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Thread: DUNKIRK (Christopher Nolan 2017)

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    DUNKIRK (Christopher Nolan 2017)

    CHRISTOPHER NOLAN: DUNKIRK (2017)


    HARRY STYLES, ANEURIN BARNARD AND FIONN WHITHEAD IN DUNKIRK


    The helplessness of war: Nolan's radical, succinct epic

    Here is a great and classic war movie that's radically different - not even about "war" in the usual sense. Because it's a great "escape," not a battle, the evacuation called "Operation Dynamo," between 26 May and 4 June 1940, of 300,000 Allied soldiers from the northern French beach at Dunkerque where they were trapped by the Germans. Volunteers, with small English working and recreational boats, came from Dover, only 26 miles away, to rescue the troops, necessary because only they could get into the shallow shore and dodge the attacking Germans. Dynamo was a miraculous achievement (without it some say the Germans would have won the war) and we don't really see how it was carried out. Instead Nolan provides intense glimpses of everything that was going on, on land, at sea, and in the air - and above all he shows us the terror and helplessness of the common soldier (not to mention the ranking officer - because they are at the mercy of tight circumstance here too). Not a war movie? This is nonetheless one of the greatest of them.

    And controversial, and destined to be long debated. For some it's a chaotic mashup of time that makes no sense. For others - including me, since I was enthralled, if confused - it is a "Hitchcockian" triumph of brilliant editing. I hadn't read any reviews in advance to prepare and didn't quite grasp the importance of the opening outline chapters. They are typically telegraphic - words are kept at a minimum here: "1. The Mole: one week. 2. The Sea: one day. 3. The Air: one hour." These three time-schemes are intercut together, an hour of fighter plane battling with a week of activity on the beach and in containers, battleships, a day of coming and going of the small rescue boats. So there you are: I have to go back and watch it all again, if I dare. Nonetheless the intercut three levels are as deeply visceral as you could imagine.

    This is war like Tolstoy's description of the Battle of Waterloo in War and Peace: chaotic, incomprehensible and terrifying. And that's how you feel it, as you watch. There is no safe place, not on land, at sea, or in the air. A new level of accuracy is achieved. You've never been in a ship that was torpedoed like this, or flown inside the cockpit of a Spitfire like this (and seen what it's like to try to hit a German plane struggling with the controls), or been in the water with soldiers when a plane falls into the water nearby and explodes in flames and you dive to escape the fire. However these different experiences are recreated in the film, there is never the demoralizing sense so common today that they're "just CGI." The cinematography of of Hoyte van Hoytema achieves beauty, terror, and completeness. All is forged together, even Hanz Zimmer's bombastic music (though it's too loud at times). This is a great director at the top of his game.

    This is, by the way, a low point for Britain, but a moment when Churchill turned defeat into victory with his "We shall fight on the beaches....we shall never surrender" speech - neatly provided us not in the famous stentorian tones but read by a young soldier, in a train car, from a newspaper, at film's end - and it is a moment without Americans. And without stars, though, strictly speaking, there are lots of them, from newcomers like Fionn Whitehead ("Tommy" in the credits, but nameless, but the first pale young soldier we follow), Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan (the tragic young George), Jack Lowden, and many other young actors with small but key roles, including One Direction's Harry Styles - to big names like Tom Hardy (in a "mask" once again as the key fighter pilot); Kenneth Branagh as the ranking naval officer; Mark Rylance as Mr Dawson, who stands for all the captains of small rescue boats. Rylance's performance is typically perfect and invisible. This is an English movie in the old sense - no stars, everyone a star.

    Dunkirk is in contrast with Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, without bloody awful horribleness. There are plenty of people dying, from the oft-described opening behind the line in town when we follow three young English soldiers and only one, "Tommy," gets through alive, but there's no gore or running blood or severed limbs. The horror is desperately struggling to get onto a ship that then is blown up, or being in the hold of one and seeing it shot full of holes, or landing your plane on the water and being trapped in it as it sinks. Or rescuing a shell-shocked man (Cillian Murphy) who then creates mayhem and tragedy on your little boat, but later shows how in a war villains can turn into heroes. Dunkirk has a lot to say amid the confusion and chaos that are its troubling default setting, but gore is not its message.

    Dunkirk is an unusually intense mix of the epic and the intimate. It was shot in 70% with iMax cameras - bolted on the little planes, in the water, and hand held (though they weigh 50 pounds) on board ships and containers, to be viewed in iMax theaters (or those few cinemas projecting in 70mm) in square intimate academy ratio, with many closeups so you can see Kenneth Branagh's sickly pallor, the mask over Tom Hardy's face, the gloss of Fionn Whitehead's black hair, and witness the color of the flames when Farrier sets fire to his plane after he lands on the Dunkirk beach (where Nolan actually filmed), so the Germans who are coming for him - who we never hear or see, and experience only as the soldiers do, through their bullets, bombs, and torpedoes - can't get it. It's very bright, and very orange, and it's burned into my memory.

    Dunkirk opened in France 19 July, US and UK, 21 July 2017.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-22-2017 at 09:41 PM.

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    It's a chaotic mashup of time that makes no sense.

    Count me in the minority who feel this is a disappointing movie with only "glimpses" of a war escape that doesn't permit the audience sufficient expanded, connected experiences to capture the totality of the sustained horror and human tragedy of military conflict. The opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan (1998) is much superior that Dunkirk pales by comparison. There are too many small frustrating plot devices and sequences to mention. I began to have a strong desire to look at my watch and almost walked out of the movie half way through.

    The movie seemed to be more of an director's fancy attempt to pitch a three virtual reality experiences about war like one might develop for a Disney theme park experience where you go into a darkened theater. Yet it's like especially with the aerial combat scenes that there are many real life video takes that one could attempt to locate if one wanted such vicarious technical experience rides. The intercutting only made this movie more a visual audio entertainment pack ride than a epic war movie drama. But the connection to the human drama and characters, unlike what seemed to be a manufactured boat sequence, was really missing for me. I didn't care about most of these characters.

    If one wanted the "chaotic, incomprehensible and terrifying" as Kniff appears to, then one would be wise to use the cinematography of Aleksey German who directed Hard To Be A God (2013) instead of Christopher Nolan. Peter Rainer of the Christian Science Monitor describes it as:

    “Dunkirk,” with its scaled-to-be-a-masterpiece visual grandiosity, aims to be an epic of the spirit, but there is something weirdly underpowered about it. It’s a series of riveting tableaux, but the human center is lacking. When “Dunkirk” was over, I felt as if I had been through something, but it wasn’t a war, exactly. For all its painstaking realism, the movie resembles a great big impressionist abstraction. Maybe it’s not so different from Nolan’s other movies after all. Grade: B-
    Last edited by tabuno; 07-21-2017 at 05:59 PM.

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    It's just not character-driven drama. The power of it is that there aren't characters. YOU are the character.

    As I said the tripartite narrative, which requires concentration, is destined to be controversial.

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    It's a pity tabuno didn't enjoy the film. Hopefully at least he saw it in iMax or 70mm as it was made to be seen.

    The faint praise from Rainer is very atypical. The Metacritic rating of Dunkirk is 94% - IMDb rating 9.0 - the highest of any film so far shown this year in the US. And it got 4.1 on AlloCiné - raves from the French critics too. It being widely declared a masterpiece and Christopher Nolan's best work.

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    From Philly.com:

    Nolan fractures the narrative so that it loops back on itself — we see the events from the perspective of different characters and from different chronological vantage points, though the story coheres by movie’s end.

    So, at last, does the movie’s emotional component, as the hope-starved men on the beach in France peer through the lifting fog to see their bobbing boats of their countrymen.

    Or if not their countrymen, their allies. The evacuation included tens of thousands of French and Polish soldiers, who lived to fight another day. A reminder that important alliances and friendships, treated so flippantly by leaders today, were forged in blood, and not so long ago.

    Nolan drives the point home in the final moments, when a British naval officer (Kenneth Branagh) stays long past the last possible moment, determined to save retreating French. It’s my guess, watching Dunkirk, that Nolan did not vote for Brexit.

    MOVIE REVIEW Gary Thompson
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-21-2017 at 07:20 PM.

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    The White Cliffs of Dover

    "You knew this was the chance to get home and you kept praying, please God, let us go, get us out, get us out of this mess back to England. To see that ship that came in to pick me and my brother up, it was a most fantastic sight. We saw dog fights up in the air, hoping nothing would happen to us and we saw one or two terrible sights. Then somebody said, there’s Dover, that was when we saw the White Cliffs, the atmosphere was terrific. From hell to heaven was how the feeling was, you felt like a miracle had happened."

    — Harry Garrett, British Army, speaking to Kent Online[90]- Wikipedia, "Dunkirk Evacuation"

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    Concentrating on a Movie Dilemma

    I saw this movie unfortunately in a Cinemark theater in somewhat uncomfortable lounge chair with the screen almost in my face. I had to turn my head in order to read the subtitles I was so close to the screen (the miniature reserved seating chart that renovated theaters are opting for nowadays doesn't show where the seats are in scale to the big screen when choosing which seat to select, yech!).

    When it comes to war movies, the experiential approach to me is more like a Disneyland ride where one can become immersed in the experience, like virtual reality or perhaps a videogame. There are movie theaters where there are seats that actually vibrate and move to stimulate the experience. I've heard of even odors being introduced into a theater. Interestingly, what Chris is describing can also be transferred to such a visual experience as with the new movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) that is playing at the same time as Dunkirk, except its a visually stunning sci fi version of Dunkirk.

    For me a dramatic full feature film is more than an experience. If one has to contend with concentrating on an experiential movie I would think it would defeat the purpose of such a movie which is to just be able to sit back and let the movie's sensory output just wash over one and transport one into the movie without having to mentally contemplate on various cognitive reflections during the movie. It is with video games, one becomes the character in the video game experience. A feature film on the other hand is the experience plus story, plus character, plus connection to emotional meaning within the context of the movie, not as an audience member becoming part of the movie itself. As with Last Action Hero (1993), where a film characters enters into a movie, there is a separation from the audience. The movie experience is about an audience member experiencing through a character's experience and context, not an audience member themselves who are not deliberately scripted into the movie.

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    It sounds as though tabuno's viewing situation for Dunkirk, which he judges so harshly. were far from ideal; in fact they were terrible. As for "experimental," great art is always challenging, when it is new. The more so the better. Much of what is exciting about Dunkirk is because it is innovative - and yet it has classic elements.

    Dunkirk actually has many of the elements of a classic, epic war movie - fighter plane battles, for instance; excited discussions among those in command; the danger, the excitement, the terror of being attacked and taking flight.

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    In the passage below, tabuno actually seems to be saying a film should not make one have to think. An extraordinary thing to say.
    For me a dramatic full feature film is more than an experience. If one has to contend with concentrating on an experiential movie I would think it would defeat the purpose of such a movie which is to just be able to sit back and let the movie's sensory output just wash over one and transport one into the movie without having to mentally contemplate on various cognitive reflections during the movie.

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    Chris proposes the You are There Theory of Film Excellence

    I suggest that Chris may have read the opposite of what I have intended. I believe that Chris has proposed a new way of experiencing a film consisting of substituting one's self for the lead characters in the film and from which perspective to experience the film which I propose calling an "experiential film" experience or as Chris might label "You are There" approach If so, I don't know how one can concentrate on a film in which one is actually there in the film without also having to mentally separate one's self from the film, unless one proposes an ability to read thoughts and emotions of another film character.

    For me the best experience of a film is to concentrate on the movie's character's experience not from a "you are there" experience. The closest that I have come to the "You are There" perspective that comes to mind is Douglas Trumbull's Brainstorm (1983) and Natalie Wood's last film where there is a scientific instrument that allows one to experience the same experiences of another person. In this movie it was designed for the audience to really experience what another character was experiencing as this was a fundamental plot device of the movie. What Chris proposes, however, is for films to be experienced in such a way that currently defies the scientific capabilities of current technology as well as to mostly ignore in part the actual storyline and the inner essences of the characters themselves.

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    Harry Styles, the One Direction singer, who plays one of the initial soliders, makes exactly the same comment in an interview as what I was saying. I tried to link to the interview but haven't been able to. He is responding to the suggestion that the characters don't have much depth. Indeed they don't, he says, and that's intentional because it makes them blank slates onto which the viewer projects himself, so you feel a direct part of the action. It's a very visceral film that makes you feel over and over how trapped you are, how hard it is to down a German plane, how fast the ship you're in is sinking. Direct identification with the physical situations in all their immediacy is the primary aim of each scene. It's not "hard" to do this identifying - it's hard NOT to.

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    Another big reason for the immersiveness and the identification Dunkirk viewings engender is the format it's shot and projected in, the aspect-ratio.

    There's an article discussing this for the film HERE.

    In iMAX the top and bottom are taller - it's not like wide-angle cinemascope - causing you to fall into the screen, rather than sit back and admire a beautiful panorama.

    Interesting to learn Warner Bros. even bought a bunch of 70mm projectors used for Tarantino's Hateful Eight to increase the number of screens offering Dunkirk in 70mm film projection " 125 theaters in total (including non-IMAX 70mm screenings), which is bigger than either Hateful Eight or Nolan’s last foray into 70mm, Interstellar." As I said, having seen it in an iMAX theater, I'm now hoping to see it at the Grand Lake in Oakland projected in 70mm - it's a big old auditorium.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-22-2017 at 09:33 AM.

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    There is a lot of talk about format right now because iMAX & 70mm projection are really being promoted for Dunkirk-watchers. I'm sure it makes a difference, and I'm personally a champion of film vs. digital. Note DCP - pretty standard nowadays. This is not intended primarily to be viewed that way. Grand, yet intimate - that was the aim.


    KENNETH BRANAGH IN DUNKIRK

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    Anglocentric Dunkirk: the French are (quite justifiably) not liking its complete omission of showing or telling about the 120,000 evacuated French troops during this event.

    Mandelbaum's French review in Le Monde is impressive - and it describes the film in glowing terms for four long paragraphs before coming in the fifth and sixth to the omission of the French except for two little scenes. (There is omission of mention of the Germans too: Nolan chose to use only the word "the enemy" instead of "the Germans" - which they may not mind as much, but also contributes to the total spotlight on the Brits.)

    As I noted, though, most of the French reviews of Dunkirk ("Dunkerque" to them) were favorable and its AlloCiné press rating was a very high 4.1/5. If Nolan erred, he erred in a grand and impressive way. The film isn't without flaws. Arguably some dialogue (limited) is over-explanatory. Worse, 1/3 of it I found incomprehensible. I look forward to seeing the film again on DVD with a subtitles option. Even the first time I watched it I was wishing I was seeing it in Paris with French subtitles that would have interpreted everything said. (Some of it is just drowned out by the bombing, or if not by that by Hans Zimmer's bombastic and terrifying score.)

    I am still in awe of this movie. I think it's fantastic.

    This article from the Telegraph, London:
    Writing in France's Le Monde newspaper (and reported by The Local), Jacques Mandelbaum called Nolan "witheringly impolite" and "indifferent" [" une cinglante impolitesse, une navrante indifférence"] towards his country by disregarding the role it played in the battle. [i.e., the evacuation]

    "A dozen seconds devoted to a group of French soldiers defending the city who were not very friendly and a few more to a French soldier disguised as British in order to try to flee the massacre?" he asks. "That does not account for the indispensable French involvement to this crazy evacuation.

    "No one can deny a director's right to focus his point of view on what he sees fit, as long as it does not deny the reality of which it claims to represent. Where in the film are the 120,000 French soldiers who were also evacuated from Dunkirk? Where are the 40,000 who sacrificed themselves to defend the city against a superior enemy in weaponry and numbers?"

    HuffPost France have also joined in with the criticism, claiming that Dunkirk's erasure of French sacrifice in the event is an example of typical British behaviour.

    "Anglo-Saxons have an unpleasant tendency to put forward the feats of the British army and pass over those of the French army," claimed journalist Gary Assouline.

    To be fair, he may have a point. In his review for The Telegraph, our film critic Robbie Collin said, "Dunkirk is every inch a British film, with no detectable concessions to the international market."

    While Collin was largely talking about the film's exclusively British cast, it also gives a clear insight into the narrative focus of the film. For patriotic remembrance of their own fallen servicemen, it seems that France may have to look elsewhere.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-22-2017 at 10:17 PM.

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    To experience real war, perhaps other movies might be better

    Instead of declaring Dunkirk, the greatest war movie of all time,
    perhaps to really experience in intimate nature of the horror of war it
    would of value to experience the following movies first: The Railway
    Man (2013), The Great War Diary (2014, television mini-series),
    Excaliber (1981), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Dances with Wolves (1990),
    Full Metal Jacket (1987), We Were Soldiers (2002), Schindler's List
    (1993), Schindler's List (1993), Jarhead (2005), How The West Was Won
    (1962), Apocalypto (2006), Alexander (2004), Apocalypse Now (1979),
    United 93 (2006), Cold Mountain (2003), Fail-Safe (1964), The Great
    Escape (1963), Black Hawk Down (2001), The Revenant (2015), Enemy at
    the Gates (2001), Platoon (1986), and Gettysburg (1993).

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