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LFF - Miracle at St Anna

 Last night saw the LFF screening of Spike Lee's World War II epic, Miracle at St Anna, which follows the story of four black US soldiers who get trapped in a Tuscan village deep in Nazi territory with a marble head and a strange young boy for company.

Without giving too much away, the film opens with a mystery and then travels back in time to unravel the mystery. It’s not so much a who-done-it, as a why-done-it.  There are outstanding performances from the four leads, in particular Omar Benson Miller’s gentle giant Train who will break even the hardest of hearts, plus a great supporting cast. Pierfrancesco Favino’s performance as the tortured, resistance leader and Matteo Sciabordi’s emotionally and physically scared Boy are particular stand outs. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt provides further evidence of his potential as the intrepid young reporter determined to make a name for himself by uncovering the truth.

And while I’m still not entirely clear what the purpose of it was, I enjoyed John Luguizamo’s cameo immensely! The film covers familiar territory for Lee; what divides and unites races and people, a none-too-subtle reference to the Bush administration's treatment of terrorists (just to be clear, it's against the Geneva Convention) and a look at the struggle that African Americans have had in gaining anything like equality (during WW2 the military was segregated). But Lee has some other things that he wants to show us, chief of which is how war can bring out the absolute best and the absolute worst in those involved. We see heroes and villains everywhere, plus some incredibly violent scenes just to make it clear how horrific war is (this is not a film for the faint hearted).  What Miracle at St Anna does is to offer a new perspective on a story that has cinematically been told often, but normally from the John Wayne perspective (a nice reference Lee makes early on). Lee shows us the battles the African American soldiers had to fight during WW2, very few of which were against Nazis. As is often the case when a director has a message to get across, at times you feel bludgeoned by it – in particular I felt there were a couple of scenes which added nothing to the plot, but allowed for some nice political commentary on Lee’s behalf. But at the same time there are more subtle moments and characterisations which work a lot more successfully – such as the compassionate Nazi deserter.   All in all, I liked it. I’m not normally a fan of war movies, but because the primary focus is on quite a small ensemble, you don’t get swept away by the epic battles taking place around them – and mercifully there is very little discussion about military strategy. In fact I shed more than a couple of tears as we reached the climax and the woman next to me was sobbing without shame as the credits rolled. Personally, I found the ending a little too neat, but then after what we had all been through, a little bit of neat didn’t really hurt.  Oh, and for those of you who obsess over these things every year – Sandra Hebron’s boots are black, flat and slightly equestrian. And yes, Spike Lee did call her Sarah.   Seja 

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