7.0/10
153
5 user 5 critic

The Silent Village (1943)

The true story of the massacre of a small Czech village by the Nazis is retold as if it happened in Wales.

Director:

Humphrey Jennings
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Villagers of Cwmgiedd Villagers of Cwmgiedd ... Themselves
Arwel Michael Arwel Michael ... Self
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The true story of the massacre of a small Czech village by the Nazis is retold as if it happened in Wales.

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anticipation and non-actors
21 August 2017 | by kekseksaSee all my reviews

There is no expression in English that I know of to describe the literary and cinematic genre called in French a récit d'anticipation - an anticipatory narrative. The term is applied to any book or film (normally in practice a kind of science fiction) that attempts to anticipate a near or probable future. It includes notably such dystopia as Orwell's 1984 (1948 reversed), Zamyatin's We or Huxley's Brave New World but could evidently be extended - it all depends rather what one regards as probable - to such a work as War of the Worlds, famously understood to be an anticipatory narrative by a certain (much-exaggerated) number of people in the US when broadcast on radio by Orson Welles in 1938. The War of the Worlds was lavishly filmed in 1953 but another H. G. Wells anticpatory narrative, The Shape of Things to Come had already been filmed in 1936.

Narratives anticipating warfare (enemy attack, enemy invasion and so forth) were unsurprisingly nothing new. As a genre of popular literature it became common during the 1890s. William Le Queux in England specialised in such narratives and it strongly colours the spy novels of John Buchan (whose Thirty-Nine Steps Hitchcock filmed in 1939). In film, Georges Méliès's Tunneling the Channel (1907) is already such a narrative even if it anticipates problems a shade les severe than war. Walter Booth's The Airship Destroyer (1909) is a clear warning of the possibility of hi-tech attack from the air. This kind of anticipation became standard in the "preparedness" films before the First World War, particularly in an undecided US where such serials as Patria or features like Thomas Dixon's (lost) Fall of a Nation (1916). Just before the war (1913), H. H. Monroe (Saki) wrote a short novel, When William Came, imagining a German invasion and occupation of Britain.

Similar anticipations of the war are Alfred Machin's Maudit soit la guerre (1914) and Thomas Ince's Civlization (1916), the latter set in an imaginary kingdom. Both of these have somewhat false reputations as "pacifist" films. In both cases, although they were "anti-war" films, they became, once war was a reality, a form of war propaganda. War is nasty but it is a principle of propaganda that it is always the other side that is responsible for the nastiness.

One of the most celebrated examples in World War II had been made just the year before by Jennings's former boss, Alberto Cavalcanti, now with Ealing - Went The Day Well adapted from a Graham Screen story about German soldiers who take over an English village (a film that also formed the basis for the 1975 Jack Higgins novel The Eagle has Landed and the film based on it.

The Silent Village is however unusual in not strictly being anticipatory in that it recounts events that have actually happened, transposing them to a different locale (the Welsh village seen as the equivaent of the martyred Czech village of Lidice). There is some similarity here with Chaplin's The Great Dictator which transposes actual events, albeit in comic fashion, to an imaginary kingdom but Jennings film is unique, to my knowledge, in transposing an absolutely specific event (the atrocities committed in Lidice) in this way.

It is noticeable that in this fine film the fact of using non-actors poses no kind of problem whatsoever, emphasising the fact that the value of such an exercise depends not on the acting ability of the "figurants" (again no English word that I know) but on the skill of the producer/director in making use of them. The principle had been initiated at the GPO Unit by Cavalcanti during his tenure and, thanks to Cavalcanti's expertise with sound and the orchestration of dialogue had worked well (Harry Watt's Squadron 992 produced by Cavalcanti is a superb example). In the films produced by Ian Dalrymple (The Target for Tonight and Coastal Command) the dialogue comes over as stilted and the presence of "non-actors" is painfully evident. Jennings got on well with Dalrymple (they worked together on Listen to Britain)but here produces as well as directs. There is as a result no problem with the "non-actors".

Curious, however, that the commentator did not take the trouble to learn how to pronounce the name of the Czech village correctly....


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Details

Country:

UK | Czechoslovakia

Language:

English | Welsh

Release Date:

9 August 1943 (UK) See more »

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Technical Specs

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Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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