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Hope and Glory (John Boorman) 1987

    Hope and Glory, John Boormanís semi-autobiographical World War II comedy/drama offers surprisingly little emotional treacle considering its setup. Following the exploits of a British family during the Great War and taking the perspective of Bill, an eight year old boy, the film showcases plenty of bomb blasts, but rarely feels bombastic. Though the period detail feels authentic, most of the film takes place along one street in a suburb of London. We get to see a good deal of commotion despite this, and when the setting lacks enough scope, the dreams of Bill fill in the gaps. There are plenty of exciting sights to see in Boormanís vision of the war, but when the focus shifts toward the emotional, the tone usually grows surprisingly stately and understated. So many small moments in this film play out perfectly enough that the few segments that donít work (usually those that try to overstep the understanding of the child narrator fail most) feel that much more detrimental. The here and now on display is so thrilling and unique that we donít want to see this world with even the slightest bit of retrospection.

    With about a half-hour left in the film, Boorman throws a brilliant change of scenery at us that shrewdly shifts the tone of the film. Most other films would have stopped here making the shift of scenery the storyís end, but since this film goes on the entire experience thatís offered is enriched. Life doesnít always fit cleanly into chapters, and this change is a testament to that. The narrative shakeup it makes us feel is roughly equal to the one that came for the filmís characters early on when the Englandís supposedly quick and easy war turned into something that was neither. Hope and Gloryís accomplishment is that it manages to contradict and confound because it rarely takes the easy route. It gives us a childís perspective that isnít simple, a portrait of patriotism that isnít obvious, a portrait of a working class that isnít particularly noble, and a war that is the springboard for much humor, both mordant and whimsical. Still, the film never lacks gravity. We understand the loss that the characters feel, but the source of that emotional gap is often surprising in its lack of topicality. Just because a war is going on here, doesnít mean that these characters stopped living their lives. Their regrets, desires, and dreams continue on unabated. The war even provides, in a way, liberation from the rigid structure that kept those feelings tied up. Hope and Glory with its rare occurrence of conventionality is a small, sharply observed movie about big things.

* * * 1/2

01-09-02

Jeremy Heilman