Tag Archives: George Mackay

Where Hands Touch

Leyna (Amandla Stenberg) is the only person of colour in her village. She’s aware of that fact, of course, all too aware, but it’s not until her 16th birthday when her difference starts to truly matter, so her mother packs her and little brother Koen up and takes them to Berlin where they can be ‘invisible.’ But Berlin isn’t any safer for a biracial girl in 1944. Leyna and her family live in fear, and Leyna’s mother Kerstin (Abbie Cornish) is so desperate she sacrifices her relationship with her own family to obtain some false papers for her daughter, papers that promise Leyna will never commit the crime of racial mixing with a German aryan, papers that claim she has been sterilized.

Koen joins the Hitler Youth, compulsory for every aryan boy, and his mother is trying her best to temper the hate he learns there with the values and morals of home. As for daughter Leyna, Kerstin is just trying to keep her alive, a feat made more difficult after Leyna falls in love with Lutz (George MacKay), himself a member of the Hitler Youth, and the son of a prominent SS officer. This could get them both killed – it has become obvious that the Nazis aren’t just hunting Jewish people, but anyone deemed “impure.”

There’s obviously an interesting story in there somewhere, but the script by writer-director Amma Asante doesn’t quite sniff it out. Possibly the best thread to follow would be that of Kerstin’s relationship with her children, both rebellious in their ways, and her struggle to balance her beliefs with what will keep the family safe, not unlike Scarlett Johansson’s Oscar-nominated turn in Jojo Rabbit.

Instead we experience the world from Leyna’s perspective. Amandla Stenbert does good work, but Leyna is a teenager, confused and confident at the same time. She insists she wants nothing more than to be treated like any other “good German,” which, considering the context, is kind of uncomfortable. Against the backdrop of millions of Jewish people being led to slaughter, it sort of feels like Leyna has shown up to a Black Lives Matter protest with a sign that reads “All Lives Matter.” Leyna’s youth sees only injustice against herself, and her lack of awareness or irony starts to feel worryingly tone deaf.

The increasingly improbable love story does little to recommend itself and its compassion feels miserly and misplaced. Sean and I recently watched Schindler’s List (he for the first time), a perfect reminder that there are plentiful and worthier movies on the subject, ones that manage to paint a fuller and more accurate picture.

 

 

Ophelia

This one’s been sitting idle in my drafts folder for way too long. All I had was the title, Ophelia, which was a freebie.

As you may have guessed (or perhaps you’ve seen the film, released as it was in 2018), this is a re-telling from Hamlet, from the fair Ophelia’s point of view. She doesn’t exactly get a fair shake from Shakespeare. Will director Claire McCarthy finally do her justice?

I’ve seen this described as a “feminist reinterpretation” so many times I want to throw a pewter goblet through a stained glass window. Stories with female protagonists don’t need special labels. It’s like saying the original Hamlet had an “idiotic interpretation” just like all stories with male protagonists. Oh, that seems unfair and perhaps a bit reductive? YEAH I FUCKING KNOW. I have so much rage. Of course I want to give this movie a pass just for having to deal with stupid male critics and stupid male bias and stupid male viewers but the truth is, this female was bored stiff.

Yes, it’s shot extremely well; there’s palpable value in its production. And Daisy Ridley and George MacKay are quite wonderful, really. But the thing is, very rarely are going to improve upon FUCKING SHAKESPEARE. Sure Ophelia got a shitty deal, and yes, it’s nice to see her flexing some agency. But this version just feels like we’re getting the bits of Hamlet that were left on the cutting room floor – and for good reason. There’s only so many jugs of water a girl can fetch. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy. But while Ophelia’s background may be fecund in theory, it was rather barren in execution. It fell so far short of the mark for me I rather wished we’d been in Queen Gertrude’s (Naomi Watts) shoes instead, uncomfortable as I’m sure they were.

1917

Time is the enemy, the tag line reads. But also mud. And also Germans, but time first, and mud second. Oh the mud. They trudge through it, slipping and sliding, it squishes between their toes and claims the corpses of men. I worry one of the men will lose his footing in the slippery, unforgiving mud and accidentally bayonet himself, or someone else. The sludge is real. You feel the dirt viscerally just as you feel the time urgently.

Oh the time. Time is the enemy you see. Two young soldiers on the Western front are given an impossible task. Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) has a brother in another unit, an isolated regiment about to walk right into a trap. He and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) need to get to them before dawn to save the lives of 1600 men, but the journey to prevent their massacre is likely a suicide mission.

Director Sam Mendes executes this film with such mastery and technical prowess that it induces a state of anxiety, dread and hyper-vigilance in the viewer, immersing us quite brilliantly in the ethos of the battlefield. Most of the film feels like it’s done in a single take, and because we’re experiencing this nightmare in near real-time alongside the soldiers, the urgency and gravity of their mission infects us with constant tension and foreboding. Inevitably this sounds like a harrowing cinematic experience and it is, but one that’s deeply moving and conscientious and frankly impossible not to admire.

Cinematography by legendary Roger Deakins highlights the horror of war, the monotony of the mud, the pitted landscapes, and is particularly effective at night, when a village burns and is intermittently lit by flares. But his work with Mendes to seamlessly knit together shots to create a visual single take is surely worthy of the Oscar. And Thomas Newman’s score is similarly haunting, some of those trumpet swells literally responsible for a tightening in my chest.

My adrenaline was so successfully engaged that it wasn’t until the very end of the film that I finally indulged in a tear. My nerves were so keyed up that I probably didn’t take a full lung’s worth of breath until I was in the parking lot. 1917 is not easy to watch but boy is it easy to praise.