Thursday, January 22, 2009

A War Movie Worth Watching

The face of civilian fear

Director Ryan Little's recreation of the scene at 1944 Malmedy Massacre
I am not a fan of war movies, but this independent film is worth watching, and, in the context of historical studies of the 20th century, and World War II in particular, is suitable even for young people. It follows the attempts of a British paratrooper and four American soldiers to survive behind enemy lines with no food and few weapons in the freezing central European winter. Their mission is deliver intelligence on German troop movements to the American forces that will soon meet the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. The four Americans are survivors of the infamous Malmedy Massacre of December 1944, which occurred when Nazi gunners opened fire on 140 U.S. prisoners of war outside the village of Malmedy, Belgium, killing more than 80 of them. It was filmed for less than $1 million in the forests of Utah, and won more than a dozen awards for best picture of the year following its 2005 release.

The four Americans and their British companion survive in no small part as the result of the succor of a Belgian woman and her daughter, who are the only female characters in the film. Ready to stab the sergeant when he first enters her home, she willingly provides food and shelter when she realizes that he is an American. Once again, we have an answer to the question “what if troops were marching into your neighbor: What flag would you like to see flying over them?”

The Motion Picture Association of America originally gave Saints and Soldiers an R rating, citing a desire to protect younger viewers who might identify with its American heroes from the trauma of seeing their bloody deaths on film. Director Ryan Little reports that he “went to war with the MPAA to find out what it was that we did that constituted an R rating…. And again, it came to personalized violence. They said, you care about these characters, and you see them die in a horrific way [so it] is worthy of this rating.” Ryan edited the film to garner a PG-13 rating for commercial release. It remains realistically, though not gratuitously, violent, and therefore does require parental guidance. However, the emotional range of the film, which moves deftly across themes of guilt, remorse, faith, courage, and redemption, carries the viewer far above the horrors of war that it depicts.

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