|M O V I E R E V I E W B Y C R I S S A - J E A N C H A P P E L L|
All sunsets are frauds. Just the illusion of a miracle. Some believe the
colors contain lithium. That's why it feels good to study the day's demise.
The same could be said of children. Do they ever really grow old? Or have
they entered the world with secret wisdom forgotten in time?
Today's youth-oriented culture prays at the teen altar. From the slippery
pages of fashion magazines, a swarm of children glower back at us--their sleek
bodies devoid of curves, their bony faces devoid of emotion. On television,
they suffer the same woes as adults. During commercials, they drape
themselves over cars (which they cannot drive) or grown-up toys, such as cell
phones (which they cannot afford), and explain how we might imitate their
fleeting style. These uber-teens disguise themselves in various costumes. We
can make them into anything we want. But rarely do they appear in their
natural state--which is little more than human.
Tim Roth's directorial debut, The War Zone, (adapted from the brave and controversial book by fellow Brit Alexander Stuart) deftly tackles a
delicate topic that filmmakers have frequently romanticized--the dilemma of
incest. So often, in their never-ending quest for titillating material,
directors have turned to sexual relations between parents and children. Why
should this come as a surprise? As teenagers (particularly young girls) grow
more and more sexualized by the media, it only makes sense that incest has
adapted a new-sprung aura of mystique.
|Lara Belmont as Jessie|
The Victorians, in spite of their prudish reputation, had a special fondness
for the subject (take Byron's epic poem "Manfred," for example). They
considered it a near-perfect form of sexual expression (best manifested
between siblings) because it represented a type of self-love. Recent
filmmakers could've taken cues from their 19th century counterparts.
Suddenly, incest doesn't seem so terrible. Atom Egoyan lensed a soft-focus
love scene between a dashing dad and his all-too-willing daughter in The
Sweet Hereafter. A teenaged son fantasizes about his voluptuous mother in
David O. Russell's hilarious satire Spanking the Monkey. Many films have
made use of incest for specific purposes (whether in jest or social
commentary) but few have successfully captured the brutal ugliness of sexual
abuse. Why? Because film is a visual medium--which makes it difficult to film
something as atrocious as rape without lending it a "sexy" gloss.
|Lara Belmont and Ray Winstone|
The War Zone manages to sidestep this common error with graceful ease. It
begins on the battlefield of the family home. Tom (Freddie Cunliffe), with
his spotty, fish-colored complexion and doomy demeanor, is hardly anyone's
depiction of an ideal teenage male. He suspects that his promiscuous older
sister, Jessie (Lara Belmont), is hoarding a loathsome secret. Tensions are
further elevated in scenes underscoring casual semi-nakedness in the
household. While cameras are usually considered "masculine" and
"heterosexual" in their hungry depiction of femalehood, the lens that settles
on Tom's very pregnant mother (the remarkable Tilda Swinton, known for
playing male and female roles in Orlando) is stark and unflattering
(translation: unsexy). Women's bodies are depicted in various stages of life
(from the newborn baby stained in sickness; to the expectant mother, swollen
with life; to the beautiful teen girl whose all-too-womanly breasts are
peppered with cigarette scorches).
So much in the film is conveyed with little dialogue (credited to Stuart's spare, minimalist script) that every gesture, every gaze weighs heavily.
(And since the film is directed by an actor, what else could we expect?)
Seamus McGarvey's surreal cinematography permeates everything with
greenish-blue tones, as if filming underwater. This suits the self-enclosed
atmosphere, making the characters and their problems seem isolated from the
rest of the world (also hinted by the lack of visible technology in the
household, such as TVs or radios).
"I felt sorry for the kids," said Roth at the Ft. Lauderdale film festival
last November (the "kids" in question being his thespian newcomers). Because
the characters' anguish is so horrific, it registers as inexpressible.
Belmont (who bears a surprising resemblance to Swinton) commands attention
with every subtle movement. The memory of pain constantly pulsates behind her
washed-out eyes. Cunliffe is a courageous presence, always on the edge of
explosion, yet emotionally straitjacketed. In an early scene, the family
peels down a country road, racing to the hospital. As his mother lapses into
labor, her shrieks racking the car, Tom pops his head through the sunroof,
seemingly oblivious to all but the windswept landscape (the sort that appear
in romantic poems by Sir Walter Scott). Even the foamy sea seems hard-edged
and dangerous, as if the waves could hack a person in half. Nature is cruel,
but crueler are the unnatural acts committed by our fellow human beings.
There are no sunsets. There are no secrets known to babies. There are no
|Freddie Conliffe as Tom|
[rating: 3 of 4 stars]
Movie Web site: THE WAR ZONE
Photos: (© Lot 47 Films. All rights reserved.)