A few years back Saturday Night at the Movies received a letter from reveered author and Canadian icon, Farley Mowatt.
Mr. Mowat was responding on behalf of a concerned group of Ontarians, some of them war veterans, questioning why TVO wasn't showing films featuring the Canadian military during the Rememberance Day weekend instead of movies like Patton (1970). The answer hardly inspsires the kind of engaging conversation one might think is worthy of the question: availability. There just aren't a lot of films that deal with the Canadian military during WWII. Passchendaele (2008) was not yet made, The Wars (1983) was around but with rights held by another station, and The Devil's Brigade (1968) would be good, but it just wasn't in our library.
Canadian Troops are sorrily underplayed in Hollywood and independant cinema and perhaps that is what's worthy of conversation.
But since Mowat's letter, SNAM has been somewhat more attentive to what films are aired during the Rememberance Day weekend program. It may not always be Canadian, but it does explore the lives of those living in, during and around the war.
This year we take a look at World War II resistance fighter: the Dutch and the French.
Burt Lancaster leads a strong cast in John Frankenheimer's The Train (1964) including Paul Scofield and Jeanne Moreau. The Train is based on Rose Valland's non-fiction book "Le font de l'art", about a German officer during the last days of the war, attempting to kidnap the some of France's finest collections of artist's works: Gauguin, Renoir, Van Gogh, Manet Picasso, Degas, Miro, Cezanne, Matisse, Braque, Seurat and Utrillo.
The resistance here comes from the French who set out to stop them- them being specifically Colonel Von Waldeheim played with nasty efficiency by Scofield.
With The Train, Frankenheimer has made more of a morality tale than an action war picture, though there is no shortage of combat action, including colliding trains, in the film. The cause the resistance fighters take up is not one of freedom but of art and beauty. The irony Frankenheimer sets in place is that it seems the appreciation for artistic merit belongs to the villian, the very man attempting to steal the works. The resistance fighters seem to care little for the work and are more wrapped up in the potential theivery of their history. That lives are lost culls into question the value of human life over historic and artistic wealth.
With the Black Book (2006), director Paul Verhoeven (left) returns to the Netherlands to create this dramatic, potboiler of an action war thriller about a Dutch resistance fighter who seeks to avenge the massacre of her entire family ( a cruelty she was witness too). Director Verhoeven holds back nothing in this sometimes vicioushly savage portrayal of the inner workings of a WWII resistance movement.
Politics do play a larger role in this ambitious and entirely successful melodrama. Carice van Houten takes the lead role in this film, finding herself not only in a struggle against the Nazis but occassionally combating the in grained heirarchy and prejudices existing in the resistance movement. It's at times a very difficult film to watch for Verhoeven holds nothing back.
The Train, tough in a less visceral sense, keeps things very much in line with mid-60s action war pictures.
Incidently, Black Book does briefly employ a character who is a Canadian soldier.