Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—City of Life and Death (2011) ****

R, 132 min.
Director/Writer: Chuan Lu
Starring: Hideo Nakaizumi, Yuanyuan Gao, Wei Fan, Ryu Kohata, Lan Qin, Yiyan Jiang, Di Yao, John Paisley, Yuko Miyamoto, Ye Lui, Bin Lui

Chuan Lu’s “City of Life and Death” is an intimate examination of one of history’s greatest war atrocities, the 1937 Rape of Nanking. To this day, the treatment of Chinese refugees by Japanese soldiers after the fall of Nanking is a point of acrimony between the two countries. The film shows us unblinkingly why.

Shot in stunning black and white, Lu has crafted a movie that you can’t help but walk away from wondering how people could be so cruel to each other. The black and white photography in combination with the story point that the Chinese refugees had a German who was a member of the Nazi party trying to help them draws parallels to Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”. John Rabe did not succeed as grandly as Oscar Schindler in his efforts to save these war refugees, and this is not Rabe’s story, which makes “City of Life and Death” a far less hopeful movie than Spielberg’s masterpiece. “City” is a masterpiece in depicting the darkest depths of humanity, rather than showing a shining light in a dark place.

Francois Truffaut said that there was no such thing as an anti-war movie. He hadn’t seen “City of Life and Death”, which may be more accurately titled “City of Death”. Few war movies have made me think, “please stop,” in the same way this one has. That’s not to say I wasn’t still compulsively inspired to watch.  The performances are compassionate and compelling. This subject matter is of the utmost importance for people to know about. This is one of the darkest movies of the year and one of the most important.

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