The War Zone (1999) - Tim Roth

Language: English
Country: Italy | UK

An alienated 15-year-old, (Freddie Cunliffe) forced to move away from his friends in London when his family relocates to rural Devon, struggles with the change and becomes an observer of the family. His mother (Tilda Swinton) is pregnant, his dad (Ray Winstone) is vocally abusive, and his 18 year old sister (Lara Belmont) is sexually active and open to her brother. However, the boy guesses at and finds that he is correct that his father has had sexual relations with his sister.

A review of the film (from IMDB):

A captivating work of art.

A film dealing with the subjects of rape and incest could easily be sensationalistic and, consequently, undermine the very issues it supposedly tackles. It is, therefore, highly commendable, and testament to Tim Roth's skill as a director, that the War Zone does not cheapen its plot by doing this, but instead, provides a sensitive, dignified and beautiful treatment of the devastating effects of a father's depravity on the rest of his family, and, indeed, on himself.

One of the most striking aspects of the War Zone is the stunning and epic cinematography. Filmed in Devon, on the southwest coast of England, bleak, grey skies, the vicious sea and jutting cliffs frame the desolation of the central characters of the movie: Tom, the son, and Jessie, the daughter. The former, a withdrawn teenager, is devastated when he unwittingly discovers the secret relationship between his sister and father, and struggles with hatred and horror for them both, as he endeavours to find out the depths of the depravity he is privvy to. Jessie is equally, though differently, affected by the actions of her father. As she attempts to hide the truth from mother and brother, while also in turmoil over her own part in the secret, she feels a burden that manifests itself in moments of self-loathing, anguish and despair. However, the true depths of these emotions are never laid out for the audience, never portrayed in such a way that they could simply wash across our path and be discarded; they are merely hinted at, shown in fleeting moments. The fact that the protagonists in the film are being tormented by the events they are part of is obvious; it is left up to the individual to interpret and imagine the depths of the feelings being felt. This subtlety serves to add realism to the film, and also heightens the harrowing effect of it, as the events and feelings hinted at, or partly displayed, are absorbed and twisted by the mind of the viewer, almost contaminating him by forcing him to do the work in fully comprehending the goings- on in the family; making him empathise with Tom.

Although the emotions and feelings the characters in the film undergo are shown in an equivocal manner, several scenes are, in contrast, stark, with events lain bare to the audience. Again, this could be a point at which the War Zone sensationalises the subject matter. However, even the supposedly shocking scene between Jessie and the father is portrayed with sensitivity through the dignified direction. Indeed, in a film made as the War Zone is, it would undermine the very realism of it to avoid showing what goes on between the father and daughter. It is a movie that endeavours to show the realities of abuse in a family, and to gloss over an aspect of this would lead to an unfulfilling exploration of the subject. To re-iterate, though, it is testament to the skill of Tim Roth, that while not hesitating to show the full horror of abuse on screen, he does so in a way that does not cheapen the feelings of those involved. Indeed, there is almost an air of gentleness in several of the more harrowing scenes; despite stark images being portrayed, one feels they are being shown in a highly respectful manner.

The War Zone is, in sum, a beautifully artistic piece of cinema. The cinematography, solemn, despairing music, slow yet strong direction, and fine acting contribute to a film that, though harrowing, is highly rewarding and enjoyable. I think the fact that it offers no answers or "satisfying" resolution to the events it has portray is again something the serves to add realism to the subject matter. After all, abuse is not a topic to be resolved without reducing it to trite concessions to viewers keen not to be forced to realise that some facets of life are not rounded, with simple answers and easy reprieves, but jarring and jagged, with no answers, resolution, or simple end.

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