Wednesday, April 1, 2009

ZULU (Cy Endfield, 1964, UK) British Colonialism sows the seeds of its own discontent, crushed under the weight of its arrogant attitudes and ideals, conscripts forced into this strange new psychological and physical landscape. Director Cy Endfield begins the film with a Zulu marriage ritual that upsets the daughter of a missionary, creating an immediate dichotomy between cultures. After word of the slaughter of a thousand British invaders by Zulu warriors, the film cuts to a lonely outpost where Royal Engineers are trying to build a bridge across troubled waters: this becomes the metaphor for clashing beliefs and mores, as the lazy soldiers fail to achieve their objective due to their own self-indulgence and strict adherence to military code. If you want historical accuracy, watch the History channel: ZULU is an archetypal narrative that touches upon human nature, no matter the color of your skin. The British soldiers become caricatures: Michael cane as the boasting new Lt. Bromhead, Stanley Baker as the “hands-on” decisive leader Lt. Chard, James Booth as Pvt. Hook the anti-hero, and a smattering of other colorful personages. The acting is first-rate and adds dimension to the drama as we experience the battle strictly from the British perspective, the occupying force that subsumes cultures…or destroys them. The majestic cinematography places these imperious denizens amidst the looming mountains and lush vistas, shrinking them to human proportions. The battle-scenes are a riptide of kinetic energy as screaming warriors charge into a blue haze of leaden death like waves crashing upon a rocky shore. The Zulu’s tactics seem obtuse to these British soldiers but become obvious as the violence progresses: in a warrior culture, there is nothing more honorable than dying in combat. They test the British firepower by sending hundreds of young men to be shot down, counting their enemy’s guns. The brutal violence is shown mostly in medium shot with near perfect choreography, adding a depth of realism and sacrifice to the battle, though the gore is kept to a minimum. Both sides are shown as fighting valiantly and with honor, and as the Zulu’s withdraw they shout a war song of respect: and Lt. Chard returns the favor by standing a Zulu shield upright, a homage to the sacrifice of the enemy soldiers. (B+)

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