December 20, 2012 by Mithil
For far too long I have regretted missing out on this movie at IFFI, so i made a pact to myself to watch this in any way possible. Fortunately i did and stroked another one in my long list of world war II movies.
Calm at sea or La mer à l’aube is movie post start of WWII in Nazi occupied France. Its the period when the communist leaders and Jews are confined in special camps in fear of cooking a mutiny against the Nazis. At the peak of this troubled times, a certain German officer gets assassinated by the French rebels. To avenge the murder of his colleague and instill deep fear into the minds of French people Hitler orders the executions of 150 french captives with immediate effect. This causes a brouhaha among the French administration as their conscience cannot repress the horror and livid reaction the people will verbalize. But Nazis refuse to budge and therein starts the genesis of a list bearing the name of 150 french captives involving a 17 year old kid named Guy.
On paper this movie looks like any other WWII tragedy, but the whole point is on the brutality of the crime or the oppression of the dictator. Although that is significant, it is purposely and largely set back in the background. Most of the times the scenes oscillate between the captive camp and french administration office. The first few minutes are passable but the calamity strikes with the mention of executions. You can just feel the repugnance painted on the faces of french administrators when they are notified about Hitler’s intentions. In that moment of silence they gasp and try to articulate the words they wish they never had to hear to. Then there is the scene where the priest asks the people to be executed to write down their last words to beloved. Then the sounds starts to echo from their letters and develops special ambiance of affection that is very rare in movies. Also a very memorable scene when the names are being called out and the camera is being kept in such a way that ones the name is said one can see the man arising from the huddled lot, grabbing his coat and walking out for the execution. Whether the executions happen or don’t is for you guys to see but the tension build up is so profound that it leaves a unique mark. There are also some very good conversation between officers especially the ones with Ernst Jünger.
Although the major portion of the movie dwells on the grim subject, there are some stories well incorporated to give a more pleasant view. The story of Guy and Odette can be identified easily while that of Claude who is due to be released and no longer a prisoner on the day of execution is gut-wrenching. Although it seems the movie is filled with gloomy scenes, the seriousness of the movie is more subtle thus helping in restricting the emotion and not be over-sentimental. The work done by Volker Schlöndorff is to be lauded on every level, be it direction or screen play.
An overall winner if you are into serious drama movies and excellent if you love watching WWII movies.