A movie for every day of the year – a good one
President Truman declares the Second World War over, 1946
On this day in 1946, the US President declared that hostilities had come to an end in the Second World War. Whether this means that the war itself ended on that day depends on your terms. The war in Europe ended on VE day (8 May 1945). Some suggest that the war ended with the defeat of Japan and the signing of an armistice, with VJ day (14 August 1945). Still others reckon the war can’t be termed over until the signing of the peace treaty with Japan (1951). And yet other more legalistic souls that the war with Germany couldn’t end until Germany was re-unified (1990). However, officially, according to Presidential Proclamation 2714, signed on 31 December 1946, this was the day that the war ended, that the state of war against Germany and Japan was lifted. So if you are an American who served in the Army only during 1946, you are considered a World War II veteran.
What War May Bring (2010, dir: Claude Lelouch)
Anyone for a meta war film? Sly old dog Claude Lelouch is completely in control of his material in this Second World War movie that looks like it was made back then, but clearly wasn’t. An attempt to sum up all WWII films, and choreograph them into some coherent whole, and to offer some cultural perspective on the whole thing, it’s a stop-start affair, a flashback film telling the story of a woman in the dock for killing her rich husband. Back we go to the 1920s and meet this Jewish girl’s family. Forward we go into the War itself, when Ilva (Audrey Dana) is simultaneously having hot sex with a Nazi and being part of the Resistance. The Americans arrive and Ilva falls in love with two GIs at the same time. We go forwards again, and end up in the 1960s, where a character like Claude Lelouch himself appears, films are being produced, the past is being junked and the future being made. If I’m sounding vague it’s because this is a weird pudding of a film. But wade in, to mix the metaphor, something Lelouch isn’t averse to doing (wading and mixing), and there is so much to enjoy as the old master plays out pastiches of Kubrick and Spielberg, and there’s even a nod to Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. To reduce a film that is all about what war may bring to a simple concentrate, the film’s message is that war is complicated, messy, and we have not been culturally equipped by life in peacetime to get a handle on it. Great selfless heroism one second can be followed by awful selfishness the next. You can love a Nazi and the Resistance. Two GIs simultaneously. War destroys and it creates – it created the peace-loving 1960s. But to reduce this wonderful, amazing film to its message is to miss its point a bit. It is a great piece of cultural sleight of hand, with Lelouch and long-time collaborator Pierre Uytterhoeven spinning this huge long storyline about Ilva together with another, about the cultural portrayal of the war. Until finally, in the third act, he starts to pull it all together, in a “here’s kind of where we are now, and here’s where I fit in” manoeuvre. It is hugely ambitious, hugely epic, yet at the same time it’s working to undercut the tropes of the epic (bad Nazis, brave resistance fighters, love, honour). It’s an old man’s film, a farewell in many respects – Here’s where I came in. Here’s what I made of what I was dealt. Time will reduce all of it to nothing. Maybe love will endure. Maybe not. Here, you tell me what you think. A masterpiece.
- It’s not his final film, but this is a farewell by a master
- Audrey Dana, beautiful and talented
- Lelouch asks whether, after all this time, we can separate the war from the myth-making surrounding it. Can we?
- One of the directors of the French New Wave generation still making vital work
What War May Bring – at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2013