1917: Virtuoso show or empty shell? The criticism “For or Against”

Sam Mendes’ film, which plunges us into the heart of the First World War, has divided the editorial staff.

Canal + will broadcast this evening 1917, an ambitious work which had nevertheless divided Première when it was released in early 2020. Here are our “pro / con” opinions.


Before making cinema – and in parallel since – Sam Mendes is a man of the theater. Anyone who has had the good fortune to admire Cabaret, The blue room, Richard III Where The Glass Menagerie staged by him retains enthusiastic memories. By its ability to show and hear classics through an always inventive prism. But also by the variety of its tastes. On the big screen, the Mendes leg remains the same. To survey constantly different terrains. OfAmerican Beauty at Away We Go Passing by The paths of perdition, Jarhead and The Rebel Wedding, he only really failed the one time he stammered while chaining Spectrum after Sky Fall. This bias necessarily bristles those who judge an author only by the yardstick of his ability to always dig the same furrow. And this 1917 will release their gall. It follows two British soldiers assigned to an impossible mission in the hell of World War I: to bring an officer miles away a message that could prevent a deadly attack. A race against time behind enemy lines which takes the form (not necessarily quite) of a single sequence shot. Like Iñárritu with Birdman, Mendes has a sense of great fun. And like the Mexican with Emmanuel Lubezki, Mendes relies on a huge director of photography – Roger Deakins – to offer viewers beyond the suspense of his plot (will the mission go to its end and with what damage collateral?) the mischievous pleasure of looking for the seams of this unique true-false plan. All punctuated by an incalculable number of striking scenes, each of which justifies the discovery of 1917, starting with the arrival in the trenches. In the cinema as in the theater, Mendes plays with codes. He was criticized, and we will continue to do so, for being one copycat. But how can we not admire theentertainer high class? Thierry cheze

1917: how many takes were necessary for this false sequence shot?


Weird, though, this tendency of Sam Mendes to find inspiration by aping the great fashionable filmmakers. After his Sky Fall who applied to James Bond the dark treatment of Nolan’s Batman, here he is in the wheel of Cuarón and Iñárritu with his film “in one shot” (or almost). All sprinkled with Dunkirk (the “temporal” deconstruction of the war film),We have to save the soldier Ryan (the humanist discourse and the characters sent on a suicide mission) and Paths of Glory (the tracking shots in the trenches). In doing so, Mendes gives credence to this somewhat tiring contemporary idea that the sequence shot (seen as an improbable technical tour de force) is the one and only measure of what makes “great cinema”. Not that we don’t appreciate admiring a beautiful virtuoso tracking shot from time to time, but we especially like when the exercise is in the service of a vision of the world (as with the thurifera of Tarkovsky who abound today. hui) or a pure discharge of energy (as in the followers of Scorsese who have been swarming since The Freedmen). In 1917, the device runs on empty, and systematically gives the impression of working on its own advertising. Worse: it forces the viewer to look for the trick, the artifice, the welding way The rope, thus constantly diverting him from the story. It is all the more unfortunate that George MacKay is proving to be an excellent leading man, that the adventures are frankly inventive, and certain visions imagined by the cinematographer Roger Deakins properly Dantesque (the hero waking up under a night sky evoking an anteroom of hell). But we only too occasionally feel the need to tell this story vibrate here, beyond the obvious desire to impress us. Frédéric Foubert

How 007 Specter seeded the 1917 idea at Sam Mendes

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