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It was 1918 and World War I was coming to an end even though it definitely didn’t look like that. The human and material resources that would be sent by the United States and would eventually help ending the conflict wasn’t fully deployed yet, and the European trenches were witnessing the so called Spring Offensive; during which both Allies and Germans were trying to gain as much terrain as possible. In a dugout in Aisne, the British army was sending different battalions to defend a crucial point of the French geography. Each battalion had to stay in the dugout for a week until the next one would replace them. Journey’s End (2017, Saul Dibb) tells the story of one of those groups of brave young men.
As brilliantly described by the director, Journey’s End is not at film about men at war. It is a film about men at war with themselves. As the most terrible enemy for a soldier is not another soldier but time: the anticipation of the unavoidable and the several ways of dealing with that while your friends keep dying around you without completely losing your mind. Therefore, Gibb’s film (one of the many adaptations of R. C. Sheriff’s 1928 play) dwells on character. One example of that would be that the enemy, the Boches (pejorative term used for German soldiers during World War I), don’t really take part of the story.
The only German face we see is the young man taken prisoner by the main characters during the raid that will change it all; and he may have three seconds of screen time tops. At the end of the film we see two more German soldiers but their faces are concealed beneath their gas masks so, dehumanisation aside, they are not what’s important in this story. How each individual deals with his own time and sanity before what well may be his end is what this sad and beautiful movie reflects upon.
With a priceless cast (Paul Bettany, Toby Jones, Stephen Graham amongst others); a completely gripping sound design; the magnificent camera work of Laurie Rosa (Peaky Blinders) and a strong and very human (and British) story, Journey’s end is undoubtedly one of the best films about men at war (with themselves) of the recent years.
The movie will be released on the 2nd of February this year in British and Irish theatres.
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