The notion of the trip is in the plot basis of numerous war films. In "Apocalypse Now" (1979), by Francis Ford Coppola, with that tortuous river that the protagonists trace; "Soldier Ryan" (1998), by Steven Spielberg, who leaves the beaches of Omaha to enter the World War II France, and, of course, in "1917" by Sam Mendes. This connects with something very rooted in the West, all that mythology about the hero that opportunely explained Joseph Campbell in his books and that comes from Homer's "Iliad" and the departure of Achilles and Ulysses to Troy. A classic cut and circular journey that ends up being completed with the return of the warriors to the home (the "Odyssey"), something that the cinema has also dealt with on many occasions, as evidenced by "Born on July 4" (1989), by Oliver Stone, or "The Hunter" (1978), by Michael Cimino, to mention a couple of titles.
From the rear
An adventure that is not only exterior, through the displacement of a geography, but also interior, in which the characters end up detaching themselves from their identity (or their innocence or their youth, to name other aspects) to, in the end, later to complete all the stages that mark his journey, rediscover himself in the factions of an adult man. Literature has reproduced in infinity of times this scheme that goes from the rear to the epicenter of war or conflict and that, basically, is nothing more than a descent into hell, along the lines of the Greek classics or in that of Joseph Conrad's immortal story "The Heart of Darkness."
Sam Mendes, who visited Madrid yesterday to present his latest work, which will be released on January 10, seems to follow this idea in "1917". His intention is to lead the spectators, along an eternal flat sequence that recalls «Birdman» (2014), by Alejandro González Iñárritu, from the rear of the English lines of the First World War, where the platoons rest in front of a Meadow, to war. A tour that underlines the gradual deterioration that soldiers present in their uniforms, their faces and their cynicism or hypocrisy. «It is true that you can appreciate that influence of mythology – says the director – if we think of the scenes I shot at night, with those lights so intense that I wanted to capture and that many will remember the underworld. Or when one of the protagonists falls into the river and then emerges from the water, which could be interpreted as coming back to life. But, if it came out like this, it was unconscious, because it was not the initial purpose. What I did want, but almost from an instinctive point of view, not premeditated, was to portray that hellish landscape with almost surreal images that rarely appear in the movie ».
The filmmaker has departed from his grandfather's memories, what he had heard in the family. In that sense, coincides with Christopher Nolan, who shot "Dunkirk" also with the intention of paying tribute to his (Peter Jackson should be added to this payroll with his documentary on the confrontation of 14). «Chris Nolan and I grew up in the shadow of the First World War. It was a great shadow over us. We grew up affected by that contest. Every year in Britain is remembered with a commemoration. We all teach poetry in schools with poems that were written about what happened. Be part of our culture ».
Sam Mendes acknowledges that «one of the stories I heard from my grandfather always remained in my head, that of some soldiers who had to deliver a message and how difficult it was to fulfill that task through the trenches lines and the earth from no one". And, precisely, this is the argument that drives the tape. Two British recruits have to take an order to the front line of fire to stop the planned attack at dawn and avoid a massacre. The couple of fighters chosen by the officers, played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman will undertake this time trial mission through a Dantesque landscape, planted with tunnels, corpses and barbed wire. «I have always been fascinated by this conflict, but not because of the courage that was understood in the combatants. Many of the things I only heard were stories about luck and coincidences. When I remembered one of them, the one that reflected the epic of delivering a warning not to launch an assault, I said to myself, well, let's do it, but in a big way, and in two hours of real time. It may seem crazy, but I think that brings a lot ».
Mendes warns that his film is no warning or "warning of anything" and that "I have never been interested in patriotism. The most relevant thing for me was to tell the experience of what war is for those who are immersed in it. It is what mattered most to me. I love my country but this movie is not about the wonders that the United Kingdom did between 1914 and 1918. Nor have I tried to represent the Germans as evil people. In fact, he could have shot this same story and changed the nationality of the characters and that they were, for example, Germans. It is not relevant to me. What I wanted to focus on, and what we wanted to reflect the whole team, are the experiences of going through a conflict of these characteristics and show the truth so great that it exists behind. My approach was to release two people there and see how they develop in circumstances where they are devoid of social class and everything you usually have in your home. And, of course, reflecting at the same time, or so I have tried, what it means to return to your family when you have been at the front ». Sam Mendes is thus introduced in a film that, he explains, goes "much more about survival and how to survive than in heroism. In fact, these two characters that carry the burden of that mission at the beginning do not want to go ».
In search of a free Europe
One of the aspects that Sam Mendes shuns is moralism, introducing an idea that the public can interpret in the current key. «At this time we are fighting for a free and united Europe, and it would be very good to remember now that everything we possess can be easily destroyed or that you should never have a kind of nostalgia for war or how great it must be to conquer a country. But neither is one of the purposes of the tape. What I wanted to show in the cinema was the chaos and destruction that always accompanied wars.
Mendes clarifies his argument and asserts that, "to teach all that confusion and disasters caused by war actions, I did not intend to limit myself to current codes, I wanted to do it in a special way, like a person who looks out to the next room Through the eye of a lock. I have never intended to give the spectator everything done, but unfinished, to ask himself: is that what I just saw is a rat or is it not? What it means to propose a more demanding film from all angles and, also, very different. The most complicated thing, for example, was when the actors had to walk together, side by side, but without speaking, because, in reality, they are moving through hell: they cross farms, orchards with trees … The threat that It awaits you – he continues – in every step they take is so tangible … they must feel fear and seeing it we can all appreciate that something will happen at any time. Actually, there is little blood. In this sense, it tends, for the suspense that I have tried to print to each scene, to horror movies or a thriller. His look is more psychological ».
Many times has taken the filmography of Sam Mendes (in the picture) since he appeared in Hollywood in style with "American Beauty" (1999). From the hand of the now banished Kevin Spacey, the director was going to win the Oscar for Best Direction with his debut opera. His career would continue to be linked to the history of America with other titles such as "Road to Perdition" (2002) and "Revolutionary Road" (2008). Until in 2012 he gave another twist to his production: the James Bond saga knocked on his door and he was going to be the head of the two following secret agent titles: "Skyfall" and "Specter", both with Daniel Craig and, in the first one, with Javier Bardem. Now, change again to bet on war cinema. Specifically, for the First World War. A conflict that in the words of the British has always been linked to his family and his grandfather, the person who transmitted the memories of the time.