Prisoners of the War | Movie Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Prisoners of the War 

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This 1995 film by Italians Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi is, like their others, compiled from footage taken in cinema's first decades--in this case during World War I. Searching archives in Russia, Austria, and Hungary, they located film that shows camps for prisoners of war and orphans; we see little actual fighting. Each scene is tinted--the color apparently chosen, as was the case in many silent movies, to reflect the content or mood of the subject matter. While the original score, based on melodies from the countries of middle Europe, is sometimes irritating (what does it have to do with the images?), it suits the leisurely pace of the editing, and as such can be strangely affecting. Much of the footage is in relatively long takes, single master shots without alternative camera angles. The filmmakers cut the film together as if telling a story--even though the characters change from shot to shot--thereby creating the illusion of narrative progression. The dearth of multiple views within scenes and the color tinting give the imagery a tableaulike feel that accentuates our distance from it. While at times the film seems in danger of overaestheticizing, the strength of the material always comes through, and the ending, in which the digging of a mass grave is followed by a cannon firing, provides a gentle reminder of the horrors of this time. Ultimately the film centers on one of photography's--and cinema's--great themes: one can never truly know another place and time just by seeing images of it. Kino-Eye Cinema at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division, Friday, January 10, 8:00, 773-384-5533. --Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.

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