War, Two Viewpoints—Coriolanus and In the Land of Blood and Honey

The internet, streaming video, and discs have made films timeless. Here are two I liked very much, but they’re not for everyone.

Coriolanus

Different times. Morphed characters. The same story. Coriolanus, the film, attests to the timelessness of truths Shakespeare wrote about—in this case, that we haven’t yet conquered our hunger for war.  Men’s ambitions, beliefs, and/or desire for revenge still lead to destruction.

 

 
This version is set in modern Rome, racked by internal conflicts and violent jealousies most of us are probably familiar with by now. This time, of course, they are resolved with guns, not swords.

The main characters in this drama are some of the most complex, even in Shakespeare’s oeuvre. They are all consumed with passion. Passion for power. Passion for revenge. Passion for war. A couple of gifted British actors headline this film: an unusually buffed Ralph Fiennes and an eternally watchable Vanessa Redgrave.

What sets this apart from other war films is the intimate look into the psyche of the main character, expressed in beautiful (my opinion) Shakespearean language.

Coriolanus—Ralph Fiennes makes it hard for you to think of anyone else in this role—is that rare personage who believes in telling the truth. This is both a virtue and a flaw. The most obvious way it is a flaw is his inability to be politic. He cannot hide his superiority and the fact that he knows it. It makes him a bad politician. And it makes him vulnerable. But, in the end, it is the pleading of an equally strong, determined mother (Vanessa Redgrave) that leads to his undoing.

Shakespeare tragedies are never easy to watch. They’re not made to be entertaining. But if you can sit through one of them and be engaged, then you will treat yourself to the power of words (and images) in exposing the human heart. You’ll sense, if not fully understand, why Shakespeare continues to be the greatest dramatist of all time.

In the Land of Blood and Honey

The film was over. But neither of us got up from the couch. Neither of us said anything. We just looked at each other until I broke the silence. “Wow!”

Rich said, “Yeah, wow!”

For nearly two hours, we were virtually in the midst of a war in Bosnia Herzegovina, a genocide that the Western world turned a blind eye to for a long time. But it’s war from the eyes of innocent victims.

I think it took courage to bring this war onto the big screen. First of all, it subverts our expectations of war films. The excitement of big explosions, and clever killing and military strategies are minimal.

More apropos, how often does one see a war film from the viewpoint of the civilian war victims who probably suffer at least as much if not more. Maybe,  because the filmmaker is a woman, she  was more sensitive and sympathetic to the plight of the helpless women, children, and old people whose voices are hardly ever heard when decisions are made about war.  Often, we see them counted as anonymous casualties. Do decision-makers even think of them when they argue about waging a war?

The complex, ambivalent emotions and the deep-seated, long-standing conflicts among the Serbs, Croats and Bosnia Muslims are captured in this film through the reactions of protagonists. In the end, even love cannot conquer whatever led to this war that started ages ago.

When the film first came out, I read an article in the Guardian written by a British war correspondent in Bosnia. She said this was the closest she ever saw a war film depict what war was really like and that situations in this film mirrored her own experiences.

We anticipated the realism of the film. But, for us, what was most astounding about it is Angelina Jolie’s (director-writer) sensitivity and understanding in her handling of this film. Brilliant!   We hope the star brings her unique vision to future films.

This film has made us more aware of the unspeakable personal ravages of war from an intelligent feminine perspective. We also realized that in ignoring what was happening in this war, we become complicit in the most heinous of all crimes.

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