Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ned med Vaabnene! / Lay Down Your Arms!


Mariann Lewinsky (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "This chapter, dedicated to the War of 1914-1918, consists of four anti-war films, plus Addio Giovinezza!, remade in 1918 in commemoration of the author and film director Nino Oxilia, killed in the war at the age of 28."

"“Religion is no justification for the stake, nor patriotism for mass murder, nor science for the torture of animals.” This quote by Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914; Nobel Peace Prize 1905) is a message from the progressive 19th century. Her novel Die Waffen nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms!, 1889) was translated into twenty-seven languages, and Suttner became a leading figure of the international peace movement, fighting for disarmament and the establishment of International Courts of Arbitration."

"The pacifists’ aim was – then, as now – that conflicts be resolved through negotiations, so wars would no longer occur. The occupation of Libya by Italy in 1911-1912 was the first war to be covered systematically by the cinema, with Cines producing blueprints for propaganda documentaries and dramas that have since been remade countless times."

"(If I were granted three wishes, one of them would be the total ban of the colonialist rescue plot from cultural production, starting with Cabiria.) For films and newsreels from the the so-called
“Great War”, consult the hundreds of hours now accessible on the European Film Gateway website. If you want to learn what really happened, try autobiographies." Mariann Lewinsky (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

[Giù le armi!]. DK 1914. D: Holger-Madsen. Based on the novel by Bertha von Suttner (1889). SC: C. Th. Dreyer. DP: Marius Clausen. C: Philip Bech (Grev von Althaus), Augusta Blad (Martha), Johanne Fritz-Petersen (Rosa), Alf Blütecher (Arno von Dotzky), Olaf Fønss (Fr. von Tilling). P: Nordisk Films Kompagni. [2K?] DCP. 65’. B&w. From: Det Danske Filminstitutt.
    The novel was translated into Finnish as Aseet pois by Alli Nissinen (Helsinki: Otava, 1895).
    Presented by Mariann Lewinsky. Grand piano: Maud Nelissen.
    Viewed at Cinema Lumière - Sala Mastroianni, with e-subtitles in Italian and English (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 29 June 2014

Madeleine Bernstorff: "The Danish anti-war film Ned med Vaabnene! was to be premiered at the Third International Peace Conference in Vienna in September 1914. Nordisk had acquired the rights to Suttner’s bestseller, and Carl Th. Dreyer wrote the script for director Holger-Madsen."

"The film’s prologue, showing Suttner at her desk in Vienna, was shot in April 1914, shortly before her death that June. Ned med Vaabnene! depicts an officer’s family and the growing consciousness of the protagonist, Martha von Althaus, for the pacifist cause; it presents impressive war scenes and tableaux of wounded soldiers. As predicted by Suttner, the film was banned in several countries by
the censors. In Germany it was only released during the November Revolution of 1918-19, when for two short months some distributors sympathized with the strong anti-war sentiments of the Revolution and handled such topics, with the slogan “new films for new times”." (Madeleine Bernstorff, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website).

AA: We cinephiles are proud of the many anti-war films made by high profile artists, and there is a special status of pride for the major anti-war features made even before WWI started. Alfred Machin's Maudite soit la guerre (1914) is one of them, and Ned med Vaabnene! is another.

The priceless Bertha Suttner vignette is seen first: the formidable lady working in her study, a few months before her death, and before the start of the world war. The "dramatis personae" credit sequence is charming, with further vignettes of the leading players in character, at their little routines, and with children at play.

Soon the borderline between play and reality starts to blur. The little son is celebrating his birthday party dressed as a drummer boy, equipped with toy guns. Later on there is a more alarming scene where the little boy "plays war" with the family dog, harassing it cruelly. The family is military, the father Arno von Dotzky is a soldier, there is a war, and soon the father is no more. The country is unnamed, but it might be Austria. The action is undated, but there are contemporary cars. The shooting locations might include Copenhagen and Denmark more generally.

Martha, who has become a pacifist (she pointedly refuses to toast yet another war), remarries after four years, yet again with an officer, Friedrich von Tilling. In the new war Friedrich is severely wounded, but after thrilling experiences he returns safely home.

The tragedy does not end there. A cholera epidemic, another consequence of the war, breaks out and enters the family house. First, the maid, then the sister Rosa perish. Rosa's fiancé is despaired. The final declaration of the military family, now turned pacifist: down with weapons!

The story is told mainly in the early cinema mode with long takes, long shots, and deep focus. There are fluent pans and tracking shots (including forward and backward tracking shots), three-shots and medium shots.

The sense of composition is strong and memorable: the Red Cross barn being blown up by the enemy, the long takes of the dozens of wounded soldiers, the shot from the top of the moving train the roof of which is full of wounded ones, and the final tableau of the pacifist handshake.

This is an epic film in which the scenes of war and its aftermath convey its horror convincingly. We see the infantry, the cavalry, and the artillery in action.

The performances are largely restrained, but towards the end I paid attention to moments of overacting. Holger-Madsen was a talented director, but there are also clumsy aspects in this film.

One can appreciate the fine definition of light of the cinematographer Marius Clausen in this screening. The source material has often been good, with occasional instances of damage in the source. The speed feels natural, and the DCP has been produced well.

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