A heavy-handed thing to say, but that's what Jean-Luc Godard proclaimed upon seeing this film at the Cannes Film Festival. The French knew it long before we did: Nicholas Ray was one of the most original and wisest directors to ever make films. He took a French anti-war book and he made it into a film that was so much more than that. Unlike his previous routine assignment to confirm his allegiance to Howard Hughes during the Red Scare FLYING LEATHERNECKS, there are more layers that stretch far beyond the sea of sand that cast Richard Burton and Curt Jurgens away from society. Unlike most war films of its time and like almost every film Ray ever made, the conflict lies not in the battles between the nations, but inside the hearts of the film's protagonists.
The brooding Richard Burton is given a great role as disillusioned soldier Captain James Leith, forced to carry out an assignment with Major Brand, a man he dislikes (the feeling is mutual--Leith had an affair with Brand's wife Jane a few years back, and the desire still lingers on, showing Leith's last trace of humanity). Their assignment is to travel behind enemy lines and take some German documents. The long journey through the desert becomes even more heated as Leith reminds Brand of his cowardice (Brand hesitated to kill a German soldier during an attack) and Brand tries in subtle ways to kill Leith to cover up his cowardice. But this isn't a black and white good-guy/bad-guy caricature; there are so many shades of gray in both characters. As Leith later says, the two are almost mirror images (although he is much wiser than Brand and accepts his futility, Leith is not as strong as some might make him to be; he admits to leaving Jane because he was scared to get close to someone else--like all of Ray's anti-heroes, the ones who reject love are the ones who need it the most), possibly explaining why Brand feels compelled to kill Leith.
BITTER VICTORY wasn't the first anti-war film, but it was one of the few to make its statement so eloquently (and it had the most profound title). Too subtle to connect with American audiences (the film flopped badly at the box-office and when the studio re-cut it several times, each time farther and farther away from Nicholas Ray's original vision, it didn't work) but revered by French audiences, BITTER VICTORY has grown more potent in the decades since its release. The futility of war isn't proclaimed by the horrible violence of battle like countless films, but through the impossible absurdity of a man's role in the war. After all, if Leith "kills the living and saves the dead," what difference does it make, other than that little matter of when and what for? By the end, how is Brand any different from the training dummies with hearts painted over them? The enlightenment that Brand finds by the film's end comes too late; he's already lost what's precious to him and all he has to show for it is a DSO. It truly is a bitter victory.
Drama / War
Drama / War
In North Africa during World War II, Major David Brand is assigned to lead a British commando raid into German-held Benghazi to retrieve whatever documents they can lay their hands on at the German headquarters. His number two will be Capt. Jimmy Leith who speaks Arabic fluently and knows Benghazi well. Brand also learns that his beautiful wife Jane and Leith were lovers before the war, creating tension between the two. Brand is untested in battle and freezes at a critical moment, losing the respect of his men. After the raid, the trek back is arduous and takes its toll on the men. It also results in only one of the two senior officers surviving.
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
June 29, 2021 at 04:35 AM