On War Movies: When Less is More

War comes to the doorstep of two Estonian immigrant farmers in the internationally acclaimed drama "Tangerines." Via Samuel Goldwyn.
War comes to the doorstep of two Estonian immigrant farmers in the internationally acclaimed drama “Tangerines.” Via Samuel Goldwyn.

Movies, of course, make everything dramatic. If you’re laughing, it’s often to the point of crying. If you’re crying, then you often cry to the point where you can’t breathe.

But when it comes to the subjects of war and peace, no matter how hard a director tries to carry across every emotion that comes with the conflict, it will always feel more dull than reality. It’s simply impossible to re-create the experience of losing lives, hopes, and dreams in an all-too-real and bloody setting.

Many directors attempt to capture war by glamorizing their storylines with explosive special effects. Many focus on larger-than-life characters, such as Lewis Milestone’s World War I battlefield epic “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam adventure “Apocalypse Now,” or Charlie Chaplin’s satirical parody of Adolf Hitler in “The Great Dictator.” But sometimes, directors who show less have much more impact.

The First Movie,” a documentary that played at the 2011 Fresno Film Festival, takes an approach to war-themed films we are not used to: It gives the camera to children. The Iraqi secret police tried to stop filmmaker Mark Cousins twice from producing the film, but he still managed to carry through. Kids, who were literally living through the horrors of war every day, ended up telling stories of a fish swimming to a magical place and chickens looking for justice.

The Alain Renais romantic drama “Hiroshima Mon Amour” mostly skips the direct images of war zones, instead poetically describing the madness and the inner human crisis of one actress and one architect as they share their perspectives on war while having an affair in Japan.

The drama “Tangerines,” which is the next Filmworks movie at the historic Tower Theatre on July 10, minimizes the outside explosives of the 1992 Abkhazian conflict in Georgia. The Oscar-nominated film, directed by Zara Urushadze, instead focuses on the internal conflict of one house owned by an Estonian immigrant farmer, who takes in two wounded men from opposite sides in the war, and they learn to live together under one roof.

These examples show that the world is not one-dimensional. No matter what happens on the outside, there’s always something that’s happening on the inside. Perhaps the biggest impact from these war movies doesn’t come from showing physical horrors, but rather showing that there are layers of love and kindness deep inside to make it through.

Olga Verkhotina lives in Moscow where she works as a public relations manager for the communications agency Upside Com. A former Filmworks marketing intern, she still enjoys volunteering, even though she lives 10 time zones away.