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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Nuclear power is back in fashion as a means to wean Europe off Russian gas.
Not so long ago, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan convinced Germany to abandon atomic energy. Before that, the disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine gave Europe pause.
The Atom: A Love Affair shows that such ups and downs are not unusual in our 70-year relationship with this form of energy. We have been falling in and out of love with the atom since the 1950s.
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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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I will soon have a review for you of Dirty Lines, the new Dutch Netflix series about the beginning of the phone-sex industry in late 1980s Amsterdam. The first episode looked good. It reminded me of Sex Education.
If you’re looking for something closer to The Deuce, the 2017-19 American series about the sex industry in 1970s and 80s New York starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, I recommend Amsterdam Vice.
The name of both a movie and one-season drama series, which repurposed the movie as pilot, it was released in the Netherlands as Baantjer: Het Begin. It is a prequel to the long-running Dutch police procedural Baantjer, which in turn was based on the novels by former cop Albert Cornelis Baantjer. You don’t need to be familiar with either, though, to enjoy Amsterdam Vice. (I never watched the original Baantjer, nor did I read the books.)
Set in 1980, on the eve of Queen Beatrix’s coronation, the movie introduces Waldemar Torenstra as rookie cop Jurre de Cock and Tygo Gernandt as his hardened partner Tonnie Montijn. The two stumble on what appears to be a plot against the new queen when they discover a corpse floating in Amsterdam’s canals.
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The Fantastic Beasts series has been slow to pick up the pace. After a lackluster debut with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, which was an enjoyable movie but nothing groundbreaking, followed by The Crimes of Grindelwald (review here), which was thoroughly enjoyable but flawed in many ways, we now have an absolute winner in the form of the third installment, The Secrets of Dumbledore. It’s only just been released, and not yet released in some countries, so expect no spoilers in this review.
A couple of years after the events in Paris that took place in The Crimes of Grindelwald, we find an intrepid team of — in many cases slightly traumatized — heroes, trying to put a final stop to the rise and warmongering plans of Gellert Grindelwald. The role has switched from Johnny Depp to Mads Mikkelsen, just one of the many controversies surrounding this release. That said, while I personally felt that Depp made an excellent Grindelwald, Mikkelsen’s much more serious take on the role makes Grindelwald all that more menacing and threatening a villain.
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Kenneth Branagh returns as Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s world-class detective, in Death on the Nile, but unfortunately the movie doesn’t rise to the standard set by Murder on the Orient Express five years ago.
The sequel is beautifully done. Aficionados of dieselpunk and the 1930s will find plenty to like here. There are spectacular shots of the Nile, the riverboat on which most of the action takes place, and the Temples of Abu Simbel, which at the time were still located right on the water. (The complex was controversially relocated in 1968, when the construction of the Aswan High Dam raised the water level.)
Sophie Okonedo lip-syncs era-appropriate blues music by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The rest of the cast is no less impressive. Gal Gadot, of Wonder Woman fame, stars as a wealthy heiress who fears for her life. Emma Mackey, best known for portraying Maeve Wiley in the Netflix comedy-drama series Sex Education, plays her rival for the affections of Armie Hammer’s character. Readers will recognize Hammer from Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (our review here).
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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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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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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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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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