Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Hemingway and Gellhorn"

by Edd Doerr

HBO's "Hemingway and Gellhorn" premiered on Memorial Day. Although the Washington Post's reviewer turned uo his nose at the 2.5 hour movie, it was actually quite good. Starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman, who nicely shed their British and Australian accents, the film follows the stormy  affair and marriage of the pair of writers from the Spanish Civil War through the Soviet-Finnish conflict of 1940 and World War II. Over half of the film takes place during the Spanish Civil War, highlighting its complexities, hitting the Catholic Church for its support of Franco, and not sparing Hemingway's flaws. Martha Gellhorn comes across as the gutsier of the writing duo. Among the characters in the biopic are photographer Robert Capa and American writer John Dos Passos. I give the film at least four stars.

While we are on the subject of the Spanish Civil War, let me recommend three other films. First is "Land and Freedom", a terrific British film of a decade or so ago, a slightly fictionalized rendition of George Orwell's great book Homage to Catalonia, though, oddly, without attribution. This moving film shows the complexity of the republican forces opposing Franco's rebellion against the elected secular government. Its international cast reflects the actual diversity of the opponents of fascism. This one is worth five stars.

Then there is "Pan's Labyrinth", the Spanish movie that won the best foreign film Oscar a couple of years or so ago. It takes place during the summer of 1944, when republican holdouts were still fighting in the mountains, hoping that when the Allies finished with Hitler they would head south and  oust Franco. I won't give away the sort of "magic realism" story plot but will say that this is one you will not forget. One of the main characters is a little girl of eleven or so, but DO NOT take little kids to see this splendid work. Five stars.

Finally, we have "Ay, Carmela!", another great Spanish film. Two republican entertainers get trapped behind enemy lines and are captured by Italian troops sent by Mussolini to aid Franco. The funniest scene is where the Italian commander, a theatrical producer in civilian life, persuades the Spaniard to put on an awful musical the Italian has written, for which he will spare their lives. The Spaniard and the Italian cannot speak each other's languages, but their similarity allows them to communicate in one of the most hilarious exchanges ever filmed. Again, five stars.

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