The Anatomy of a Mama's Boy...
10 March 2013
He comes down the stairs to his mother's insistence, carries the cat, drinks up his milk as requested, wipes his pudgy mouth, is helped into his clothes while listening passively to his mother's diatribe of the latest gossip about town, is told to hurry up before being late for school and is kissed on the cheek and seen off. A perfect mama's boy sets up the definition for a born coward (ironic because Renoir claimed himself to be a coward). But there is a catch! The cat does not belong to "mummy". The pudgy school teacher fancies his neighbor in fact... but a love triangle will get in the way... and all with Nazi stormtroopers goose stepping through the romantic drama. How perfectly Hollywood... and totally inappropriate for Renoir (whose own romantic drama WW2 film made no direct reference to the Nazis whatsoever). The story lacks in subtlety... the 'united front' is saccharine and cheesy leaving an awful taste in the mouth. The stylistic system allowed for Renoir is no better - one-shot closeups, shot-reverse-shot suture systems, uncreative use of exteriors, tableau depth of field. The film won an Oscar for sound?!! Was it the annoying and unrealistic children's chorus as bombs drop on their heads? My niece cries when the dog barks. This Land is Mine purveys a warped sense of manifest destiny and has a real Stalinist Socialist Realist feel to it. Some will defend that a united front bound by hope and uplift was necessary at the time, but why the moral highfaluting? And why the insidious organization of its presentation? "Heroism is glamorous for children" gets an add-on later by Keller who claims "America is a charming cocktail of Irish and Jews. Spectacular but childish". The only grace that this film would have is if it tripped over its own shoelaces and fell flat on its face. Even Renoir must have recognized this as he implements a bit of directing that could not have been a mistake when in shot one of hands about to go in pockets is jump cut to shot 2 of hands firmly planted in pockets. The loss of continuity is reflective of Renoir's misplacement in the production. Or perhaps it was the producer's choice...a kind of Hollywood branding. There are a couple of exciting moments and good directing when a high angle shot frames urban rebellion in deep space which leads to traceur stunts in a parkour rooftop escape and later when said rebel executes his ultimate escape plan (reminds of Boudu). Like La Chienne, Albert (pudgy teacher) provides a speech to a courtroom. This resistance speech is a far cry from the realism of poison pen letters in Le Corbeau, but it is an understandable device for the occasion. If I were living in France in 1943 and knew of the film, I would hail This Land is Mine as wonderful support for the Allied war effort. I would be proud that it was directed by a fellow Frenchman and I would hope that it would bring France and America even closer on issues of liberty and the fight for freedom. Given that I was born in 1979, I simply expect either clever allusions and allegories or realistic blood and guts portrayals of the experience of war. Somehow the romantic drama genre placates the horrors of war in an obscene way (for this reviewer at least).
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