Film Movement, which operates the uber-fantabulous independent foreign Film of the Month Club that is an Unreal TV favorite, honors the true spirit of the holiday film season by releasing the epic 2012 European production "Lines of Wellington" on November 25, 2014. It seems that the Peter Jackson Middle Earth productions are the well-produced dregs of a period in which multiplexes were chock full of big-budget spectaculars in the latter half of December.
Visually, this film about the impact of Napoleon's army trekking through Portugal is both stunning and compelling. The opening scenes of the aftermath of a battle get you hooked, and the rest of the cinematography keeps you focused until the final scenes of the period following the climatic battle towards which the entire film moves (no pun intended).
On a deeper level, the general (no pun intended) story of the Portuguese, British, and French armies moving toward their critical showdown and the Portuguese civilians who both literally see their homes and land destroyed and must flee ahead of an invading army evokes strong feelings of the very similar events during The Great War and especially WWII.
Filmmaker Valeria Sarmiento, for whom the personal aspects of "Wellington" include he own experience with exile and finishing this project of her late husband Raul Ruiz, further does an incredible job putting human faces on these epic events.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Wellington" nicely recaps the themes of the film and showcases the artistry of the production.
Much of the film focuses on intrepid Portuguese Lieutenant Pedro de Alencar, who heroically struggles to rejoin the action while literally having a bullet lodged in his noggin through much of this trek. One of his most entertaining adventures during this journey involves obtaining refuge at the home of an unhappy noblewoman at the same time that the daughter of this one-percenter is "entertaining" a French officer in the palatial abode.
The titular military leader, played by the always-spectacular John Malkovich, also gets ample screen time. Malkovich's portrayal of his character as a perfect example of a pompous ass adds both a wonderful human quality to that historic figure and great humor to the film. A scene in which Wellington describes the culinary creation that bears his name is must-see.
Other characters who travel with the armies or simply wander the countryside add additional human elements. There is the very recent war widow, the proverbial tough but good-hearted (and much sought-after) prostitute, the entrepreneur who manages to maintain a good stock of merchandise, the young boy caught up in all this, the deserters, etc.
Keeping the action going and the depictions of war realistic also avoids the pitfalls of more traditional period pieces set during large-scale armed conflicts. No one is particularly stalwart, most uniforms and other garments do not look as if they just came from the dry cleaners, and battle is not glorified. You almost truly sense that "you are there."
All of this makes this candy-coated history lesson very enjoyable. Many of us do not know much about these events, and seeing it portrayed by a cast full of actors the caliber of Malkovich, Catherine Deneuve, and Isabelle Huppert is beyond awesome. Students facing European history finals likely will find the film to be a great study aid.
The extra feature consists of a "making of " documentary of this epic.
There is no reason that your (often humble) reviewer did not watch the bonus short film "Two Laps" that Movement includes in this two-disc set other than being very busy timely watching and reviewing copious holiday-season DVD releases. The perfect track record of Movement regarding these films allows confidently predicting that this Australian story of a highly competitive swimming race meets the standard of excellence that Movement always meets.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Wellington" is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.