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Miracle at St. Anna (2008)
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
For strong war violence, language and some sexual content/nudit
Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Pierfrancesco Favino, Valentina Cervi
Miracle at St. Anna (2008)
Directed by Spike Lee from a screenplay written by James McBride, the author of the acclaimed novel of the same name, the film chronicles the story of four African-American soldiers who are members of the U.S. Army as part of the all-black 92nd Buffalo Soldier Division stationed in Tuscany, Italy, during World War II.
Miracle at St. Anna (2008) | Review
No Difference in the Eyes of God
The two hour and forty minute film is very ambitious, perhaps a little too much so. It brings several stories together around the story of four African American soldiers who managed to get behind enemy lines in Italy. One of them rescues a young boy who was hiding in a house that was bombed. He takes the boy with him everywhere he goes. He takes it for granted that this boy's life is entrusted to his care. When the four make it to a village, they spend some days there trying to contact their unit. The stories of partisans, of the enemy, and of the soldiers' commanders all interplay with this story. At times this becomes a bit of a distraction.
There is a sense of spirituality that infuses the film. One of the soldiers, Train, has a somewhat superstitious understanding of Christianity. Another, Bishop, used to preach, but no longer believes. When Train asked him about this, he says, "I believe in God when I'm preaching, then I don't believe it." It is easy in the face of brutality and the senselessness of war to lose faith in God's goodness.
The real significance of the film is the way it manages to remind us that in spite of race, language or nationality, all people share a common humanity. This point is made over and over throughout the film. Even when Lee is showing us the ugliness of racism that the Buffalo Soldiers endured, he is reminding us that we are not different from one another.
In one scene the general in charge of the Buffalo Soldiers (all the senior officers where white) refers to the soldiers as a bunch of waiters and shoeshine boys. This combat regiment made up of African Americans is, he says, an experiment. Later, we hear Axis Sally broadcasting to the Buffalo Soldiers that the army thinks they are worthless and mere cannon fodder. (She may have had a point.) She tells them they should lay down their weapons and not fight for their white "masters." Yet, we see these soldiers acting as courageously and with as much skill as any white soldier would. We know that these men deserve more than the general thinks they do -- and are brighter than Axis Sally thinks they are.
At one point we hear one of the Fascists say what may be Lee's theme in a sentence, "What's the difference between us and them in the eyes of God?" Likewise, there is a scene in which, as a soldier is being carried off on a stretcher, just for a moment we see a bit of an old Nazi poster on a wall -- in large red letters we read "Fratricide", as if reminding us that all war is brother killing brother in God's eyes. Even the closing credits speak this message. As they roll, there is a wonderful male chorus version of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" that blares out. (If you don't hang around for credits, you should stay this time and listen.)
The most moving scene that makes the point of our common humanity is a prayer. It begins with the African American lieutenant leading the Buffalo Soldiers in prayer. It continues to shift to a German soldier and to the Italians of the village. It is a single prayer, yet it is said by each in their own language, seeking God's help, protection and love. Comrades, enemies, neighbors all share the desire for the peace only God can provide.
While racism certainly is central to this story, the message of our shared humanity gives this film a hope that even one of the principal sins of our culture can be redeemed if we see there is no difference in the eyes of God.
Copyright © 2008 Hollywood Jesus. All rights reserved.
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