It turned out there was a story, but it never seemed like it was.
Reported on 21st of January, 2020

Not much to say to about 1917, is it the best of the ‘good’ films this year? Probably. But to paraphrase d boon, it’s a twelve-way tie for twelfth.


19 January 2020 @ The Gaumont Alésia

$3.00 or, if one must be quotidian, and one must... 
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


Never really having much to do or say, the film is a lazy and toothless remake of Gallipoli, so in love with its technical prowess that it forgets that people are more than objects to fill the frame. I remarked to Dorothée, before we saw it, that just as Gallipoli was the last film about war (and Unforgiven the last western and Inglorious Basterds the last film about Hitler), 1917 would not offer anything new.

Hobbled with the same plot as the last twenty minutes of Mr. Peter Weir’s, well, it is a masterpiece – get the orders to the front stop the advance – it focuses simply on that, not the characters, why the signed up, how they bonded, their hard-won patriotic fervor, the idiocy of the ruling and leading class, their lost patriotic fervor, and the ironic, horrifying tragedy of the whole fucking mess.

Somehow, forty years later, 1917 has the courage, nay the utter lack of courage, to treat WWI – of all warsas a noble one fought by noble people. Except for the stinking Hun, of course!. Why Clancy, my dear man, they simply lack honor. My damnable word!

Initially, I had no impulse to see a film that prosaically and inadequately aped Gallipoli (not even up to the silent All Quiet on the Western Front, the good one). I was then to find out (‘thanks Reddit’, or, if you must, ‘thanks, Reddit’) that the film had the misfortune of being shot in one take! Amazing! It’s never been… of course it’s been done, but any gimmick or potential disaster, and I’m on my way. Still waiting for we-retoothed-the-too-many-teeth-character-because-internet-outrage Sonic to come to France without downloading it first.

I’m getting that ticket. Even if it’s VF. I’m getting that ticket.

I was, naturally, wrong about 1917 giving us something new, in that it did offer us a depressingly fascinating look into what happens when you hamstring Mr. Roger Deakins.

About halfway through, there’s a beautiful sequence in a bombed out city, as moving white flares combine with the halloween orange of fuel fires, silhouettes waiting and running, waiting and running, I knew (or, rather, guessed, and retrospectively would have lied if I hadn’t known) right away, and said to Dorothée ‘Is this Roger Deakins?’

She was just as surprised as I was, that I don’t use the honorifics in real life. Also, she didn’t know.

It turned out it was Mr. Deakins, but it really didn’t seem like it was. Assuming that I was right (useful at all times, even when you are), I watched with a new eye. As the film continued, I asked myself: how did I not spot his metier right off, that is to say, why did it look so much like a flat iPhone photo, of say of computer screen ticket?

So, uh, yeah. They don’t do tickets any more at Gaumont, or rather, they do, but you have to go to the ice cream place first, and I made the mistake of ordering ice cream, and we didn’t have time. So I’m getting my revenge. Take that low quality ticket image… Gaumont!

Here is my informed guess, or my subjective proof: having to work around the blocking, and having to always hit the next mark to get the digital wipe to the cut, Mr. Deakins cannot do what he does best – frame the shot.

As indelible as a composition from Mr. Michael Bay (now old and making 6 Underground), you can feel it with Mr. Deakins: that the camera is the only place it can be. But when it has to be here because then it has to be here, you’ll only get a moment or two of clarity and resonance. It’s self-defeating, in a film that offers so little in the way of insight, dialog and characterization – there’s no pleasure to be had, other than the spectacle of the set pieces. Which are admirable, a word that conveys exactly how impactful that might be.

Though I’ve said it before, we are once again the victim of the single take. Though this film finds a new way to ignore Bazin. M. Bazin talks about how the point of the single take is the tension you get when anything in frame can happen. This has little meaning in a digital age, but 1917 finds in its story a way to ironically denude this potential, as the lead cannot die. Being one take, this is the only story we can follow.

So with it, the fate the film. It turned out there was a story, but it never seemed like it was. Dialog that hesitates to get to the end of the dolly, as characters pause unnaturally, waiting to hit their marks. Lost silent reactions that we need on cutaway that might give us a hint of their feelings. As Elmore Leonard would have it, all the boring parts.

The Take

Something, sort of, happens. This is probably why it’s the best out of the twelve-way tie.
It’s a handsome film, and effects have come a long way. Though you know where the cuts are, I only actually saw one, and the bleak flatness of the countryside, and the plain, believable lack of ornament is a stand-alone contrast to other films that take place in this era.
Total Profits
This means you can do anything But you did this.
I have to say this, and it’s odd. There is, not surprisingly, one female character, a lonely French woman taking care of an orphaned baby. Though Mr. George MacKay has to get a message to the front to save thousands of lives, M. Claire Duburcq implores him not to leave. Dorothée said this was believable, that she couldn’t know. Maybe she’s right, and technically she is. But it seemed to me like a manifestation of that hoary cliché, bursting at the unconscious seams: Stop Saving The World, The Girl Complains. Even in WWI, huh? Hey, there’s another innovation!
Et tu, Deakins?
Total Losses


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