Their Finest: Its own propaganda

Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk is coming out later this year. I hope it’s good. The film websites are already full of the news, Director of Photography Hoyte Van Hoytema, manhandling the IMAX camera to capture war’s viscera. The trailer for it actually was played before my screening. Maybe we’ll someday get a film about its production too. Though knowing Nolan, I’d imagine it to be far more calculating and mechanical than Their Finest.

See, Their Finest is just in love with film. More importantly, the parts which always seem alien to Nolan, its ability to capture colour, life, emotion. It’s ability to manipulate. It’s a film about Dunkirk in which we never see Dunkirk. A film about the blitz in which none of our characters die in a bombing raid. It’s about a propaganda film, and in its very nature forces one to consider what a separates a propaganda film from, you know, a film.

I’ve looked, and I can’t find out if it’s based on a true story. You’d imagine they’d put that credit at the front of the film if it were, so I’m gonna say it’s not. The assumption is that it’s close enough. Which is interesting because the film within a film is also about a true story, well, not quite, but it’s close enough. It is frequently stressed throughout that their film should be ‘authentic, but optimistic’, hmmm, familiar. There’s an intertextuality here that just reflects and the way director Lone Scherfig plays with it is so juicy.

This is a film in which a major plot point is the satisfying resolution of a morally complex romance subplot. Guess what happens with the romantic tension between Gemma Arterton’s Catrin Cole and Sam Claflin’s Tom Buckley at the same time. Guess which set on the lot it happens at. This ain’t to forgive that subplot by no means, the film’s cursed heterosexuality really gets in the way, and for all the winking, the resolution don’t mitigate that in any way.

When a woman calls out her courter’s obnoxious nice-guy-ism that’s supposed to be the end of it. That’s a satisfying and good end to it. But no, straights gotta straight.

A drag then when all the filmmaking stuff so good. If you’re turned off by how onanistic the film industry can get sometimes, you might wanna just cut your losses. The film all about how great and pure and magical film can be. The work put in by everyone involved. The struggle of artists trying to make it in a system that meddles so much in their artistry. It’s always notable how in most of these films the films they making kinda pieces of shit.

There that bit in the trailer where Gemma Arterton’s hammering at her typewriter in an office as the German bombs fall around her. Yeah, it’s that sort of film. A film in which the haughty actor, played by Bill Nighy <3, learns humility, and in exchange gets the monologue that he feels will define his career. Fast 8 is playing in the theatres at the moment, so that’s two films about how surrogate families form around creative enterprises; is the Fast series a metaphor for filmmaking too? At the end of this one they’re entering pre-production on a new joint, and you know, if they had a way of keeping it fresh I’d go for a sequel.

That not gonna happen though, it’s too chill, too minor. This always happens with flicks about women finding their place in the world. They’re so defined by satisfaction. That’s it at the end, there’s nowhere else to go. The film has a lesbian woman in it, the men are threatened and distrustful of her. She and Catrin strike up a friendship, but her sexuality never gets much of a look in besides a punchline. No thanks. It ain’t queer-phobic, but boy sure does seem diminishing. I’ll just stay salty until my memories of The Handmaiden fade.

I guess the problem is there’s no room for expansion. Her work is casually demeaned by her associates, who will in the same breath praise her for being better than the others. It gets brought up early that she’ll receive no screen credit for her work, and that’s just cool with everyone. It ain’t that it’s not right, it just there’s no reason for it to be wrong. I hope someday we’ll all realise that.

I guess we’d all categorise these types of films as harmless, even though all they’re harmless to is the establishment. But that’s where the metatext comes in, how the film juxtaposes the propagandistic utilisation of gender and sexuality (not race tho, because we can’t all be Lady Macbeth yet) by the characters create, with the film we see projected on the screen before us. Criticising and deconstructing its own contradictions.

That’s the interesting bit. It doesn’t give the film teeth, oh it’s too nice and too gentle for that. It doesn’t make it harmless though, and that’s just about good enough.

Image courtesy of Lionsgate

One response to “Their Finest: Its own propaganda”

  1. […] basically capsized last year’s mostly charming World War II romance Their Finest. You spend that whole movie wanting to slap that smug idiot in his fucking face. You’re […]


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