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As Saving Private Ryan and U-571 have already taught us, the Americans won World War II. So the Eastern Front bit with the Russians and the Germans must have been a minor skirmish, yes? Well, no, Mr Hollywood. When these two armies met on the banks of the Volga late in 1942, the fate of the war hung in the balance.

it’s this decisive moment in history that French director Jean-Jacques Annaud recreates in Enemy At The Gates. Officially the most expensive European movie ever (budgeted around $85 million), it condenses the siege of the city of Stalingrad into a thrilling cat-and-mouse game between two snipers - with a love triangle thrown in for commercial common sense.

Jude Law plays Soviet working-class hero Vassili Zaitsev, whose uncanny accuracy with a rifle encourages political officer Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) to mythologise his comrade and inspire the besieged troops. But the Germans have their own marksman in the shape of the aristocratic Major Konig (Ed Harris). And while this battle across the national (and class) divide heats up, Zaitsev and Danilov find themselves emotionally entangled with brave Russian soldier Tania (Rachel Weisz).

If there's a downside to Enemy At The Gates, it's that the dialogue is sometimes stickier than a muddy trench, partly due to Annaud and co-scripter Alain Godard not working in their first language. Then again, maybe we’re unaccustomed to seeing a movie with such a strong European perspective delivered on a Hollywood-sized budget.

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World War ll from the European, not Hollywood perspective

if you can reconcile the two, then you’ll enjoy a film that’s full of large-scale spectacle and intimate details, contrasting all-out war with the single sniper shot. Law cements his leading man status, bright eyes shining keenly out of his mud- caked face. Harris is also superb, detaching his character from the bigger picture and distilling his orders to kill Zaitsev into a dignified mind- game with a personal equal.

Enemy At The Gates also has a scene to rival

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Saving Private Ryan’s Omaha Beach opener. As the new recruits jump off the train for their first glimpse of the battered city, the camera lingers on their faces, registering their excitement turn to child-like fear, before panning round to the devastation itself. As Law rushes into battle, his countrymen ripped apart beside him, the beauty of cinema hits the ugliness of war with brutal effect. (Alan Morrison)

I General release from Fri 76 Mar. See feature. page 70.


For sheer true-to-life drama. you can't beat American politics. Nixon and Watergate. Bill and Monica. JFK and the assassin's bullet . . . In comparison our 'Mandelson sacked' fiascos should be buried away from the front pages of histOry.

Back in October 1962. the White House was Slap-bang in the middle of banner headlines the world over. as America and Russia went head to head over the Cuban Missile Crisis. Spyplane photographs had shown that the Soviets were placing nuclear weapons on Castro's island. and for two weeks the world trembled as the superpowers played a deadly political chess game. What no one outside elite circles knew of then -- and what Thirteen Days gives us a glimpse of now were the presswes for all-out war exerted by the US military on President John F Kennedy. his brother Robert and his team of advisors. led by special aide Kenny O’Donnell (played here by Kevin Costner).

For Costner. the film is a welcome return to form. to movies of the stature of JFK and The Untouchables. That said . he lets it build into an ensemble

piece; like the character he plays.

he's there. arms folded In the background. giving support to Bruce Greenwood and Steven

28 1’". LIST 15-29 Mar 2001

Culp (excellent as Jack and Bobby). Grouchy but loyal. O'Donnell is the first indication that Costner has an intriguing

future ahead as a character actor

if his leading man status can't be rekindled.

Director Roger Donaldson (who put Costner through his early paces on another politically- tinged thriller. No Way Out) ensures that Thirteen Days is not a dry History Channel documentary. Although we know the outcome of the negotiations. and even though the ‘action' takes place in boardrooms populated by men in suits. it‘s tense. exciting stuff. The audience is left shocked at the

end. having been made to realise

just how close we came to disaster. There's a little bit of polish being applied to the Kennedy myth. but that doesn't diminish the film's dramatic power. Rarely is Hollywood as intelligent and as gripping in a single sitting. (Alan Morrison)

I General release from Fri 76

Costner’s back on form with another political conspiracy


Highlights from the Festival on tour

Not for nothing is Pedro Almodovar Spain's best-known filmmaker. His brand of crazy, kitsch film farce (okay. in his earlier films) still informs Spanish cinema. Take Javier Fesser's absolutely bonkers P. Tinto’s Miracle (I... ). High camp sci-ii horror melodrama, Tinto makes Jeunet and Caro (Delicatessen) and the Coen brothers look positively tame.

The complications of young love are often cinematically exploited. but the Spanish youth film finds justification for this added twistiness by the acceptance of gay representation in film. Now a guy might be choosing not between two girls. but perhaps between a girl and a guy. with the guy his hetero best friend. Such is the case with Krampack (O. ). Dani and Nico are a couple of friends holidaying at Dani's parents' holiday retreat. They're looking to get laid. but where Dam and Nico's fumblings with each other are supposedly just preCUrSOrs to getting it on wrth girls. Dani is happy With the gay action as an end in itself. There is in Krampack. thOUgh. not just a need for tortuous plotting but also a clunky use of it. which is what we expect from a soap opera looking to crank up tension for the next episode.

While Krampack uses gay sex for plot machinations, What You Never Knew (O. ) uses politics both as a heavy metaphor for emotional repression and also for schematic stOrytelling. AdOpting two time frames - the closmg days of the Franco regime and the present - the film follows Juan and Lucra who. as teenagers. allowed social differences to get in the way of love. Will the characters. now cosin middle-class. be able to find a deeper affection on their own terms?

Luckily there are plenty more films to choose from in the festival: Carlos Saura's 808 dance film. Blood Wedding. Alex de la lglesia's dark slapstick satire Dying Of Laughter. Lisbon. a road movie with Carmen Maura. Federico Luppi and Sergi Lopez. and Leo. by veteran Jose Luis Borau. starring last year's festival guest lcrar Bollain, and Rosana Pastor. (Tony McKibbin)

I GF/I Glasgow; Fi/mhouse. Edinburgh from Tue 20 Mar.

P. Tlnto’s Miracle: bonkers cinema