Friday, October 26, 2007

London Film Fest Day 10 - RESCUE DAWN

You're a strange bird, Dieter. A man tries to kill you and you want his jobA decade ago, Werner Herzog made an astounding documentary called LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY. It featured an extraordinary and admirable man called Dieter Dengler. Dengler was a small kid in Germany during WW2 and remembers locking eyes with a bomber pilot. From that point he had a passion to fly, and as Germany had no airforce, he became an American citizen and joined the Navy. He was shot down over Laos, taken prisoner, but made a miraculous escape thanks to his own ingenuity but most especially his ceaseless optimism and sheer obstinacy. The documentary was horrific, enchanting, moving, inspiring - everything a film can hope to be.

Ten years later, Herzog returns to this subject with his fictional account of the same story, starring the ever-brilliant Christian Bale as Dieter and Steve Zahn as his fellow prisoner, Duane. We follow them through their horrific experiences, filmed on location and with an authenticity that only Herzog can create. Bale is obviously great as Dieter - he picks up a lot of Dieter's vocal inflections and almost manic optimism. Zahn is an absolute revelation in a quiet, dramatic role, but praise is also due to Jeremy Davies who plays a slippery, hippie-ish POW.

This is a very fine film but I couldn't help wondering why it existed. It puts flesh on the bones of the story given in LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY but actually is only part of the story. The most affecting part of LITTLE DIETER is seeing the impact on Dengler years after the imprisonment. The fact that he sleeps better knowing that he has a fully stacked fridge and supplies under the floor-boards, for example. The first best solution is to watch both the movie and the doc, in that order, to see events re-enacted and then understand the aftermath. But if you are unwilling to commit so much time, I would actually go for the doc for its completeness of vision. This is not to under-sell the movie, but to acknowledge it's more limited field of vision.

RESCUE DAWN played Toronto 2007 and London 2007. It opened in the US, the Netherlands and Israel earlier this year and is currently on release in Finland. It opens in Australia and the UK on November 23rd and in Brazil on December 7th. It opens in Russia on February 21st 2008.

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