(director/writer: Derek Jarman; screenwriters: inspired by the oratorio by Benjamin Britten/based on the poems of Wilfred Owen; cinematographer: Richard Greatrex; editor: Rick Elgood; music: Benjamin Britten; cast: Laurence Olivier (Old Soldier), Nathaniel Parker (Wilfred Owen), Tilda Swinton (Nurse), Owen Teale (Unknown Soldier), Patricia Hayes (Mother), Nigel Terry (Abraham), Sean Bean (German Soldier); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Don Boyd; Kino International; 1989-UK)

A stunning visual film that’s combined with the spectacular interpretation of composer Benjamin Britten’s 1961 orchestral and oratorio masterpiece.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director enfant terrible Derek Jarman (“The Tempest”/”Sebastiane”/”Jubilee”)presents a stunning visual film that’s combined with the spectacular interpretation of composer Benjamin Britten’s 1961 orchestral and oratorio masterpiece. Britten blends together the sacred Latin Requiem Mass with the moving war poetry of the 25-year-old Brit infantry lieutenant Wilfred Owen, whose poems were written in the trenches and who was killed in the final week of World War I by a German sniper.

Jarman’s film is without dialogue. It’s filled with rich tableaus depicting the horrors of war. The experimental director uses both archival footage of wars that take us from World War I through Vietnam and tableaus that are re-enactments in the trenches and on the home front. The tableaux that has a rouge cheeked group of capitalists mocking the everyman poet while watching him being whipped by a mad priest, has Jarman’s excessive controversial signature stamp all over of it and is what gets the juices flowing. If the viewer just expected to see a safe anti-war film that lays no blame on the people who start wars for their own benefits but never seem to fight in the battles they start, you can thank Jarman for not playing it safe and for eagerly playing the blame game. The director leaps from being sentimental and filled with grief at the loss of so many lives to an uncontrollable anger at the rascals who always seem to lure the public into going to war.

It features Nathaniel Parker as Wilfred Owen, the sensitive poet who saw war as a failure of humanity (not as something heroic) and was struggling to survive in the war zone. Sir Laurence Olivier, in his final movie role, playing the wheelchair-bound Old Soldier in a nursing home who is fussing with pinning on his medals. His voiceover provides the film’s rare dialogue via a soundtrack, as he recites Owen’s poem “Strange Meeting.” Sean Bean plays a German soldier, facing the same fate as Owen; Owen Teale plays the Unknown Soldier, who also has a tragic end; while Tilda Swinton plays the angelic British nurse, who serves the wounded and dying produced from every war.

The brilliantly presented eloquent anti-war film makes a profound statement on how war is a perversity and unnecessarily takes a heavy human toll.

The film’s soundtrack is provided by the 1963 ”War Requiem” recording that Britten conducted with Galina Vishnevskaya, Peter Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as the soloists.

War Requiem PosterREVIEWED ON 4/27/2012 GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”