Two Storm Wood ( 2022)

by Philip Gray

Londoner Philip Gray is the new necromancer of war. Gray has conjured a female protagonist on the European Front, searching for her fiancee circa 1918 . Standing in the aftermath of WWI, “Two Storm Wood” is a gothic romance with psychological punch. The sordid aspects of war are horrendous as in the Kevin Powers, Iraq war novel “ The Yellow Birds” and as in the Karl Marlantes, Viet Nam sorties in his novel, “Matterhorn”; but here, we are not in battle~ but picking up the pieces. There are 5,000 unburied bodies for every mile walked. Identification of the dead plays the most prominently, disfigurement second, and madness third.

Character driven and thematically focused, “Two Storm Wood” pits practical and idealistic souls in war’s moral morass. Great foreshadowing in this heavily plotted tale keeps mystery alive. Underground chambers, colonies of rats, shell holes and trenches cut through burial sites mix with tagged bodies and demented deserters. Dread builds, drugs, atrocities accumulate; racism and privilege raise their heads. War is seen as a contest of violence not virtue. Amy, our protagonist, is in the vortex like no other heroine I can recall since Jane Eyre. Masterfully done.

“The French Dispatch”

To watch a Wes Anderson film is to watch actors having fun. Recall “ The Grand Budapest Hotel” ( 2014) . In his tenth feature film, Anderson allows campy, piecemeal antics to somewhat cover-up his paean to ex-patriot journalists. In other words, don’t expect a Hallelujah Chorus: some of the story gets lost. And plot, there really isn’t one. In “ The French Dispatch”, newspaper structure holds the whimsy together. New Yorker’s founding editor, Harold Ross, and his Kansas staff are celebrated in the credits.

Our locale is a fictional French city, Ennui-sur-Blase. Funny in itself. Newspaper editor, Arthur Howitzer, Jr. ( Bill Murray as Harold Ross) in his last will and testament, assigns three well-received past feature articles and his obituary as his paper’s farewell and final edition . Even in death, Howitzer’s editorial dictums: “ Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose” and “ No crying” in the office hold. Writers were his people, and he would not cut an article. Along this line, Anderson’s movie itself is two hours long.

The ensemble cast is long, too. Owen Wilson is a staff cycling travel writer and Angelica Huston is the film’s narrator for the goings-on at “ The Liberty Kansas Evening Sun”. Alexandre Desplat does the musical score which is heavy on the bassoon and tuba until we get to Theodosius Monk’s resonant jazz and the celebration of good journalism at the film’s end.

Our first feature is printed in The Arts & Artists section. Benicio Del Toro is Moses Rosenthaler, insane asylum artist. Anderson uses his usual 90 degree camera angle to let Del Toro lshow us who he is. We are made to feel like we are the interviewer seated right in front of Benicio, a straight-jacketed, French Splatter Proof Group artist, who paints and repaints a nude policewoman, Simone ( Lea Seydoux ). She raps him hard when he smudges paint on her body’s g-zone.

How crazy is Moses really? After violent dismemberment charges were filed for his decapitating two bartenders ( off screen) , he signs up for “ clay pottery and basketweaving” to express his artistic side. Moses then proposes to guard Simone as our narrator ( Angelica Huston) tells us “ some women gravitate to incarcerated men”. Moses , in repose, spends much time staring at the ceiling’s mold spots and seeing art.

Next, comes actors Adrien Brody and Henry Winkler. Brody plays Julien Cadazio, an unscrupulous art dealer and gallery owner. He sees Moses’ work in the “ Demented & Deranged” section of the asylum. Moses Rosenthaler’s art is “discovered” ! Now, pigeon blood and petrol his medium.

As the nonsense goes on, we see fresco fights and peelings that are described as the “ best contemplation of peripheral vision” ever seen.

In the Politics & Poetry Section we have a story with Timothee Chalamet , Saoirse Ronan, and Frances McDormand. Chalamet writes a manifesto for male student rights to enter girl’s dormitories. Between month long protests, chessboard games , and riots, McDormand’s deadpan lines are memorable: “The children are grumpy”, “ I prefer relationships that end.” And my favorite: “ This isn’t the first manifesto I have proofed.” And “Journalistic neutrality maintained!” Tongue-in-cheek fun.

In the Crime Section vignette, William DaFoe is jailed for the kidnapping of a commissar’s six year-old son. The boy’s first words were in Morse Code, and Morse Code is how he saves himself. An animated car chase befuddles this scene. Maybe, it is cheaper to film in animated, cartoon style.

In the Taste Section, we have the aromas of great chefs like “ kidney poached with plums from the arbor”. The food writer speaks of “ the sad beauty of a table set for a solitary feast.”

Elizabeth Moss pleads for the reporters to write their editor’s obit. together. Jeffrey Wright , as ex. pat. James Baldwin, gives another long rambling talk for humor, as does Tilda Swinton as art lecturer, a tip of the hat to Rosamond Bernier, again of “New Yorker” fame.

One reviewer called “ The French Dispatch” “a hodgepodge of pleasure”. I knew little about the journalists listed in the credits: Mavis Gallant and Lucinda Krementz . The film has a lot to take-in “ attractive wastrels” all. Anderson’s silly throw away lines are the best: “For every note he sings, a peasant must die in East Africa”. “ Poetic, not necessarily in a bad way.” “ I have a typographic memory.” A typographic memory is needed in reviewing a film like this one! Remember that these actors had fun and you may, too.

“Belfast”

Kenneth Branagh’s memoir takes you to another place all the while telling you that place is important. Leaving can give one perspective, but the “can’t take Belfast out of the boy” often rings merely sentimental. The warmth of extended family is what one comes away with.

“Belfast” shows ” the Troubles” in stark black and white: Protestant and Catholic, a working class street divided. Yet, the film’s end vibrates with “Cherrio” —all will be well. If one can follow the impressions and the directions of the nine-year-old Buddy, nostalgia and sentimentality are yours. And who couldn’t skip over cobbles with the adorable Jude Hill ! Hill plays the nine-year-old Branagh to Oscar contender fame, but then so does the unconquerable Judi Dench, and the exquisite Ciarán Hinds; and, Caitríona Balfe and Jami Dornan shatter the screen with perfect character performances.

Jude Hill plays Buddy to the hilt. He is ready to learn, woo that first girl friend, and slay dragons. What impresses him, impresses us. The hell and brimstone sermon of his Protestant minister, the adults that all speak to him on the street, his Gramps betting horses while sitting on the outside toilet, and his Da’s bi-monthly return from joiner work in London. Clashes, tanks, curfews, barricades, and double bluffs are part of a Belfast life. Primary school, with seating charts according to scores, and advice on girls and slogans like “ If you can’t be good, be careful” punctuate the scenes. Snippets from movies like “High Noon” with its theme song “ Do Not Forsake Me ,Oh My Darling” and “ Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” add to the grade-school-age clime.

Initially, “Belfast” employs colorful, present day, architectural stills of the city to set what a visiting native might recall: the Titanic Hotel, bright yellow Harland and Wolf shipyard cranes, and colorful graffiti splashed buildings. A ship- building port city on the River Lagan, Belfast erected the Titanic. Nods to rope-making and linen weaving are here, too. Black, white and gradations of grey take control of the cinematography, and the film’s focus is on family life in those interface areas where Catholics and Protestants reside. We see those caps of the Peaky Blinders and the lace curtains of the Irish windows. We are in August 15, 1969.

Truisms like “ Too long a sacrifice can leave a stone in the heart” play well in “ Belfast”. The contrasting dancing and singing of “Everlasting Love” hits the right chord. This is Kenneth Branagh’s homage to the generations of Northern Irelanders, those who stayed, those who left, and those who were lost. The jazz sax plays for even vegetarian Anti-Christs in this film. Enjoy the vibe.

“The Power of the Dog”

Some novel-based films demand one to read the book. This is the case with Jane Campion’s much touted new Netflix release, “ The Power of the Dog”. While this may be a good thing, for certainly Thomas Savage’s 1967 book deserves the read, it should not be required in order to understand the film’s main theme of self hate.

There is much about this quasi- revenge film that is laudable. The acting is superb and the attention to period detail draws us in by the remembrance of things past. Even the cooking implements speak of the early 1900’s. Filmed in New Zealand, our setting is told to be a wealthy Montana cattle ranch in 1925. The owners are two very dissimilar brothers. One is a bully cowboy, who happens to be a Yale graduate in the Classics. The other a gentle soul, a college drop out who has trouble finding words to express himself. Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the master curmudgeon with the smart aleck mouth and mean spirit. He tells his younger brother, George, ( Jesse Plemons ) who he refers to as ” Fatso” that they were raised by a wolf like Romulus and Remus. The elder Phil is attached to George. They even sleep in the same room in twin beds ,though there are many available. Phil reminds George that their first cattle run together was twenty-five years ago. This fact is the one positive statement offered to his brother during the entire film .

There are housekeepers and cooks and heavily carved staircases and parlors. But then again there are rowdy ranch hands and heavy chaps and beautiful mountains and sloping foothills in big sky country. Cinematographer Ari Wegner captures it all. She glides the camera through all shades of brown from seamed stockings to bull testicles, from polished saddles to mud baths and secret watering holes.

The plot arc is set once Kirsten Dunst steps in as the “suicide widow” , the term coined by hateful Phil once he sees that George is smitten with Mrs. Rose Gordon. Rose has a very effeminate son, whom Phil delights in mocking and mortifying. In one scene, he has a dozen cowboys surround him on horses and call him “ Miss Nancy” and ” Little Lord Fauntleroy”. There is irony here since Rose’s son, Peter, will become anything but a “Goody-two-shoes”.

No viewer will be surprised that the brutal cowboy is a suppressed gay horse beater and bull castrator. There is no need for “ a big reveal” even before the sensual scene with the silk fabric caressing Phil’s genitals and face. To his credit, Cumberbatch makes us feel Phil’s loneliness. Jonny Greenwood’s score supports the popular songs of the era and enhances mood and suspense.

George and Rose marry. And more subject matter like alcoholism and anti-intellectualism is introduced. The film-script is complex. Dunst provides a multi-dimensional Rose. She is a grieving widow, a protective mother, a closet alcoholic, a berated and brutalized sister-in-law, a Native American sympathizer, and a kind and loving wife. Rose understands condescension. Dunst’s face makes us see her awareness as she tosses back her orange blossom cocktail. Dunst is good, if not better than Cumberbatch.

Jesse Plemons, as George, is perfection, minus the not too hidden body padding . The film would not be possible without him. Plemons is the perfect foil, whom it pains us to see locking the bathroom door to protect Rose’s privacy, and buying a baby grand to promote her amateurish piano playing. His George serves salad in Rose’s restaurant when she needs aid, and he cries because it is so nice to not be alone. George feels Rose is marvelous. Phil calls her “a cheap schemer”.

The hardest character to develop in the Biblical titled “ The Power of the Dog” is Peter, Rose’s son. Kodi Smith-McPhee plays the trauma- ridden teen, who has cut his father down from his suicide noose. Peter blows off taunts and ridicule by gyrating a hula hoop. He is an innocent coping until he hatches a revenge plan.

Phil Burbank is always looking at the far-off hills. He is impressed that Peter, too, sees the same barking dog-like shadow he has always seen. This seen cloud image marks them as the same. Phil begins to mentor Pete. He teaches him how to dry rawhide and braid rope. We get over- wrought symbols of posts being rammed into the ground. After Peter kills an injured rabbit to put it out of his misery, Phil praises him for his strength of will. Peter tells Phil, “ My father used to fear that I was too strong.”

The Psalm 22:20 ” Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling, from the power of the dog.” is what we are left to read. Yet, Rudyard Kipling’s rather silly poetic line, “..beware of giving your heart to a dog to tear..” makes more sense to this reviewer. The final frame of Peter seeing his mother and George happily coming home leaves him free to take his own life like his father did. Thus, the last frame of the braided rope tossed under the bed, a hand’s reach away. I will be reading Thomas Savage’s book for psychological clarity, because the film left too many questions.


“Lamb”

Mother Nature is turned upside down in the folkloric horror film “ Lamb” (2021). The enthralling cinematography and the violin and cello score will please even the uneasy. Animals seem to know more than we do about the natural order of things. The Icelandic horses, the family border collie, their cat are wary. It is easy to attribute anthropomorphic thoughts to their neighing, barks, and meows. Yet, their stares are what send the chills up your spine. Especially, the sheep seem to code “ Don’t go to sheep”. There is wisdom here.

Yes, Director Valdimar Johansson’s film is slow to unspool, but it is beautiful. Texture is what we see: breath steam, wood grain, snow blasts, horn ridges, blades of grass. The film’s colorist, Eggert Baldvisson, is an artist using blues and browns arrestingly. Cinematographer Eli Arenson proves to be one of the best. The vistas of mountain peaks and streams alternate nicely with rural farm framed window shots and sheep barns. Clothes flapping on the line and a windy grave yard mesh with homey dinners, familiar dancing, card playing and watching soccer on tv. Normal, yet so not.

Porarinn Gudnson’s score is full of violins, cellos, piano and drums. The music leads our emotions perfectly.

We don’t learn the names of our three characters until mid-film, and their backstory is more hinted at than told. Superb acting is on all fronts. Swedish actress Noomi Rapace , of ” Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” (2009) fame, is good at showing a darker side of motherhood. Possessive motherly traits and unresigned loss lead Maria to easily acquiesce to a surrogate for Ada ( her dead daughter ). I did find it creepy that Ada’s name was so easily usurped.

Maria and her husband communicate with glance more than with words. Rapace has wonderful facial control for this ” glance language”. Likewise, Icelandic actor Hilmir Snaer Gudnason provides a face of hurt and care to Maria’s husband, Ingvar. When Ingvar cries alone in the tractor, I did, too. When he drags the old baby crib out of the barn, we know what will bring this couple complete happiness. His teaching Ada how to use the geology of the region to always find home is sweeter than any father/ daughter talk I have seen.

Ingvar’s off-beat brother, Petur, ( Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) serves as another pair of eyes. He is funny, lazy, and constantly coming on to Maria. His well-timed line, “What the fuck is this ? ” had the audience bursting with laughter. When he takes Ada by the hand along with a rifle, we worry. Suspense is a keynote to horror.

The slow reveal and the matricide plot are ominous. Dreams of wild-eyed sheep play a part. Ada’s goldenrod sweater will imprint along with her laurel buttercup crown. She is seen as a gift, a new beginning. She becomes the reverse. This review will not give the three chapter plot or the melodramatic ending up. Just see this film for its originality and its bow to folktales.

“The Chef”

“The Chef” is a foodie’s comedy /slice of life piece that delights! Whether it is the passion of creating butter-slathered grilled cheeses & Cubanos or sizzled sauces that draws one in, this film centers on parenting and work, and how our children are often excluded when they need not be.

Emjay Anthony is adorable as a kid that anyone would wish to call his/her own. A softer Sofia Vergara is lovely as the insightful nurturer,and Robert Downey Jr. is more than memorable as the phobia ridden ex with ADHD. Dustin Hoffman adds another character to his repertoire, and Scarlett Johansson does her thing as sexy confidant. One wonders how Jon Favreau, who wrote, directed and starred in “The Chef” could get so many”sous-chefs” for his film. No one upstaged another. As gustatory critic, Oliver Platt, was a natural. Comedic actors Bobby Cannavale and John Leguizamo added a special zest to a beautiful cast.

“The Chef” is so freshly current with its social media, with its “lay your hits” marketing philosophy, with its undocumented workers, that the audience immediately connects, or at least recognizes the lay of the land.

The music is so engaging that several patrons danced out of their seats and down the aisle as they left the theatre. Tito Puente comes to mind. And “Mr. Bone Tangle” & the street artist highlighted our chef’s past laments. This film will cause me to research Mr. Favreau,who must love & respect women and is not afraid to show his softer side.

“A Marriage Story”

Noah Baumbach’s divorce movie is a noble contender for “Best Picture”. Painful and funny, the script begins with Nicole ( Scarlet Johansson) and Charlie ( Adam Driver ) listing all the things they love about each other. The listing is not on Valentine’s Day, but required by their divorce mediator. The film is very much of a love story in the course of a divorce that really did not have to happen. There was no third person to obfuscate nor any major event to traumatize values. There was love in every scene. Though often, it was just in Charlie’s and Nicole’s eyes. They did not have to divorce, thus the tragedy.

We learn through flashback that Nicole and Charlie work together professionally. Charlie has the upper-hand as director. Nicole feels he is holding her screen career back. It is Nicole’s divorce attorney who listens to Nicole and articulates and guides her in the dissolution of her marriage. Laura Dern is scathing as the raw-talking guide, who will get the split done. Dern plays a shrewd escalator in what becomes a battle for the custody of Nicole and Charlie’s young son. The New York verses L.A. commute becomes paramount. Charles states that they are a New York family: Nicole runs to her California roots and regresses to a surly teen in her mother’s house.

To give Nicole her due, the scene with her mother melting over her son-in-law is off putting, and Charlie has his narcissistic side. But Nicole never really talks about what she wants or feels is lacking. Johansson’s tearful monologue on her attorney’s couch needed a real counselor to draw out why she allowed Charlie to hold back her career and decided to call it quits without giving her husband a chance to change. Her self-love and the possibilities for her career supersede real partner intervention. Her intent is set. Driver’s Charlie plays more sympathetic. His striving to keep his son in his life is admirable and heart-wrenching.

Ray Liotta uses his shark eyes and his own shrewdness to stand against Dern in legal battle. Competition between lawyers and competition between theatrical and film careers seem to draw out the worst in everyone.

The acting on all counts is terrific. We are lost in the characters , and Driver’s and Johansson’s star power never breaks our focus. I wanted to hand them both Rollo May’s “Love and Will” ( 1969). It is possible to participate in the ” meaning-matrix” of another without surrendering your own. Anyone who has experienced divorce will wince more than once, yet ” A Marriage Story” somehow finds caustic humor in this domestic tragedy of a heart- breaking variety.

“ Pain And Glory”

Creative artists get to be self-indulgent. And why not!? To be honest with the tender moments of one’s past and to be saddened by memorable regret is easily relatable. In “Pain and Glory”, Pedro Almodovar shares his psyche, his love of red and yellow, and his alter ego, the movie director Salvador Mallo ( Antonio Banderas). Banderas has never been better. We see him submerged in a pool with his arms out-stretched from his sides. In an almost yoga meditation, he invites us to observe his heart surgery scar and his past. Banderas becomes another as only a grand actor can.

We watch him wince in pain when he is not floating in water or with drugs that sooth. Banderas has a face that can deliver great depth of feeling. He uses the crinkled eye, the up-turned lip, and the deadened stare to deliver a life circle of emotions. A mother he may have disappointed, a lover, who disappointed him, and passages that bring the “ pain and glory” to our existence.

Flashbacks abound. His mother, Jacinta, ( Penelope Cruz) is held in high esteem. With her women friends, she sings and scubs linens at the river. Idyllic, sun-drenched -squares-of-white mesh with playfulness and ivory-floating bars of soap. Castanets and music and women’s camaraderie evoke Bizet’s “Carmen”.

Themes of kindness and loyalty hold deep in the screenplay. These qualities bind a fulfilling relationship. Old age symptoms of sciatica, depression, tinnitus, and stiff joints mix with old gossip. Drug use and addiction are interspersed with cartoon like flow charts of Mallo’s ailments. Time weaves in and out with childhood and younger self flashbacks. Asier Flores plays Salva as a child. He is lovely except for the scene where he is directed to fall in ecstasy after seeing a grown workman taking a sponge bath in his kitchen. The fever of homoeroticism looked more like a stubble on the stone floor. Asier seemed way too young for any sexual awakening, sorry.

In the present time, Salvador Mallo is forced to give a retrospective of an earlier film. He must track down his old leading man, Alexandro ( Asier Etxeandia ) . They have fought and loved before. Here, they reunite and use heroin as their crutch. Another former lover, Frederico ( Leonardo Sbaraglia ) comes to Madrid. As Mallo’s housekeeper states: ” Everything here is strange.” This may not be a film for everyone, but Banderas is marvelous as the aging artist in self-reflection.

Humor, longing , and respect for a meaningful existence make an aging man content and in many ways in awe of both the pain and the glory of being a creative creature on earth.

“Little Women” ( 2019)

Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel “Little Women” has a disparaging title for 21st century women. Granted the absent Marsh father, a Civil War chaplain, calls his four young daughters “little women” instead of “girls”; but, director Greta Gerwig does all she can to show us mature women. I miss not seeing children huddled around their mother, Marmee, yet Gerwig has given filmgoers something more: a quartet of passionate, rational women with discernment and heart to be loved again.

The film begins with Tracy Letts’ feet on his New York publisher’s desk and a fat cigar in his mouth. He orders Jo Marsh (Saoirse Ronan) to sit before he tells her that he will accept her manuscript with alterations. He espouses that “morals don’t sell”. Letts has a gleam in his eye as he pontificates on spicing her story up and making certain that her heroine either marries or dies. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “ The Vindication Of Women” (1798) comes to mind eighty years earlier. Director and screenwriter Greta Gerwig reminds women that we had not come much further in 1865.

“Little Women” (2019) jumps back and forth in time and in place. The screen tells us it is seven years earlier and we are in Concord, Massachusetts. Here we are reintroduced to the four Marsh girls and their mother, Marmee ( Laura Dern). Meg, the eldest is the most conventional. Emma Watson does little to draw out her character. Saoirse Ronan is stunning as Jo, as is Florence Pugh as the youngest, Amy. Pugh’s Amy is, in fact, is my favorite. Her deep voice and psychological insight made her wiser than her years. Timothee C. did not seem her match. Amy, also, held her own in the scenes with Meryl Streep ( Auntie Marsh). Amy comes to life not as a selfish and jealous baby sister of Jo, but as an brutally honest and insightful woman. Beth (Eliza Scanlen) looked too healthy for death, but the swelling music of composer and conductor Alexandre Desplat helps. The windy beach scene with Jo is grand. Beth tells her sister that she is not afraid of death. For Beth, death is like the tide going out very slowly.

The cinematography and score are lush. The film’s start slow. Too many long scenes packed with kite-flying, ice-skating, play-acting, piano playing, and painting. I noticed lots of fake-joy on female faces in Christmas scenes. And Jo’s shoulder-thrusting walk got on my nerves. The book binding and gold-gilt embossing of Jo’s first book is more evocative and one of my favorite scenes. Chris Cooper’s Mr. Lawrence stood out in the few male roles, as did Tracy Letts. Timothee Chalamet’s Laurie was too foppish for me. All in all,Greta Gerwig’s production has received more positive press than the final production warrants. A nice walk down memory lane.

“A Hidden Life”

A George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) quote underscores the meaning of Terrence Malick’s best film to date, “A Hidden Life”. In “Middlemarch: A Study Of Provincial Life” ( 1872 ), Eliot writes “ …the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts….is half owing to the number who live faithfully in hidden lives and rest in unvisited tombs.” The true events of a conscientious objector, an Austrian farmer who is conscripted into Hitler’s army, plays out for almost three hours on screen. It is a spiritual experience that has me reevaluating Director Malick. ( I almost walked out on his “Tree of Life” 2011 pomposity . ) Eleven years later, this time Malick has a story to tell of obscurity and truth.

“A Hidden Life” is philosophical in tone. There is not much dialogue, and when there is , it is through letters being read. We see some real images of WWII Austria, newsreel footage of Hitler parades, but most of the film is in the small mountain village of upper Austria. The frames are replete with gentle swaying grass, meadows, and all absence of concrete. In domesticity, it could be 1600 rather than 1938. We are given to miss the simple valley life of white clouds resting on mountains, brooks babbling, and church steeples peeling. The film is worth seeing for its beauty and sound track. But there is an important story to be told.

Before France’s 1940 surrender, Austrian men when conscripted were made to recite an oath of allegiance to Hitler. Our protagonist, Franz Jagestatter ( August Diehl) silently refuses. His wife, Fanni ( Valarie Pachner) supports his stance. The St. Radegund rural community whispers non-support while potato planting, and we see the coming storm as Franz’s family is ostracized from communal work and festivities. The village women tell Fanni that her husband’s non-compliance is an ” act of madness”. Even the village priest counsels Franz to comply for the consequences of remaining silent are too severe. ” God does not care what you say. He knows what is in your heart.”

Glorious visuals of fast flowing streams and streaming clouds shepherd in reprisals for our pacifist. ” You can not put your home, your village in jeopardy. They will hang you.” ” You are worse than them, because you are a traitor to us.” Franz’s mother blames his wife for supporting his refusal to contribute or to accept the family allowance from the state. The mayor, his sister, and others admonish his pride.

Franz seeks further Church guidance from the bishop, whom he thanks for seeing him. ” Your excellency, ”If God gives us free will and our leaders are evil what do we do?”

The answer comes too easily. ” Duty to the fatherland. Let every man be subject to the power that is placed over him.” The church bells are melted down for bullets. Living in fear is for the clergy, too. The cardinal rationalizes that Franz may be a spy. Priests are sent to concentration camps, also. “ God does not want us to bring suffering on ourselves.”

Malick has composed a very metaphysical and religious film. Using natural light only, we see Franz in his cell. We see Stations of the Cross, and an artist refurbishing the village church. Of his refurbishing, he states: “ I allow those who sit in the pews to dream. I create admirers. Many ignore the truth. I paint the comfortable Christ with a halo on his head. Someday, I’ll paint the true Christ.” Here, we don’t need to intuit Christ’s call to action.

When asked by the prison commandant what purpose his defiance serves, Franz stands firm. He is asked if he hears voices. He is told that the anti-Christ is clever. The devil uses man’s virtues to mislead him. We see a frame of a water spout dripping doubts. The film is technically perfect, with the depth of a man’s conscious in full view. Franz says that his bound hands are better than if my will were bound.He is free in the way that counts.

Cinematographer Jörg Widmer is the master of diffused light, awe-gasping frames, and Vermeer-like focus. I have not seen a more artistic eye. In capturing nature, the human face , and interior scenes, his camera will stop your heart.

The musical score is by James Newton Howard. He features the violin. A forty piece string section is as romantic as it gets. Franz Jägerstätter is executed at 36 in 1943. His wife and three daughters survive knowing that Franz was beatified by the Catholic Church as a martyr. No matter what your beliefs, Malick’s film is truly heavenly. One of my favorites of 2019.