Volhynia

Volhynia

The region known as Volhynia is not obvious on most maps of Europe. It is remembered in the name of the Volyn Oblast in Ukraine. The region’s boundaries are vague, but today it is somewhere between northwestern Ukraine, southwestern Belarus and southeastern Poland. Before Ukraine gained its independence, it was ruled by the Soviet Union. Before World War II, Volhynia was the southeastern fringe of the Second Polish Republic. It is a region historically populated by Poles, Ukrainians and Jews. During World War II, it descended into a nightmare not unlike what became of Yugoslavia after its dissolution in the 1990s. Ukrainian nationalists slaughtered Poles, and the Poles retaliated in kind.

Volhynia (in Polish Wołyń, on Amazon in English as Hatred, derived from the short-story collection by Stanisław Srokowski on which the movie is based) is a 2016 Polish war drama directed by Wojciech Smarzowski, which dramatizes that awful period in the region’s history.

It is a film that begins, strangely enough, quite happily, with a wedding. There is much singing and dancing and general merriment. Making this even more hopeful is the fact that it is a wedding between a Polish girl and a Ukrainian boy. A Ukrainian priest talks of tolerance. The sister of the bride, Zofia — the main character — is in love with another Ukrainian boy, but her father has decided she is to marry an older Polish municipal authority. Even so, she continues to dally with her beau.

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The Bridges at Toko-Ri

The Bridges at Toko-Ri

Korea was the first slugfest of the Cold War. It was where capitalism and communism had their first conflict on open ground, rather than through covert means such as in Greece and Iran. In America, it is something of a forgotten war, overshadowed by World War II before it and Vietnam after it.

James Michener, known for his epic historical novels, was a journalist during the war (and elsewhere; his experiences in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution were the basis for The Bridge at Andau, reviewed here). He draws on that journalistic skill in his 1953 novella The Bridges at Toko-Ri.

The book is about the toll war takes on people, on servicemen and their families. It revolves around naval aviators based on an aircraft carrier off the coast of the peninsula, tasked with destroying the titular bridges.

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Black and White in Color

Black and White in Color

In the English-speaking world, there is a consensus about how to depict the First World War in film. It is grotty. It is dark. It is miserable. It is madness. It is absolutely, positively pointless, a tragic waste of human life from which the modern world emerged. This magazine has reviewed several films like that. None of them tried to be funny about it.

The 1976 French-Ivorian coproduction Black and White in Color (originally titled La Victoire en chantant, for a famous French war song) is different. Perhaps only the country most victimized by the war could satirize it so savagely; Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick’s antiwar film, wasn’t shown in France due to backlash from veterans.

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The Ghazi Attack

The Ghazi Attack

Western audiences tend to give short shrift to Indian cinema. When we think of films from the country, we imagine massive Bollywood extravaganzas with strangely written romances and oddly placed songs (by our standards, of course; India has different norms than we do). But Indian film is far more diverse. Submarine buffs will be interested in the 2017 war movie The Ghazi Attack, directed by Sankalp Reddy.

The film is set during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, an intervention by Indira Gandhi into Pakistan’s genocidal war against the breakaway province now known as Bangladesh. Bangladeshi refugees poured into India, spurring the latter into war. The Ghazi Attack dramatizes the sinking of the Pakistani submarine Ghazi. The result is a subcontinental take on The Hunt for Red October.

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Kruty 1918

Kruty 1918

When the Russian Empire collapsed in 1917, it gave various nations a taste of freedom they hadn’t enjoyed in decades or even centuries.

One such nation was the Ukrainian People’s Republic, which existed only a few years before the Red Army came to reinstate Russian rule, this time under the hammer and sickle. It is in this brief interlude that the 2018 film Kruty 1918, directed by Aleksey Shaparev, takes place.

The film is clearly a metaphor for the Russian invasion of Ukraine in our own century. It begins and ends with a veteran of the ongoing war at a monument to the dead at the Battle of Kruty. It is a film that is in its own way deeply nationalistic, for good and for ill.

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Catch-22

Catch-22

Ever since I read it my senior year of high school, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 has been one of my favorite novels. It is a farce of bureaucracy, and as life becomes more and more bureaucratized, more and more people find themselves neck deep in this farce. It is a book that describes that unmooring, niggling internal monologue of “this is cruel and insane and it kills people and it could be changed so WHY ARE WE STILL DOING IT?!” that permeates so much of life in the twenty-first century. I quite enjoyed the 1970 film adaptation, and was excited to see how the 2019 miniseries would work out.

The series is overall quite faithful to the book. Many incidents are taken straight from the pages of the novel, and some are all the more impactful now that we can see, rather than imagine, them. I know that sounds trite, but it is one experience to read about a reckless pilot, McWatt, accidentally killing Kid Sampson; it is another to see the propeller of the plane scatter human gore across McWatt’s cockpit and then the explosion when he rams his plane into a mountain to atone for his crimes.

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White Sun of the Desert

White Sun of the Desert

As an American, I remember being surprised to learn how impactful Westerns have been outside my homeland. It’s a genre that is quintessentially based on American history, but one that has gained currency abroad, particularly in Italy. Quasi-Westerns have also been made in Australia, China and South Africa.

Here I’d like to discuss a “Red Western”: Vladimir Motyl’s 1970 White Sun in the Desert. It’s a film much like American Westerns, but set in what is now Turkmenistan during the Russian Civil War.

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Weird World War IV

Weird World War IV

Albert Einstein once said he expected World War IV to be fought with “sticks and stones”. It feels lunatic to suggest there could be a fourth world war. Wouldn’t the third blow us all to Kingdom Come?

In defiance of that hesitation, Sean Patrick Hazlett has edited yet another anthology of speculative fiction based on the conceit of a world war, and that is Weird World War IV, published by Baen Books.

Much like the previous anthology, Weird World War III (review here), the stories run the gamut from hard science fiction to pulpier science fiction to open fantasy. Unlike the last book, all of these stories, as far as I can tell, are set in the future; there is none of the alternate history that played with last century’s fears of nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. This was mildly disappointing to me as an alternate-history fan, but in any case, it’s a solid science-fiction anthology.

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At Night All Blood Is Black

At Night All Blood is Black

Our image of the First World War is dominated by Europeans and their descendants. Trench warfare, as portrayed in books like All Quiet on the Western Front, is shown as fought by Americans, British, French and Germans.

Those European countries, however, were also imperial powers, with many subject peoples made to contribute thousands of men to the war effort. One recent novel does not overlook them: David Diop’s At Night All Blood Is Black, translated into English by Anna Moschovakis.

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The Eight Hundred

The Eight Hundred

Few may have expected that the second-highest grossing film of 2020 (and the highest-grossing live-action film; the first was an anime from Japan) would be Chinese. The Chinese market is so enormous that its filmmakers can focus on their domestic audience and still make good money. The COVID-19 pandemic’s shuttering of so much of Hollywood gave The Eight Hundred a global boost.

Does the film hold up?

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