#36 Bridge on the River Kwai

“I hate the British! You are defeated but you have no shame. You are stubborn but you have no pride. You endure but you have no courage. I hate the British!”
Colonel Saito

Bridge on the River Kwai is an interesting sort of war movie, in that it really isn’t about war, it’s about people.

The film centres on a group of British POWs in a Japanese war camp during World War two. The Central character, played pitch perfectly by Alec Guiness, is Col. Nicholson.  Nicholson is a commanding officer that retains his position, even in the POW camp. To him, it is unacceptable that British officers should be treated the same as the enlisted men. And this leads to a head-butting match between him, and Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa).

After a lengthy battle of wills, Saito agrees to let Nicholson and his officers retain their positions as officers in the camp, in exchange for the Colonel’s complete co-operation in building the Movie’s titular bridge.

The Bridge quickly becomes an obsession for Nicholson who sees the completion of the bridge as a point of pride, and the integrity of the bridge as a statement of his own integrity.

Everything seems to be working out for both sides, if you conveniently forget that the Bridge will prove to be a major strategic point for the Japanese in the war against the allies as Nicholson did, that is until the allies send an escaped prisoner back to the POW camp, to blow up the bridge.

This is when Nicholson’s obsession becomes obvious, as the escaped prisoner returns, with a misfit band of soldiers to blow up the bridge, and gain a major tactical advantage for the allies.

Nicholson however, cannot let this happen. To him, the bridge is a representation of him self, and allowing it to be destroyed would be allowing himself to be crushed by the war-machine of his country.

At its heart, this is what Bridge is about, the battle of the individual versus the state. Nicholson is forced to choose between the idol that he has created for himself, and the good of his country.

As he says upon the bridge’s completion, “One day the war will be over. And I hope that the people that use this bridge in years to come will remember how it was built and who built it. Not a gang of slaves, but soldiers, British soldiers, Clipton, even in captivity.”

Nicholson is ultimately forced to choose between the immortality of keeping his pyramid, which will stand as a monument to Britain and more importantly his own greatness, and sacrificing it for the good of the allied forces.

Bridge works hard to illustrate the struggle that an individual faces when being forced to choose between him or her self, and the collective good.

Much like Heller’s Catch 22, Bridge, examines the absurdity, and brutality of war. However, unlike Heller’s novel, Bridge does not glorify the needs of the individual. It lends fair camera time to them, but acknowledges the necessity for personal sacrifice.

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The Artist

The Artist at first appears to be a throw back to the classic days of the silent film industry, when men dressed in their best suits, took their women to cinemas, and were treated to a live orchestra that added personality to a wordless picture.

But this is not what The Artist is, not really.

The Artist is in fact throw back to that age when cinema was still unsure of itself.  The age, well after “talkies” had established themselves as the dominant form of entertainment.  The Artist is a picture that reaches out to the 50’s and longs to connect to this very specific era of films.

To qualify The Artist, it is what would have happened had Billy Wilder directed Singin’ in the Rain.  Like other films that have told a similar story before it, The Artist deals with the affect that the paradigm shift, from silent to talking pictures, had on the actors that had once been larger than life.

At the centre of this story is George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent film star that is quickly becoming obsolete.

Dujardin is a dead ringer for Gene Kelly minus the voice, which makes him a natural choice for the role.  Unlike Kelly’s character in the afore mention Singin’ in the Rain though, the transition was not seamless.  Valentin has trouble adapting to his new status and ends up resembling Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard antagonist.

One notable stand out from the film is Berenice Bejo, who plays Peppy Miller, up-and-coming star and love interest of Valentin. Bejo’s performance has not yet secured any major nominations, but there were many scenes that Bejo was able to steal from Dujardin.  And that wasn’t an easy thing to do

What is really special about this film is not its originality, because almost nothing about the film is original.  Its shooting techniques predate Citizen Kane and it is a story that has been done to death.  This film is special though. It tells a story in the way that it was meant to be told, but in a way that had never previously been done.

The film examines the silent film era, and the subsequent culture shift that emerged with the talking film, but it did so in the former medium.  Brilliantly, this allows Michel Hazanavicius to tell and old story, in a fresh way.

The medium allows the film to be funny in a way that it wouldn’t have had it relied on words, which is important.  There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a concept film that leans too heavily on its concept without actually doing anything with it.  That being said, this film will probably be over-liked.

It is a perfectly good film but it comes nowhere close to reaching the levels of humour or emotion of Charlie Chaplain’s The Kid did.  Perhaps that is an un-fair comparison, but that only speaks to how good the movie was, that it can even be compared, quality wise, to The Kid.