Weir’s survival epic
NEW films from Peter Weir are rare these days. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World came out in 2003 and it’s 14 years since The Truman Show, that brilliant satire on modernity, the media and just about everything else. The Way Back (Friday, 8.30pm, Movie One) is one of Weir’s most ambitious and moving films, a love story, a survival drama and, in its way, an epic tribute to the millions who died in Soviet labour camps during the Stalinist terror.
The screenplay, which Weir wrote with Keith Clarke, tells the story — essentially fiction — of seven prisoners who escape from a Siberian gulag at the beginning of World War II and set out on a 6400km journey to India. The central figure, Janusz (Jim Sturgess), has been convicted as an enemy of the people and sentenced to 20 years’ hard labour. Under torture, his wife has testified against him. Janusz is tormented not so much by his wife’s betrayal as by the guilt he knows she is suffering. It is his determination to absolve her from that guilt and renew his love for her that drives his quest for freedom.
Among Weir’s films I have seen little to compare with the sheer visual power of The Way Back. In its majestic landscapes and the intensity of its storytelling it ranks with the best of David Lean. And indeed there are many reminders of Doctor Zhivago (Friday, 1pm, TCM); another view of the Bolshevik revolution and its dreadful aftermath. Both films are love stories, one seen through the romantic yearnings of Omar Sharif, the other through Janusz’s search for reunion with his wife. Weir has made a deeply harrowing and enthralling film, brave and unsparing.
Of Oliver Stone’s three films about US presidents — JFK, Nixon and W, Nixon (Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie Greats) was the least successful. I praised it when it came out in 1995, mainly because I was fascinated by its subject and liked just about anything with Anthony Hopkins.
On a second viewing, however, it looked shoddy and meretricious. We are meant to see Nixon as a flawed but quintessentially American hero, whose criminal foibles were a disturbing reflection of the dark side of the US as a whole. But to portray Nixon as a flawed hero it was first necessary to portray
but surely he has done nothing stranger than Hereafter (Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie One). His three main characters — an American factory worker (Matt Damon), a French journalist (Cecile De France) and a London schoolboy played by two young actors (Frankie and George Mclaren) — each undergoes a bereavement or near-death experience before their lives intersect as they search for the truth about the possibility of life beyond death. Viewers will draw their own conclusions.
More interesting for me is Gainsbourg (Saturday, 7.25pm, World Movies), a French film directed by Joann Sfar, based on the life and amorous exploits of Serge Gainsbourg, the artist and singer who did much to shape French popular culture in the 1960s. We first meet Serge as a boy in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1941, and the film is fascinating in conveying the latent anti-semitism of French bourgeois society in the war years.
Played as an adult by Eric Elmosnino, Serge is a gaunt, haggard, maladroit figure with a string of discarded wives and mistresses. Bridget Bardot, Juliette Greco and British actress Jane Birkin were among real or attempted conquests. Lucy Gordon plays Birkin with captivating energy. One of their children, Charlotte Gainsbourg, appeared in the recent Australian film The Tree. It would be interesting to know what she thinks of Elmosnino’s portrayal of her father.
Friday, 1pm, TCM him as a hero, which proved too much even for Stone.
Clint Eastwood has directed some great recent films ( Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby),
Friday, 8.30pm, Movie One
Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie One
Saturday, 7.25pm, World Movies
Jim Sturgess, second from left, in The Way Back