The horrors of the First World War have long been a staple of cinema. However, in more recent years film has begun the process of reflecting this horror from a new perspective. Dovetailing the innocence of the young people who fought, with the apocalyptic brutality of a war with no visible end. In turn combining the anti war narrative of Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) with the horror of lost innocence. In recent years this has led to films ranging from the underrated Journey’s End(2017), to the haunting documentary They Shall Not Grow Old (2018). With 1917 director Sam Mendes continues this exploration of youth in the face of war. While equally creating an artistic tour de force in modern cinema
1917 envelopes its audience with breathtaking energy and emotion from the first scene to the last. By embracing the ‘one shot’ style Sam Mendes used in the opening scenes of his second Bond movie Spectre (2015). Where the audience followed the opening action in Mexico City. With long shots delicately joined together to create the aesthetic of one continuing breathtaking journey.
However, it is important to reflect that the artistic choice of the ‘one shot’ is nothing new in cinema. The style having been used across many films in ensuring the audience feel a part of the environment, action and emotions on screen. From Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Rope through the Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman. The ‘one shot’ style has been used to great effect in submerging the audience into a films narrative.
However, in using this technique throughout 1917, Sam Mendes ultimately creates a similar emotional power to that of Erik Poppe’s Utøya: July 22 (2018). A film that equally used the ‘one shot’ format to create a powerful and unrelenting cinematic experience. One that ensured the audience were witness to the unfolding horror of the events on Utøya Island. Creating a visceral cinematic journey that I for one will never forget on the films UK premiere at BFI London Film Festival in 2018.
Director: Sam Mendes