Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Requiem from World War I. FILM: REVIEW. `Trench Poet' Wilfred Owen's Ordeal Recalled in a Regretful, Melancholy Movie

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Requiem from World War I. FILM: REVIEW. `Trench Poet' Wilfred Owen's Ordeal Recalled in a Regretful, Melancholy Movie

Article excerpt

ALL over the world, moviemaking means storytelling. Audiences expect a lively yarn - or at least an interesting one - every time they walk into a theater, and the vast majority of film directors think of narrative as their most important stock in trade.

An exception to this widespread rule is Derek Jarman, who'd rather weave a web of stimulating images than spin a conventional yarn. This attitude isn't rare among "experimental" filmmakers working on the fringe of commercial cinema, but it's unheard-of among widely celebrated moviemakers. And that's exactly what Mr. Jarman is: the most well-known and talked-about British director of his generation, despite his disdain for popular storytelling.

Jarman's career took another step forward at the recent Berlin Film Festival, where his eagerly awaited "War Requiem" was one of the hottest tickets around. When screened, it met with mixed reactions from festival patrons, including critics and ordinary moviegoers. Yet at least three qualities marked it as a major event: its visual boldness, its openly musical structure, and its success at communicating a deeply felt message without relying on the narrative formulas of mainstream cinema. Equally refreshing is its proud awareness of 20th-century high culture - from the music of Benjamin Britten, which provides the score for the film, to the poetry of Wilfred Owen, whose life inspired much of it.

"War Requiem" begins when a man known only as the Old Soldier is wheeled away from a hospital where he has spent much of his life in a "war scarred" condition. Played by no less a tragedian than Laurence Olivier, he represents the aged veteran that Wilfred Owen, a "trench poet" during World War I, might have become if he hadn't died in combat when 25 years old. As the strains of Britten's "War Requiem" fill the sound track, the film turns into an extended fantasy of this old man, who recalls a youthful love affair in a quiet English village as well as the horrors of war to which he was later subjected. …

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