots and emotional entanglements abound, we are absorbed by this artist who reaches not for success but to record and explain the destroyed world that surrounds him.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Never Look Away
Word Count : 501
Running Time: 3:08
Rating : R
Date : 17 February 2019