11 April 2011

Where art and war meet up: "Castle Keep", a film by Sydney Pollack, 1969

Castle Keep (1969) Movie Poster
Source: MoviePoster
One of my favorite WWII movies, because it is so iconoclastic, otherwise described as 'surrealistic', 'anti-war', 'fantasy.'

The film is adapted from a novel of the same name written by William Eastlake. Set in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge in winter 1944, a ragtag group of eight American soldiers falls back through a forest in search of a medieval castle which they must defend at all cost against German troops seeking to break through Allied lines.

From the first frames to the end, Pollack's camera drifts in and out of paintings, frescoes, sculptures, furniture, chandeliers, candelabra, tapestries, and richly inlaid accessories spread out through the castle's interminable hallways, much like a museum of European culture, caught up in the whirlwind of war. Captain Beckman, played by Patrick O'Neal, is a moody, dreamy officer, who one thinks might have been an art historian. He falls in love with the castle's contents and confuses his love for its contents with the mistress of the house who falls for his commanding officer, played by a debonair, one-eyed Burt Lancaster. Who can resist such a hunk? To make matters more complicated and more .... European, the master of the house or chatelain, played by Jean-Pierre Aumont, enables the tryst between Lancaster and his 'wife'--we're never sure if she really is his wife--in order to get her pregnant so as to ensure the survival of his noble lineage. How noble!

Seriously, Beckman makes it his mission to save the cultural treasure of the castle. Dutifully, he inventories it, stashes it away carefully in the tunnels below the castle that lead out to safety or not. He even organizes art history lectures to entertain the six haggard men whose fate is already sealed.

No other World War II flick has ever come as close to featuring so much classical art in direct competition with the inevitability of mayhem, broken bodies and armor, and the ultimate destruction of what once was.

Burt Lancaster, ever the cynic, summarizes it beautifully: " Europe doesn't exist anymore. That's why we're here."

Does that apply to her art treasures as well?