Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Demoted: a Cormac McCarthy take on WWII

Greetings, commies!
If you are looking for an amazing idol-crashing, cliche-defying WWII film, do not miss an unfairly obscure film Demoted. It raises so many moral questions about the value of individual life and pledge of obedience. 

1943. A young platoon commander refuses to follow an order of frontal attack; he doesn't want to send his soldiers against the enemy machine-guns and get them killed. A battalion commander rips off his shoulder straps and sends him to the military tribunal. But the war is everywhere and the demoted officer and his escorts have to start an unequal fight with the enemy. 

My thoughts:
My husband and I have watched every WWII movie under the sun, of variable qualities, so it's a problem to find new films to quench our insatiable addiction. Imagine how thrilled we were to find this relatively obscure gem (thank you, Amazon Prime). I was totally blown away by the dour candor of the film, a quality that I, a cynic and misanthrope, can appreciate. The film explores the ugly and the depraved aspects of military life, the stuff you would not find in Soviet era textbooks. It touches upon such taboo subjects as desertion, incompetence, corruption, mental illness and cannibalism. Yes, you got that right. People eating people. Something you wouldn't see in Soviet produced films spanning 1940-1980s. This atmosphere in this movie reminds me of Cormac McCarthy's writing: surreal, nightmarish, apocalyptic, claustrophobic. Imagine "The Road" taking place in snow-clad Russia in 1943. 

I don't know how to put this nicely, but ... try taking your SATs after a lobotomy. That pretty much describes the former Soviet Union's readiness for an armed conflict with Hitler's Germany. Given that the best generals had been killed off by Stalin, the Soviet army was in a state of bewilderment. Confused commanders giving confusing orders. Soldiers dying right and left without any purpose. If you were a soldier, you were screwed either way. Either you get shot by the enemy, or you get shot by your own "brilliant" commanders for insubordination. And if you are a student in the late Soviet era school system, you get crucified by your teachers for questioning the competence and heroism of the Soviet leaders. For me, as a natural dissenter, it was hard to sit through those patriotic, propaganda-loaded flicks featuring humorous, shrewd, abnegating boyish soldiers who died on the battlefield humming folk tunes - think "Only Old Men Are Going to Battle". On some instinctive level I felt that the reality of the Soviet experience was a lot grimmer than the campy ensemble of boy heroes. Fortunately, 30+ years later, we are free to reexamine the past and reevaluate the idols. Brutal, unembellished, unpalatable realism is replacing the patriotic propaganda in war cinema. 

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