From the Desk of Bigger Boat Pictures:
Directed by Kevin Harrison
Reviewed by James Rosario on December 5, 2016
1918 is a curious little picture. When it began, I had trouble making heads or tails of it. I felt as if I’d been dropped right in the middle of a conversation that had been ongoing without me. It took me a little while to get my bearings, but once I did, I found myself surprisingly moved.
The pacing of the film is slow, so be prepared for that. You come to realize, however, that this pace, while unconventional, is very deliberate. The pace reminds me of a baseball game. It allows for reflection in between every bit of dialogue. Sometimes it intensifies, and we move through the lines faster and with more urgency, but soon enough, it slows back down. This methodical nature is sure to turn some people off, but for me, it added an emotional element that wouldn’t have been there had the film been made with a more conventional, Hollywood style. That this was originally written for the stage is no surprise.
Written by Horton Foote (based on his play), 1918 tells a seemingly simple tale of small town life near the end of World War I. The men are all very patriotic, and do everything they can to seem so, while the women do their part assembling bandages for the Red Cross, gossiping, and practicing for the church choir.
Horace Robedaux (William Converse-Roberts), a local businessman and father to a new baby, isn’t exactly conflicted about not volunteering to fight—he has no desire to enlist whatsoever—as he is afraid of what the townsfolk may think of him for not doing so. Complicating matters are his wife’s younger, and much more foolish brother (a wonderfully impish Matthew Broderick) who can’t wait to join up, and can’t help himself from spreading rumors as to why Horace hasn’t.
When his father-in-law (Michael Higgins) suddenly offers to take care his wife and baby in his absence should he go off to the front, Horace finds himself in a very uncomfortable position. He doesn’t want to go to war, but he doesn’t want to lose face in the community, or with his father-in-law.
That’s not all. As all of this is taking place, the town is in the midst of the deadly Spanish Flu outbreak that killed nearly 1/3 or the world’s population. It’s taking its toll on this particular town as well, quickly infecting Horace and sending him into fits and hallucinations. When he wakes up, the war is over, and he gets some emotional news from his wife, Elizabeth (Hallie Foote, the author’s daughter).
It is at this point that the film really hits its stride. With the war now over, and the influenza epidemic subsiding, everyone must somehow figure out how to go on. The small town has nearly daily parades honoring veterans as they return from Europe, each one with less and less fanfare. Families have been decimated by the outbreak, and soldiers have been maimed by war, but life goes on.
The conversations are kept remarkably simple, yet I found many of them profoundly moving. Some of the townsfolk may question God, and why he would do this to them, but ultimately they have no choice but to simply keep living. They do so with a reserve that I found almost creepy. War and death have certainly changed them, but they do their best not to show it.
The performances do not betray the sense of anger, fear, and even hatred that bubbles just below the surface. It’s almost frustrating to watch. I want someone to lash out, and that they mostly don’t—save for one neighbor’s outburst—is a testament to the film’s style and its refusal to give in to convention.
1918 is a small film, and an unconventional one. Had it been any bigger, or possessed a more standard approach, I fear its punch would have been weakened.
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