During the London Blitz in WWII an astounding statistic emerged – that local suicide rates dropped by up to 40 per cent. This may have been due to the ‘enemy within’, during that time of extraordinary human resilience, becoming the collective ‘enemy without’, and because everyone shared the same clarity of life’s purpose, it was enough to rid anyone of a sense of alienation.
A new Greek feature , With Heart & Soul (dir. Pantelis Voulgaris ) set during the Greek Civil War deals with this very issue where both the ‘enemy within and without’ are not clear at all.
Two teenage brothers, Anestis and Vlassis, plucked randomly by either sides, find themselves fighting against each other in a war they have little or no understanding of.
Whether you’re Greek, Yugoslav or Russian, civil wars are known as the messiest forms of military engagement. Too often these conflicts have little to do with the local ground zero participants recruited to fight them, and more with the political machinations of much larger forces.
In this extraordinary film it’s the Fascists vs the Communists. On a much broader level it’s the Americans and the Soviets tampering, yet again, with somebody else’s business.
But With Heart & Soul is not history lesson, it’s more important than that.
It deals with the human element and the ambiguities that course through all of us. Director, Pantelis Voulgaris doesn’t have the budget of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, or it’s multiple camera units. He doesn’t need them; he’s a good storyteller.
The cinematography and mercurial hand held work in the battle sequences are reminiscent, if not as ambitious or as expertly realised, of Black Hawk Down or Full Metal Jacket.
Punctuated between the craziness are numerous still moments when the brothers meet in the neutral zone of Macedonian forests. It’s here, where this film steps up to another level. Each scene has a mythopoetic finish, to remind us of the contradictory aspects of history and its self serving political rhetoric.
The main push of this film is to highlight the futility of war and it does it very well. With a strong cast and crew realising almost all the scenes outdoors in tricky weather and often in mountainous terrain, With Heart & Soul is without a doubt a grand achievement.
For sessions in Melbourne and Sydney www.greekfilmfestival.com.au