SilentDawn’s review published on Letterboxd:
“You should look straight at a film; that's the only way to see one. Film is not the art of scholars but of illiterates.”
- Werner Herzog
A straight-look at Dunkirk:
1. This is a film directed by Christopher Nolan, of Memento, The Prestige, Interstellar fame.
2. This is a film edited by Lee Smith, whose credits include Inception and The Truman Show.
3. This is a film shot by Her’s Hoyte Van Hoytema.
4. It is populated by a vast variety of individuals: Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh etc.
5. They do not play characters intrinsically, instead aligning along the spectrum of looming, waking memory-spirits of distress, courage, audacity, terror. Sketches capturing an essence of feeling.
6. Many of these portraits scurry and dive and run and hide from the enemy (Rarely seen, and when they are, their mark consists of a chilling impression amongst the grain of the image; a foul apparition on the land and an airborne demon above the sea). Others confront the display of the battle itself, already stamped onto history.
7. The specifics of the bodies, and how they move, where they go, what they do, are visual paths for more substantial gestures of gallantry and desperation, valor and dismay. Observe as Nolan captures a unit’s internal system: medics rise immediately after a beach bombing to deliver wounded men to an escape, frantically rushing their feet as other groups ignore their urgency.
8. Such actions are found amid a larger canvas of landscape photography. Their significance is determined by a collective compassion and national drive, never weakened by the vast shape and texture of the earth, atmosphere, and sea in which they occupy.
9. The perspective, and the topography within it, succumbs to its jumbled temporality. Visions of the border between the ether and the ocean, sand and foam, steel and current etc. loop and revert in analogous motion to editing structure. The machines/humans dance in the foreground, survival being the rhythm.
10. It is a work of performance against the void of War, a deafening endurance clash, and a poem of entities, but this disregards its impeccable charity, strength, affection. If I wasn’t aping Herzog, I’d say that Dunkirk made me view natural forces in a new way, or at least the most profound realignment since my first viewing of La Région Centrale, but oh well. Let's stick with the fact that humans are a wonder. Till next time.