Thursday, 20 February 2020
Having marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz last week, I chose this film to watch with a group of friends form church. Like flat earthers, it's difficult to accept that there are some who deny that the Holocaust actually took place. Why? What is their motivation? What do they hope to achieve by setting themselves against nearly everyone else and an entire people?
Based on true events, this film explores a libel court case at the High Court in London when 'historian' David Irving (Timothy Spall) challenges what he claims is defamation of professional and personal character in a book written by American College Professor Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz). The quirkiness of British law means that in a libel case the burden of proof lies with the accused who has to prove the accuser is indeed a liar and selective rewriter of history to suit his own ideology.
Whilst the film is most certainly set within the context of the horrors of the Holocaust and especially the things that went on at Auschwitz, it is fundamentally a courtroom drama which centres on the ingenuity of Lipstadt's legal team of lawyer Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) backed by a team of researchers. They plan to entrap Irving, who mounts his own prosecution, by appealing to his overdeveloped ego to try the case before a Judge without a jury as the technicalities of the case would be too intricate for laymen to grasp. Technicalities that Irving has spent his life mastering. Irving agrees. Lipstadt's team feel Irving would play to a jury and win them over.
Whilst the Jewish community in America is quick to offer financial support to enable the trial to proceed, British Jews try to persuade Lipstadt to drop the case and settle out of court as it will give publicity to Irving. Lipstadt is incensed that neither she nor any Holocaust survivors will be called to testify by her team. Her team have seen Irving tear such people apart and do not wish to give his cause oxygen. Instead, they concentrate on the forensic details of establishing that Irving changed his views and rewrote history to support what is presented as his own right ring, racist and anti-semitic ideology.
The story behind this film presents two opposing histories - one from a revisionist perspective of Hitler and one from the perspective of the Holocaust. They are incompatible and it falls to a Judge to rule which is truthful. Holocaust survivors are in court each day and pressurise Lipstadt to have their voice heard. She deflects the pressure by saying that she will ensure the voice of suffering is heard. Lipstadt makes repeated demands to be heard as a witness along with survivors - so much so that in the film her character becomes too whining and more than a little tedious.
Lipstadt undergoes an epiphany when she realises that the real denial here is the denial of the survivors to be heard and her own greater self-denial of not having a public voice while the trial is underway. She eventually places her trust in her legal team and the roller coaster proceeds much like a Heavyweight bout as two pugilists slog it out with the judges seemingly scoring each successive rounds first to Irving and then to Rampton. The outcome is unclear from the Judges 300 page written basis for his Judgment, the tension builds as the Judgment is given and he finds in favour of Lipstadt and in doing so, voice is given to the suffering that was endured and which continues.
We know the outcome as it is based on a real life story. What makes this film of interest is the characters and the methods they employ to achieve their intended aim. The acting is strong (even if Lipstadt is whiny) and the scenes filmed when the defence team visit Auschwitz on a foggy and frosty day add to the bleakness of the memorial and ramp up the pressure for Irving to be defeated. This is an interesting film, well made. To watch this alongside The Boy in Striped Pyjamas and God on Trial would make for a heavy but engaging triple bill. I'll give this film 7/10.
Saturday, 15 February 2020
If you've not seen this film and intend to, stop reading now and get down to the cinema - one with a great sound system as the sound in this film is wonderfully 360 degrees. (Thank you Everyman Birmingham.)
You cannot have escaped the hype surrounding this fim as it won many BAFTAS and the next week cleared out the Oscars. Is the hype justified? It's certainly an engaging film with a very clever narrative which delivers a massive unexpected and unforeseen twist at a critical point. The cinematography is top class and the ways in which the visualisations of the sets and their relative positions reinforce the core of the story, are masterful.
Whilst it has clearly charmed international audiences and juries around the world, I wonder if Koreans don't get a whole lot more out of it than Westerners? I had the feeling that many clever subtleties passed me by. The whole premise of always seemingly needing to have a plan even when the plan might be not to have a plan possibly means something more in Korea. When is opportunism simply deception? When is it wrong for people who are capable of performing a job but are unable to gain employment simply because they don't hold the right certificates or qualification to actually seize an opportunity for work when it presents itself?
The film is very clever in the way that it invites many questions without really delivering any answers. The premise of the film is straightforward enough but the way in which it is enacted delivers a real life fantasy where we are made to believe things simply because they happened in the film - but isn't that a hallmark of great storytelling? The ensemble cast have no weaknesses and deliver performances where the comedic elements are always implicit leaving you to draw them out and appreciate them.
Ostensibly this is a film about different socioeconomic classes, about the haves and the have nots. The key line in the dialogue is "They're rich, but they are still nice" as though wealth makes good people bad and poverty makes bad people good. From the sub-basement squalor of cockroach and urine infested urban dwelling to the breezy and airy luxury of the hilltop mansion, this film is littered with visual and plot contrasts that never resolve themselves. That is left to the viewer. I am still unsure who is the parasite in this film! There are several candidates and the film holds up a mirror to the viewer. What was the rock about? Was it significant or did it only have significance because the son says it's significant? Its place in the story certainly changes as the narrative unfolds.
This film is multi-layered and the meaning of the layers, the narrative and the symbols are never really defined by the film itself. It's the highest form of audience participation - you decide! The film could so easily have become too clever or kitsch but avoids these potential problems and stays true to what it has to say - whatever you decide that is. There are goodies and baddies, victims and perpetrators, lucky and unlucky, hard workers and consumers of luxury. You work out which is which. It keeps flipping as the different layers come to the fore in their own turn.
It's certainly a great film but is it worthy of the hype when films like The Irishman, Lighthouse, Joker and 1917 were very strong award contenders? Did it do so well simply because it is an international (we're not allowed to say foreign language any more) film, or is its artistic merit worthy of clearing out the Oscars? Well - that's something else for you to decide! I'll give it 8/10.