Friday, 4 April 2014

War Requiem (1989)

More a piece of art - both visually and aurally - than a film, War Requiem, Derek Jarman's bleakly beautiful production from 1989, earned itself a welcome and timely broadcast on BBC2 earlier this week as part of the corporation's four year long season commemorating the centenary of The Great War. 

Jarman's film can perhaps be best described as a full length music video to showcase Benjamin Britten's 1962 piece War Requiem (written as a dedication to the then newly built Coventry Cathedral, following the destruction of the original 14th century structure during the unrelenting bombing raids of WWII)  and the poetry of WWI poet Wilfred Owen.

It's a powerful yet lavish anti-war statement that sees archive newsreel footage (much from WWI but also footage from more modern, recent warfare) intercut with recreations of trench and battle sequences and dreamy peacetime moments starring the likes of Nathaniel Parker as Owen, Tilda Swinton as The Nurse, Owen Teale as The Unknown Soldier , Sean Bean as The German Soldier and, in his final film performance, Sir Laurence Olivier as The Old Soldier, silently recalling his memories of The Great War from a nursing home.

A terrific marriage of emotive visuals (looking even better on BBC2's HD) and Britten's affecting and perfect score make War Requiem a haunting piece that lingers with the viewer. Because I feel that, as a piece of art it's wonderful but as a film it's much harder to peg or review, I can understand some of the criticism it faces - that it's alienating, that a film with no spoken dialogue completely set to music is daunting - but then, what is a silent movie if it is not that? Cinema can, and indeed it should be, art too and I think that this understands and displays that belief rather well.

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