Thursday, February 15, 2018

In short: One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942)

World War II. The crew of a British bomber damaged while bombing the Daimler factory in Stuttgart has to bail over Holland. They have to make their way through the occupied country to reach the North Sea. Fortunately, the Dutch – at least in the movie, I don’t know enough about resistance against the Nazis in the Netherlands to comment on how truthful the film is – have developed various ways to sabotage the works of the Nazis, and are happy to help the British along. Once they’ve found proof the protagonists are indeed British and not a Nazi plan to find resistance cells.

Leave it to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (here both credited as directors and writers) to make a propaganda movie that still holds up decades later – and it’s not even their only one.

One of the things that distinguishes all of the Archers’ wartime films is their lack of hatred. It’s not that you could ever confuse them with fascist sympathizers, but the Germans in their films are usually recognizable as people, if people fighting for the worst of causes. In this particular case, there really aren’t any Germans on screen as characters, the film focuses on the bomber crew and the Dutch resistance, as mostly embodied in women (all played by British actresses, by the way). That these women are portrayed as eminently capable, intelligent and morally upright – the couple of big patriotic speeches here are given to them – is a particularly fascinating aspect of the film when looked upon from a time 75 years later when there are  still men so frightened of women doing important things in their entertainment they feel the pressing need to make cuts of popular space operas devoid of women. Powell and Pressburger obviously met actual women.

In general, One of Our Aircraft has a consciously mundane tone that makes the moments of pathos and the eminently effective suspense sequences all the more believable. This isn’t just a film about people being resistant to evil, but one about people being resistant to evil while still living their lives as much as it is possible as part of their resistance, as disturbed as these lives may be through war. This adds up wonderfully with the film’s general interest in small gestures, actors suggesting swathes of emotion mostly through looks, and does of course fit nicely with the mythical stiff upper lip the film not so much preaches for as shows practiced. Most heroism here is of the quiet sort; that doesn’t mean it isn’t still heroism.

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