Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Disappointment Of The Movie ‘Resistance’ (2012)

Last month I was pleasantly surprised to come across a DVD of the movie ‘Resistance’ (2012) in a charity shop. Given that the movie was only a few months old it was unexpected to see it, not only on sale, but having reached the charity shop stage. Given that it only showed on one screen in London on its release, perhaps I should not have been too surprised. My interest in the movie stemmed from the fact that it is a counter-factual movie, probably the first one involving British actors since ‘Fatherland’ (1994). Like that movie it was based on a successful novel, in this case, ‘Resistance’ (2007) by Owen Sheers. The movie also features Martin Sheen, a strong character actor who has been in the ‘Underworld’ and ‘Twilight’ movie series and in ‘The Damned United’ (2009) and ‘Frost/Nixon’ (2008). He is supportive of theatre and movie making in Wales which is why I imagine he became involved in ‘Resistance’ set in a Welsh valley. It also features Kimberley Nixon best known from the comedy series ‘Fresh Meat’ (2011-12) though she has no lines in the movie.

The premise of the movie is that the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944 failed and this allowed the Germans to invade Britain. By October 1944 the Germans are in control of southern England and South Wales. Birmingham and Manchester are under siege, presumably like Leningrad and Stalingrad. Sporadic fighting continues in London even though it is in theory subdued. The action, what there is of it, runs until April 1945. My first problem is that this counter-factual is highly unfeasible. Yes, it was very possible that the Germans could have defeated the Allied invasion. In doing this they may have destroyed so much Allied shipping and aircraft to allow them control of the English Channel. However, in June 1944 the Soviets were advancing into central Poland and into Romania and were at the borders of Hungary. In such a situation they would not have sent troops to Britain, but used the respite in the West to fight against the Soviets. The scenario shown in the movie must be that the Soviets have been pushed back farther East than in our world or perhaps have even sued for peace so freeing up German forces to invade Britain.

Setting aside flaws in the counter-factual, the movie as a whole has major problems. I can understand why someone passed the DVD on to a charity shop so quickly. I am tempted to dispose of it and am only grateful that at least the charity made some money out of my purchase. I have no idea how the book is written but if it is as incoherent as the movie, I am not tempted to read it. The movie sees all the men from the Welsh village leave to join the resistance. The valley is soon invaded by a tiny German unit. All the dialogue between the Germans is in German with subtitles which gives it an authentic feel. It is clear that the captain commanding the unit wants to effectively bow out of the war and seals the valley off from outside contact both for his men and the women and children remaining there. He also has a mission to locate the Mappa Mundi which is hidden in the valley something he does easily though he does not reveal this to his superiors because he does not want the SS to enter the valley to recover it.

The geography of the valley and neighbouring areas is very confused. The Welsh women are barred from going to the nearby town and it is not clear how they subsist especially as they reject the food offered by the Germans. A boy working for the resistance visits the valley and his controller, a school teacher played by Michael Sheen, escapes from Gestapo imprisonment into the valley. Sheen is only on screen in total for a couple of minutes. He is shot by the German soldiers in the valley. The boy triggers a bizarre conclusion to the movie by accidentally shooting a horse when he intended to kill one of the women who he believed was a collaborator.

Given the isolation of the setting, there is very little exploration of the counter-factual elements. The only scene where we see much at all is when a woman and one of the German soldiers visit a local farmers’ fair where we see a German marquee and blackshirts, presumably British Fascists working with the German occupiers. The relationship between the women and the Germans is fluctuating and ambivalent. The definition of collaboration used in the movie seems to be any form of fraternisation even on a diffident basis. There was no need to set the story in a counter-factual context. The themes touched on could have been done in a historical setting for example in a remote valley in Norway or the French or Italian Alps.

The key flaw of the movie, however, is how fragmented it is. Throughout it feels more like a surreal short film. It jumps arbitrarily weeks or months and shows minor incidents sometimes of just a matter of seconds. This is further confused by flashbacks from one of the women, the captain and the boy. Overall very little happens. The behaviour of the characters is largely irrational and nothing is resolved. The captain believes that one of his men who has deserted will bring other units to the valley who will slaughter all the civilians. The ‘heroine’ simply wanders off into the fog after lying to the captain that she will flee with him. We have no idea if she commits suicide or indeed goes to find her husband who may have been shot near the beginning of the movie.

As well as desultory, dreary and depressing, this movie is incoherent and weak. It is more like a video installation at an art exhibition rather than a movie. It is such a waste given how few counter-factual movies get made and it will set back popular comprehension of such movies by decades. It was really pointless, in fact even damaging to the genre that I support, to have had this movie made. I certainly regret buying it and advise you to avoid it entirely.

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