Film Review: Charlie 84 MoPic

The literary device of presenting a story via ‘found’ media such as diaries and such like has a long history, notably Stoker’s Dracula. The filmic equivalent is the ‘found footage’ film, ostensibly the film is made up of a diegetic recording of the events. Again, this is common in the horror genre Starting with 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust* and arguably reaching its zenith with 1999’s Blair Witch Project. The trope isn’t that common in other genres so when I chanced upon a Vietnam film using this device I quickly tracked down a copy to watch.


Charlie 84 MoPic, refering to the Military Operational Specialism of a camera man, follows an Airborne Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) going behind enemy lines to gain intelligence on the working of the Viet Cong/ National Liberation Front. The conceit is that the 6-man patrol is being followed by the cameraman, and an accompanying Lieutenant, to produce a filmic record of best practice as a training aid for future LRRP teams.  The LRRP teams were a divisional asset, introduced to provide information for high command with their long-range penetration capabilities. Often wearing the iconic ‘tiger stripe’ camouflaged uniforms, they probed deep in to enemy areas for days or weeks at a time. The men that made up such units were the elite of their formations, highly skilled and self-disciplined, able to take the mental pressure of such work.

Filmed on a tiny, for Hollywood at least, budget in California, this 1989 film stands apart from bigger better-known Vietnam films. It offers a raw portrayal of a small group of men bonded by combat. Using pathos and intimacy rather than spectacle to tell its story.

Still some of the ‘Nam film stereotypes creep in (they may well be stereotypes for a reason of course) in the cast of characters, the joker who is due to leave theatre imminently, the redneck, the strong silent type, the cold, efficient Sgt, the career minded Officer- in this film he may be inexperienced and a little naive about the realities of combat but he is open about his ambition and portrayed as having some competencies.

The film shows the men going about their mission with the drag of having two FNGs** with them, the cameraman, of whom very little is seen all film, and the Lt. get some of the men to open up about their past. The levelling factor of combat and the bond it engenders is really brought to the fore here, crossing racial and social divides the men are committed to each other knowing that they have faith in each other and their trust. The Lt. and cameraman are clearly outsiders and interlocuters in this who will never gain acceptance in to this elite club.

As for the Viet Cong they hardly appear in the film only really being seen from a distance or when deceased, whilst this marginalisation of them could be seen as problematic today the film is really just about men in combat and their relationships. Obviously, the patrol runs into trouble; even though the film is 30 years old, I won’t got into details and spoil it for you as if you haven’t seen the film I urge you to do so. It is up in its entirety on You Tube. I’d put it up there as one of the better Vietnam war films.






*Whilst it is easy to dismiss Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust as a violent, reprehensible video nasty (which is certainly is/ was) it also serves the purpose of social commentary. Deodato’s story of ignorant filmmakers being killed by the indigenous people they are there to film was a kind of which fulfilment of his based on the action of the truly reprehensible Italian mondo film makers Jacopetti and Properi’s Africa Addio. For more on the horrific but fascinating world of mondo films I can recommend this book.


**Fucking New Guy

Film Review: Come and See. 1985. Directed by Elim Klimov.

Given I referenced Come and See in my last film review it makes sense to make it the subject of this next one.

When I heard that this film was the late J. G. Ballard’s favourite war film I knew I had to see it. Ballard has long been my favourite author and I knew that his recommendation would mean that this film would be something special… I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t expecting such a powerful visceral gut- punch reaction to a film like the one I got from Come and See….



The film opens with a young Byelorussian boy recovering a rifle from the site of an earlier battle, so he can take it to join the local Partisans who have a base in the forest. Leaving against his parents’ wishes he makes contact with the Partisans and their solemn but charismatic leader.


His age prevents them from taking him seriously as a fighter and much to his evident disappointment they decline to take him with them when they go on their next mission. As he is left alone in the camp he makes friends with a girl, also left behind, who is a few years older than him. They play in the forest, children having space within a respite from the horrors of the war to act as children.


This is cut short by the bombing of the camp by the Germans. With several near misses the boy is left disorientated and with a permanent ringing in his ears that renders the audio slightly garbled as the film is told from his perspective.


Making his way back to his village he arrives just as an SS unit is conducting a reprisal/ massacre of the village. For the next half hour or so the boy wanders through the scenes of near unimaginable horror as the SS men go about the atrocities that so characterised their behaviour throughout the war. Given that very little dialogue is said directly to camera and so no subtitles are present, and the audio is still distorted as a result of the effect of the bombing on the boy the part of the film has a hideous, near surreal tableaux that is more horrific than anything Bosch has come up with for the events and action perpetrated by the SS men and their locally raised auxiliaries are wholly representative of the reality of the time.


The senior SS Officer during the massacre is shown with a pet monkey, this is a very clear nod towards the SS men being from the infamous Dirlewanger Brigade led by Oskar Dirlewanger; it is with out hyperbole that he can be described as once of the nastiest and most abhorrent men in WW2. biography book link


The Partisans do return and ambush the SS men as they are leaving the destroyed village and take the boy with them, the boy is forever scarred and broken by what he has seen happen to himself, the young girl and the whole village. Finding a portrait of Hitler, the young boy shoots in repeatedly, the film at this point showing a montage of photos of Hitler’s life in reverse ending with him as a baby…


… the film concludes with the young boy, hardened and no doubt embittered as a fully-fledged Partisan.


Come and See is a difficult watch, it is hard to say you ‘enjoy’ the film in the same way you’d enjoy a normal film, but such is its power and vision you can’t help but engage with it on a deeper level. Well shot it draws you in to those terrible days and makes you confront the reality of it. A reality that is today being lost by it fading from living memory as people die, anodyne history books that fail to do justice to their subject matter and worst of all those deniers who try to say it never happened. It really deserves a wide audience in my opinion.





Film Review: The Captain/ Der Hauptmann. 2017. Directed by Robert Schwentke.

Inspired by Hannie’s blog link I’ve decided to review the last film I watched… The Captain It was released last year so it is a fairly recent one too.


The film is based on a true story; the titular Captain is Willi Herold, a young German Landser who deserted then adopted the role of a Luftwaffe Captain and carried out some pretty horrendous crimes in the last months of WW2.

The film opens up with a young man, Willi Herold, in scraps of uniform being pursued by German Soldiers as a deserter who are intent on killing him. After hiding in a wood and making his escape he stumbles upon a abandoned staff car, whilst rifling through the car looking for food and warm clothing he finds the full uniform of a Luftwaffe Captain. Being better than the rags he is in he gets changed and smartens up his appearance. Shortly after doing this another soldier/ straggler approaches him and ask for permission to be under the Captain’s command.

At this point Herold realises if he is dressed as a Captain and is being taken as an Officer as in this situation, he has to act out the role lest he is rumbled. He needs to quickly adopt the manner and authority that befits his new persona. So, he takes on the straggler as his driver. However, being an officer behind the lines without any papers means that questions are asked as to his purpose, Herold bluffs his way through this, basically inventing a story that he is on a special mission from Hitler himself to investigate the state of morale in the rear. This is a confidence trick with his survival being staked on it.

With the rear areas being infiltrated by looting deserters, violent and rapacious to the point of brigandage (just like Herold Was himself at the start of the film) he finds he has to adopt the brutal, violent manner that is expected of a German Officer at this stage of the war, the situation forcing Herold to dispense summary justice to maintain his fake persona. This leads him ultimately, and to not give too much of the remainder of the film away, to a prison camp for German soldiers run by the SS where he instigates and perpetrates the mass murders of fellow Germans by the rabble of men he has collected around himself.

The film is wonderfully shot with a very subdued colour palette, the landscapes look rather bleak and minimal lending a post- apocalyptic feel to the whole proceedings. The acting is good, Willi Herold being played by a young Swiss actor Max Hubacher, with a cast of grizzled looking soldiers being contrasted with Herold’s / Hubacher’s fresh faced good looks.

Parts of the film are incredibly dark, not just in terms of what they portray which, whilst violent, aren’t particularly graphic but also in the obvious disintegration of the psyche of Herold as he turns from the oppressed to the oppressor carrying out the very acts that he started the film fleeing from. It is never made clear whether this is due to a latent psychopathy within him of an insane end that keeping up his charade drives him to. This ambiguity is a good thing as it forces the view to consider both positions themselves. It would be too easy to explain the action of Herold away as that of a mad man but what about everybody else involved? With the exception of his driver who he forces to participate against his will in the killings. In this way you could extrapolate question to the whole phenomena of the Holocaust and other crimes of the Nazi regime, the film being a slice of or microcosm of the larger events. Taking the lead from Browning’s excellent book Ordinary Men one could turn to social psychology for an explanation and look at the experiments of Milgram and Zimbardo for how behaviour is governed by the role adopted and submission to authority.

I think one of the best things I can say of the film is that it evokes the feeling of the 1985 Russian film Come and See but not in a derivative way (Come and See is, I think, one of the best and most important films about WW2 and you should really watch it if you haven’t already). The normalisation of violence and the wanton nihilistic violence that often accompanies war but was especially prevalent within the Third Reich is very well realised, the almost surrealist scenes that are shown whilst the credits roll raises more questions than it answers.

The real-life Willi Herold was only 20 when he committed his crimes. After the war he and his accomplices were tried and executed 6, including Herold were executed as war criminals. There is a short Wikipedia page on him here .