Anthropoid Review

Thank the film reels that summer is over. I must be sounding like a stuck record, but I’m genuinely happy that I don’t have to sit through any rubbish blockbusters or jokeless comedies for a while. Now the films will be Oscarbait, so even if some will be asinine art installations, we will get some absolute gems as compensation. And now, the opening act.

Anthropoid stars Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Toby Jones and Charlotte Le Bon and is directed by Sean Ellis. The story follows the true story of two Czech Resistance members (Murphy and Dornan) during the Second World War, as they attempt to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the “Butcher Of Prague”.

The set-up of the film really intrigued me. So many war films seem to only focus on the European Theatre of WW2, and then restricting that down to D-Day and onwards. There are so many other battles, such as the attacks in Asia or Eastern Europe that many films don’t focus on (That’s why I intensely liked The Railway Man for focussing on the former). The Czech Resistance is an unexplored time period, so it would bring something fresh to the film.

The actors are excellent in their roles. Jamie Dornan, who is probably most known for his leading role in Fifty Shades Of Grey shows that he isn’t just a set of abs, with a character that is in the position of never being in a combat zone, and having to come to terms with the knowledge he may have to kill to survive. Cillian Murphy does his usual vacated role, a man who is a little too into being able to murder anyone who gets in his way. Both actors, as well as the rest of the cast sport Czech accents, which while sometimes are a little hard to understand, fit into the world and give it a nice sense of believability. This is heightened by the occupying Nazi’s all speaking German, so we, just like the main characters, are lost when talking to the occupiers.

The film is mainly the planning of the assassination attempt and the aftermath, with the assassination mainly being, at most, five minutes of the film. For those wanting an action-heavy WW2 film, this is not it. The film relies more on the tense atmosphere, the sneaking around, passing slips of paper under the cover of darkness knowing any moment the army might crash through the door. It’s excellent at creating that environment, knowing when to release or heighten the tension. The assassination scene is a highlight of the film, with an almost montage effect, splitting between the various members of the hit squad, waiting for their time to strike.

The film is lent more to the slow-build crowd, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t action segments. The assassination sequence, as well as the finale, are great recent example of how to do shaky camera well. Grenades are going off, gunfire is peppering the scenery, and the camera conveys it without being obnoxious. The final fight hits a watermark of emotion-driven drama, as we realise the limited ammunition the characters have and the unending waves of Nazi troops camped outside their safe house. It’s similar to films like Calvary or 300 (without the weird goatmen), where you realise that our protagonists might not make it out of the story in one piece.

The one part I wasn’t invested in however, was a small romance plot near the beginning. To solidify their cover stories, Murphy and Dornan start to date two Czech girls, allowing them to walk around Prague without the Nazi’s questioning them. The romance plot is not fleshed out, with Dornan and Murphy seemingly falling in love in mere minutes. The romance is meant to grow over a few months, but the time scale in the film makes it seem much sooner. It’s probably to fit the film under two hours, but it bugged me a little.

With Anthropoid, Oscar Season is off to a flying start. This is one to see, just so you can be smug to all your friends when it gets nominated.

Score: 9/10 A tense and stark reminder of the sacrifices of war.

Alois Nebel Review

Preface

I was once doing some research for my film studies course and came across a film trailer for a Czech film called Alois Nebel. I noted it down for further research later and promptly forgot about it. A week ago I was looking through my old work and came across the name once again and so decided to try and find a copy to watch. And now, the review.

Review

Alois Nebel stars Miroslav Krobot, Marie Ludvikova and Karel Roden and is directed by Tomas Lunak. Based on the comic book trilogy of the same name, the film follows train dispatcher Alois Nebel during the 1980s in Czechoslovakia, where hallucinations of the dark past he witnessed seems to seep into his present.

First of all, Alois Nebel is gorgeous. Instead of traditional animation being used, rotoscoping was employed to create the visuals. For anyone who doesn’t know, rotoscoping is when and animator draws over a live-action performance. It is beautifully created here; it makes the animation look realistic, to the point where some scenes come scarily close to the uncanny valley. There were several times during the film where I forgot I was watching an animation due to the craftsmanship at work.

The animation allows for some beautifully crafted shots throughout Alois Nebel. Sweeping shots of Prague Central Train Station and the fireworks above it on New Years Eve, or wide shots of manor estates during the winter are executed brilliantly, and with meticulous attention to detail. Even Nebel’s small station on the Czech-Polish border is designed to precision, giving the small location so much character.

The animation, along with the stark black and white contrast of the film emphasizes the desolate atmosphere of the Czechoslovakian countryside that we see throughout the film. The opening chase scene in a dense forest, or later in the film where we see the the howling wind accompanied by the falling rain or snow, Alois Nebel is one of the few films that creates a sense of being truly alone, with nothing but nature surrounding you on all sides.

The story is split between Nebel’s present, the 1980s and then ending of the Soviet Union and fleeting scenes of his childhood at the latter end of 1945. You might want to look up on your Eastern European history before you watch, because I became a bit lost at what was happening during the frequent flashbacks. Understanding what is happening in these flashbacks is the key to understanding the beginning, the ending and the strange character known as The Mute, who slips in and out of the story like a ghost.

The film does have its fair share of unsettling scenes. Several brutal scenes of electroshock therapy are explicitly shown during the film, as well as a bloody axe murder during the closing scenes. These scenes however are gone as quickly as they turn up, meaning we only get brief flashes of brutality before we are transported off to the next scene.

In summary, Alois Nebel is a beautifully crafted film. While the story may confuse a few, if you work it out you will find a deeply dark yet human story about a lonely man finding purpose and love in a desolate and chaotic time. If you’re bored of animation being family-friendly films with talking animals as it’s main characters and are looking for something with a bit more drama, Alois Nebel is a fine choice.

Score: 7/10 Nearly flawlessly created, a great effort for a first time director