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WAR SHORT: Their War (2018)

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  • WAR SHORT: Their War (2018)

    WAR SHORT: Their War (2019)

    Not all war movies are feature length. In fact, I can think of many war movies that are too long. And although I usually do not have a problem with the epic length of some war movies, there is also a place in the genre for short films. These are harder to find and get eclipsed by the big boys, but there are some gems out there that are well worth the watch. Today I went to my Facebook group (War Movie Lovers) and found a request for membership from a short film. I was intrigued by this and slightly annoyed. After having to turn down numerous requests from people clearly not interested in war movies, now I have to deal with movies that want to join? A movie I had never heard of, from an independent company, and a short film. Seemingly, that was three strike. But I am all about fairness, so I clicked on the link and watched the film. “Their War” was directed by Max Mason. He also wrote it, which is common for this type of low budget affair. It has received numerous accolades from film festivals, so that was a good sign.

    I immediately recognized that the film was not a half-ass effort. It opens with a diagonal panning shot in the woods that reveals a man with a rifle plinking some cans. I was intrigued. Cut to an Englishman enlisting in the British Army. There is a passing reference to his age which clearly indicates the year is 1914. Nice touch. When the recruiter asks if he is single and Arthur Jeffries (Hamish Riddle) reveals that he is married, the recruiter hesitates a beat and then presses on. Another subtle cue that says a lot about recruiting. The rest of the film intercuts between Arthur and Nickolaus Siefert (Des Carney). They both have to break the news to their wives (Arthur’s is pregnant) and both ladies bravely decide not to burden their husbands with guilt feelings. It is clear they are both joining out of a sense of duty. Kudos for using subtitles for the German speaking Seiferts! Suddenly, we are in the trenches. It is a jarring transition from the beautiful music of their departures to the cacophony of the trenches. With a running time of 22 minutes, there is no time for boot camp and the movie is not focused on how they become warriors, but on the effect the war has on them. Nickolaus is a sharpshooter and Arthur is an average bloke. Each has a very revealing conversation. Arthur’s is with his commanding officer who is not depicted as the typical upper-class snob you see so often in WWI movies. In a beautifully acted and written scene, the officer expresses the conundrum of involvement in a war for honor that is marked by horror. Many men have joined to become heroes (although not Arthur), “but there is nothing heroic in death like this.” Arthur sits there and nods knowingly and despondently. He shows a picture of his new baby. Damn, Arthur, why you had to do that?! In the opposing trench, it is clear that Nickolaus also did not sign up to be a hero. His expository conversation is with two German soldiers. He reveals that he takes no pride in his marksmanship and provokes his comrades by saying the British are pawns just like them. Arthur and Nicklaus are headed for a fateful meeting.

    I mentioned earlier that there are short gems out there and this is one of them. Max Mason and Chalice Films deserve the acclaim they have received for this film. From the start it is clear the movie was made with great care and attention to detail. The cinematography by Paddy Bartram is a cut above most independent feature films (like the “Saints and Sinners” sequels). He does well with some hand-held treks through the narrow trench, for instance. Speaking of, the set design for the trenches is noteworthy. Collette Creary-Myers does a wonderful job with limited resources. It is a micro story, so we really don’t need to see a crane-view of the trench system. What we do see, to set the atmosphere and facilitate the final confrontation, is a realistic recreation of a trench. The scene where Arthur talks to his C.O. is particularly effective as it is set at night with a fire raging in the background. The music by Simone Cilid is subtle and does not force emotions. The blend of piano and orchestral fits well. The departure scene, sans dialogue, is carried by a wonderful piece. I am not a rivet-counter, but the uniforms and gear do not distract from the story.

    The acting is much better than could be expected. These are not weekend reenactors that are forced to recite dialogue. The standout is Des Carney who clearly has a bright future. His character reflects the fact that the movie is not as predictable as you would expect. Nicklaus is introduced as a Prussian playing at war, but he does not conform to that stereotype. Hamish Riddle’s character is more traditional, but has to be that way for the plot to work. I am not sure if the movie was trying to question his leaving his pregnant wife to fight for his country. I certainly wondered if his family should have come first. The conversation with his commanding officer seems to indicate he was having second thoughts.

    “Their War” is an outstanding addition to the small subgenre of short war films. It is hard to make an impact in the already crowded field of anti-war WWI films, but this one is memorable. Considering the small budget, it is hard to see where it could have been better. Heck, it even has one of the most gut-wrenching fight scenes that I have seen in a war movie. I want to thank Max Mason for seeking me out. He did not ask for a review, just membership in War Movie Lovers Group. I am sure he is proud of his film and wants more people to see it. Especially war movie fans like we have in this group. I strongly recommend watching it. Focus on all the little details. You might even want to watch it twice, like I did.

    GRADE = A

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