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War Requiem (Jarman, 1989) DVD

Derek Jarman, 1989

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Film Details

Directed by Derek Jarman

Produced in 1989

Main Language - English

Countries & Regions - British Film

MovieMail's Review

Through an hour and a half of unforgettable tableaux, staged reconstructions of Wilfred Owen’s life at war and footage of worldwide conflict, Derek Jarman gives images to Benjamin Britten’s choral symphony of the same name. The film begins simply, with the tolling of a bell and a single candle flame, a flame of remembrance; it ends on a subdued note, with an ‘Amen’. In between, Britten’s music, in which the words of Owen’s poems are interwoven with the traditional Latin mass for the dead, grieves and rages against needless, futile death. The music used is the famous 1963 recording with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Britten himself, and Decca’s requirement that the recording be heard without overlaid soundtrack or effects did much to determine the look and sound of the film.

Laurence Olivier, here in his very last acting performance before his death, plays an old soldier, fumbling with his medals in the garden of a nursing home; Tilda Swinton is his nurse, but also a nurse for all soldiers and all generations. Standing over a soldier’s tomb she looses a silent scream that pierces the fabric of the film with its tormented sorrow at the endless capacity for human conflict; as the scream shakes her body, she gestures at putting out her own eyes. Must it always be like this?

Images of plenty flash into the soldiers’ minds as they are sunk in mud, while apposite juxtapositions – nurses cutting gauze into strips in the antiseptic light of a hospital contrasted with a soldier handing out bayonets in the muddy light of warfare – are precise and telling. As the soundtrack surges, one can imagine the bayonet’s rip through the flesh.

One of the soloists on the recording is the Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya. Now in her 80s, she recently took the lead role in Alexander Sokurov’s meditation on war, Alexandra, playing a woman who visits her grandson in an army camp on the frontline in the Chechen conflict. “it’s easy to destroy”, she says to a commander, “but do you know how to build?”. Hers are the words of a woman who has grown tired of the insatiability of conflict, the endless need for remembrance, and, in Owen’s words, “the pity of war”.

Anonymous on 1st November 2008
Author of 300 reviews

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Film Description

Jarman creates a visual evocation of the legendary original recording of Benjamin Britten's choral masterpiece which blended the Latin Mass of the Dead with the poignant poetry of Wilfred Owen, Britain’s greatest chronicler of the Great War. Dramatised scenes featuring an extraordinary cast are interwoven with cinematic, poetic images and harrowing archive footage which all serve to recreate the horrors of 20th century wars - the loss of innocence, the unbearable suffering, the nightmares, the tragic waste of life. Critically-acclaimed on its release, Derek Jarman's War Requiem is perhaps the visionary director’s greatest film. As a testament to the futility of war it is a unique, unforgettable poignant and haunting experience.

DVD Details

Certificate: 12

Publisher: Second Sight

Length: 92 mins

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 widescreen

Format: DVD Colour

Region: 2

Released: 10th November 2008

Cat No: 2NDVD3148

DVD Extras

  • Remastered from a new High Defintion transfer
  • Remastered audio of original Decca recording
  • The Making of War Requiem, featuring interviews with Tilda Swinton, Nathaniel Parker and Don Boyd
  • Audio commentary with producer Don Boyd.

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