12 janvier 2007

Hell in the Pacific

In this film from 1969, Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune star as WWII soldiers stranded on the same island. Mifune speaks Japanese, Marvin speaks English, and there are no subtitles. Dialog is minimal and the film's story is a slow development of their relationship from adversaries to comrades. Performances are excellent - Mifune and Marvin are bitter rivals with such enemy anger for each other, and their the audience shares their frustrations with communication. Mifune is expressive enough that even without understanding his words, he projects his emotional state; Marvin's performance matches Mifune note for note. Marvin served in the Pacific, and was one of the 2 survivors when his [squad?] was attacked by enemy machine gun fire during the battle of Saipan (Marvin, for his part, took gunfire in his buttocks and crawled to safety, later receiving a Purple Heart). John Boorman's direction is effective but not flawless, and some elements have not aged well - the occassional zoom for emphasis seems especially unelegant. The movie doesn't effectively transmit mood, in part because music is heavily foregrounded to provide emotional cues. I would have prefered that this film build tension through silence, which would have augmented the 'real experience' transmitted by the decision not to subtitle Mifune's dialogue for English-speaking audiences. [WARNING --SPOILERS AHEAD.] The version I saw was NOT the original cut of the film, which ended with Marvin and Mifune dropping their truce and return to fighting a pointless battle. Instead, in a touch that both outdoes and predates Buñuel's That Obscure Object of Desire, they are blown up by a bomb (or are they?) in a final shot added by executive producer Henry Saperstein after the movie's first few weeks of release were underwhelming. The original cut sounds more poignant by far but as a fan of Obscure Object I could appreciate the narrative insanity of such a stunt - one that gets to the heart of war in the way that Buñuel gets at the heart of the modern world and our inescapable fear of irrational (read: terrorist) destruction. DVD Savant has a good review of the film and available DVD edition [I saw this on Turner Classic Movies]. In either version this film is recommended viewing.

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