Friday, April 7, 2017

Nosh 59: 'The Red Turtle,' 'Land of Mine' & More

By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER: Reviews of The Red Turtle and Land of Mine

The Red Turtle
It opens with immense ocean waves, surging. You might lift your chin above the water, even though you’re in a dry theater seat. A bobbing head is seen – a drowning sailor, of course. He is swept to an island – one without people, of course. He must survive, of course. But dangerous tests of endurance, one involving a hidden pool and huge rocks, are so beautiful that it feels like Robinson Crusoe illustrated by Georgia O’Keefe in a Zen spell.   

The Red Turtle, almost wordless, seems to raft upon screen, driven by sea and sky and tropical vegetation. Its saturated washes of light and shadow are almost abstracted, and the sensuality has a primal grip. The sailor meets a grand turtle, much less a man Friday than a feminine Forever. Instead of the specific, amusing humanity of Tom Hanks in Cast Away, there is a purified aura of archetype, as if Adam the sailor is floating in the sea of Eve.

This is a Studio Ghibli production, yet not from Japan. Many French animators worked on  Michael Dudok de Wit's first feature. Hasao Miyazaki, Ghibli's famous master, saw animated shorts by the Dutchman and said if they ever needed a foreign director, it would be De Wit. His partner, the late Isao Takahata, went to Paris to produce. They result is a hybrid, like Lautrec's absorption of Japanese prints. The binding force is love of nature (plus a little cuteness: four perky sand crabs).
The Black Stallion loses a little magic when the boy and horse are rescued from the enchanting island (Mickey Rooney, Teri Garr and a race provide fine compensation). This story loses some of its primal purity by reaching for Jungian, magical-realist symbolism. But there is always the epic horizon, and the crimson shell of the sea beast has a similar curve of poetry. As a Euro-Ghibli vision, The Red Turtle makes Ninja turtles seem like very tame terrapins.      

Land of Mine
Using a feeble word-play title for a horrific story, Land of Mine is a film about captive German soldiers, forced to clear land mines from Danish beaches in 1945. If these were S.S. men and hardened brutes, we’d say: tough luck. But these 14 “Krauts” are scared boys drafted into the Wehrmacht at war’s end. When you see these adolescent children sifting the sands with pitiful tools and no protection, it is a harsh test of Danish morality, one from which even Soren Kierkegaard might have flinched.

Denmark’s WWII was almost a picnic next to Poland’s or Russia’s, but we can understand the cynical bitterness of Sgt. Rasmussen (Roland Meller), a Dane working for English officers even more hardened than himself. The boys try to man-up, though they know the mission has a steep slope of destruction. Rasmussen comes to see them not as Nazi guilt ciphers (they never express a political idea) but as individuals bound by fear. They deserve the food that he steals from military supplies, and his growing sympathy. Tagging along are Rasmussen’s dog and a neighboring little girl.

Land of Mine doesn’t ratchet fear quite like  Ten Seconds to Hell (1959), in which Jack Palance leads a POW team in defusing unexploded bombs (I sweated blood for that one). While director Martin Zandvliet isn’t much of a stylist, the boys facing terrible pressures are touchingly vulnerable. At film’s end we learn that of the two thousand war prisoners made to de-mine Denmark, many were juvenile. About half were killed or maimed in 1945, which Germans call Year Zero.

SALAD (A List)
Twelve Good End-of-WWII Films (nation, year, director):
Rome Open City (Italy, 1945, Roberto Rossellini), The Best Years of Our Lives (US, 1946, William Wyler), Germany Year Zero (Italy-Germany, 1948, Rossellini), The Search (US-Germany, 1948, Fred Zinnemann), Decision Before Dawn (US-Germany, 1951, Anatole Litvak), The Last Ten Days (Germany, 1955, G.W. Pabst), The Burmese Harp (Japan-Burma, 1956, Kon Ichikawa), Ten Seconds to Hell (US, 1959, Robert Aldrich), The Bridge (Germany, 1959, Bernhard Wicki), The Truce (Italy, 1997, Francesco Rosi), The White Countess (Britain-China, 2005, James Ivory) and The Sun (Russia-Japan, 2005, Alexander Sokurov).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Citizen Welles disliked the “type” for which he was often cast: “Many of the big characters I’ve played are various forms of Faust, and I am against every form of Faust, because I believe it’s impossible for a man to be great without admitting that there’s something greater than himself, whether it’s the law, or God, or egotism … (but) in playing Faust, I want to be just and loyal to him, to give him the best of myself and the best arguments that I can find for him … our world is Faustian.” (Welles to Peter Bogdanovich, in This Is Orson Welles.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
“While in this book we lose the rapid, sensual engulfment of actually viewing (the movies are all out on disc), we experience what happens more discerningly. No voice can ‘say it all’ about films, so I have recruited other lovers of these movies and I hope the quotations have a fugal effect (‘A fugue has need of all its voices’ – Aldous Huxley).” (From the Intro to my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle).

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, dandy in The Maltese Falcon (Warner Bros. 1941; director John Huston, cinematographer Arthur Edeson).

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