‘Dunkirk’ – Distilled

A technical tour de force but an artistic failure, ‘Dunkirk’ contrives to combine cheesy dialogue and cardboard characterisation with the terror and immediacy of war and violence. You are in the cockpit of a stricken Spitfire as it swerves towards the grey greasy ¬†Channel and ditches; trapped in the cockpit, you struggle for breath as its sinking pilot bangs frantically on the glass above him, fighting to get out as the water rises. Or you are in the bowels of a bombed or torpedoed ship, as exhausted soldiers fight their way towards the exits. The story follows three narratives, telling this most dramatic of tales from land, sea and air – a narrative device that works effectively, switching constantly from one perspective to the other, showing how all three elements interleave in this critical moment. But the ‘moment’ itself is presented in virtual isolation and in one dimension: the collapse of France, Nazi Germany triumphant, England alone and on her knees, are barely suggested. From the point of view of the combatants and survivors, one accepts, it is the immediacy of the present, and present survival that matters, but the wider consequence is a film that has neither a deeper sense of tragedy and salvation, nor a real humanity. Ultimately, alas, ‘Dunkirk’ is simply war as spectacle.

Director: Christopher Nolan

Verdict: Seeing is not always believing. But see it anyway.

Your tipple of choice? Rum, of course – for the Navy

‘The Innocents’ – Distilled

A cloister is no sanctuary: at the end of World War Two,¬† novices and nuns in a convent in Poland are raped and abused by their Russian ‘liberators.’ The pregnancies that result – the children who are brought into the world – as a consequence of this violation raise moral and existential questions, including questions of faith, despair, and religious doctrine, which each of the sisters must answer for themselves. However, all’s well in the end.

Beautiful performances.

Director: Anne Fontaine

Verdict: Powerful, moving (though about as much fun as a root canal) – but not quite Bergman. Bergman lite? Vodka, Polish or Russian