“LINES OF WELLINGTON”
US Release of Raul Ruiz’s Final Film
“Lines of Wellington” is the final film started by renowned filmmaker Raul Ruiz and completed by his widow Valeria Sarmiento and will be available to own on DVD and at all digital providers on November 25, 2014. It boasts an all-star international cast including John Malkovich, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Mathieu Amalric, Jemima West and others. This is a lavish epic that is set during The Napoleonic Wars of 1810 and it follows the lives of many characters— soldiers and civilians, men, women and children, young and old as war tears apart their lives. We see chaos everywhere and it is impossible to escape. Each of the main characters will follow different venues to get to the lines of Torres where the final battle will determine the fate of all.
I love epics and while this one is not all it could be it is never boring. The story spans an untold number of months or years and it about a major passage in the Peninsular War between France, Spain, and Portugal, wherein the English Duke of Wellington ordered a series of massive barricades to defend Lisbon from seizure by the French invaders. The Duke (John Malkovich) appears in a few scenes only and then mostly to express dissatisfaction at the painter he’s commissioned for his portrait. The important story is about the soldiers in the field, the women who are affected (and sometimes damaged irreparably) by the ongoing chaos and strife and a massive wave of refugees who were routed by the French army. Then there are small stories (large in the eyes of their protagonists and witnesses) that are also included.
However, there is something about the film that appears to be a bit too mechanical. The music is always just right, the photography seems to be borrowed from other epics. Basically the film tells the story of the Napoleonic invasion of Portugal and the withdrawal of Wellington’s Anglo-Portuguese forces to the southern hill country. The general’s devastating tactic was to compensate for his army’s comparative lack of numbers by luring the French into hostile terrain, fortifying the lines of Bussaco and picking the invaders off as they climbed the slopes. And yet the Wellington we see here is hardly the all-seeing genius we know from popular history. We see him as a egotistic despot who is more concerned with publicity than practicality. Wellington is concerned about the battle scenes daubed by his official army painter. He wonders he should be offended by having a meat dish named after him and we see that his mind is nowhere near what is going on.
We see the human drift of the retreating army, which the film paints as a vast city on the move with the merchants and the prostitutes. I felt that the film meandered and the depiction of the suffering of the people is often too sentimental. The scene is set immediately — it’s 1810, and Napoleon’s army is advancing down through Portugal with its sights set on Lisbon. Wellington attempts to hold them back and soon they retreat towards the ‘Lines of Wellington’ – better known as the Lines of Torres Vedras, a ring of fortifications encircling the Portuguese capital that the British general has been secretly building. Here is where the subplots come in. We become acutely aware of the complexity of the conflict and the banality of war.
Technically the film is wonderful and we tend to forget the shoddy dialogue and some of the poor acting. I wanted and expected so much more but the film really only satisfied me superficially and is a far cry from some of the epics that I have loved.