The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)

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It is most certainly flawed, but The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is likely to make this harrowing chapter of history more accessible for some children.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas serves as an introduction for children to Nazism and the Holocaust. It covers a broad range of elements integral to Nazi Germany such as institutional racism, nationalism and indoctrination, albeit in a juvenile, contrived and ultimately implausible manner.

The film charts the relationship between Bruno (Asa Butterfield), a German 8-year-old and Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a young Jewish boy. Bruno is the son of Ralf (David Thewlis), the SS Commandant of a nearby concentration camp in which Shmuel lives, and Elsa (Vera Farmiga), who is largely ignorant of the Jewish persecution her husband is responsible for.

The inquisitive Bruno first meets the titular boy in striped pyjamas when he stumbles across the camp perimeter next to the woods that surround his house. The innocent Bruno is puzzled by Shmuel’s predicament, he doesn’t understand why soldiers are ‘taking their clothes away for no reason’ or why another inmate Pavel works in the camp after a career as a doctor. As he repeatedly visits Shmuel and develops a friendship with him, his confusion soon turns to indignation.

Clearly, their relationship is unrealistic. The abhorrent reality is that most children were killed immediately upon arrival at the camps, and even as a child who either somehow slipped through the net or was deemed useful, it is very unlikely that Shmuel could escape his oppressors’ eyeshot so many times to speak with Bruno.

The boys’ exchanges are contrived and awkward, they are not natural conversations but a vehicle for the screenwriters to teach their young viewers the basics of the Holocaust. Considering his age, Asa Butterfield is a decent young actor – he has the potential to be a star. Scanlon, however, was quite stilted.

One of my problems with the two boys’ relationship and indeed the whole cast are the English accents, it seriously affected the credibility of the characters.  Even Vera Farmiga, an American woman, gives her German character an English accent, which she does very well, incidentally. I’m sure the film’s adult cast members were more than capable of at least hints of German or Eastern European, but attempts to do so by Butterfield or Scanlon would have probably been risible.

The most villainous and unlikable character of the film is probably Kurt Kotler (Rupert Friend), but he is also something of a caricature. With his chiselled jaw, blond hair, blue eyes and immaculate uniform, Kotler is the personification of the somewhat homoerotic Nazi dream of Aryan supremacy. The problem is that instead of him being a compelling example of a Nazi propaganda poster-boy, Friend’s character is an example of the cliched ‘Ve have vays ov making you talk’ Nazi stock-character.  And of course, Friend makes no attempt to Germanise his English accent, which meant I just couldn’t believe in him.

With implausible characters and relationships, some viewers may begin to lose hope as the The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas descends into a sophomoric history lesson. However, the climax completely batters you with its shocking, powerful twist. Despite all of the preceding problems, the fittingly horrendous denouement will leave an impression on child and parent alike. Seldom have I seen a film picked up so greatly by its final minutes.

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Inglourious Basterds (2009)

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‘Inglourious Basterds’ is an entertaining, original war film with high production values

‘Inglourious Basterds’ is not a film to be taken seriously, it’s a farce. Firstly, many of its characters are caricatures, especially Brad Pitt’s role Lieutenant Aldo Raine, who speaks in an exaggerated southern drawl. Secondly, the story completely rewrites history in grand, bloody fashion. Overall, I found the film to be good fun; I found its total disregard for history to be refreshing. It has been called ‘juvenile’, to those people I say “lighten up”.

Its characters, context and plotting seem to have annoyed many people. The majority of the negative reviews I have read on IMDb are unfair and written by people who are cine-illiterate and sometimes downright illiterate. To dislike this film is understandable, but to give it 1/10 is immature and makes their opinion completely invalid.

Many will find it distasteful, and it is, the German soldiers aren’t considered people by the Basterds; some deserve their violent treatment, others do not. However, contrary to popular belief, the film isn’t crammed full of violence. It certainly has graphic outbursts, but it isn’t pervasive. Instead, much of the film consists of dialogue delivered by its strong cast, constructing its rather large, multi- character story. The main acting credit of course goes to Christoph Waltz, whose turn as the intelligent, ruthless and utterly inescapable Col. Hans Landa is a highlight of the film.

There are moments that are removed from the farcical features of the film, notably the tense farm house interrogation and the basement bar scene, both of which are superbly constructed and acted. Think ‘The Lives of Others’ only with characters that face far more brutal consequences.

I quite like the film’s story and plotting, it’s a long film but I didn’t grow tired of it like some people have. I didn’t expect the film to incorporate so many characters, I didn’t expect its scope. It’s interesting to wonder what the film would’ve been like if it had adopted a ‘Reservoir Dogs’ approach, it could have been a stripped down thriller that closely followed the Basterds’ exploits, it may well have been a better film. Instead it’s more related to ‘Pulp Fiction’, a lengthy film with many characters and a marked tone of black humour, however ‘Inglorious Basterds’ isn’t as funny or as interesting.

Tarantino’s methods of film-making are questionable. For example, I’ve heard he refuses to hire composers as he doesn’t want another crew member to have that degree of influence over his work. Some think his total control over his productions is becoming his downfall, and those claims could have credibility. He’s an auteur some may say, I say he sounds like a control freak, however I understand he has a very particular vision.  It would be interesting to see him work on projects that aren’t completely his own. Working that way would see his career become more prolific and hopefully would avoid him making awful genre referential trash like ‘Death Proof’ again.

‘Inglourious Basterds’ is a great addition to his canon that’s original and in possession of all the entertaining earmarks of a true Tarantino film.

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