Das Boot Season One

das1While, goodness knows, I’m bored and nervous of all the reboots and remakes we have gotten over the years, a trend which seems in no sight of petering out, it is nonetheless welcome when one turns out to be worthwhile. Such is the case, as unlikely as it seems, with this new* drama series which is based on Wolfgang Petersen’s classic anti-war movie Das Boot from 1981. Or rather, its based on the 1973 novel by German author Lothar-Gunther Buchheim of the same title (upon which the 1981 film was based) and a follow-up novel Die Festung. While the tv series again depicts the claustrophobic war horror of submarine warfare, it also depicts events ashore in occupied France and a resistance cell’s attempts to undermine the German war effort in La Rochelle, a base of the U-boat fleet and chiefly how these events ensnare Simone Strasser, sister of one of the sailors aboard U-621. 

One used to the events of the original film, certainly, might be forgiven for thinking the onshore events secondary to the submarine action and padding to enable the eight-episode running time of the first season. This isn’t really the case, as these sections hold their own, mostly thanks to the fine performance of Vicky Krieps as Simone; Krieps of course near-stole the Paul Thomas Anderson film Phantom Thread from Daniel Day-Lewis, certainly no mean feat, which perhaps indicates how captivating she is here.  

Other familiar faces here include Werner Ziegler (Better Call Saul, Wonder Woman), Tom Wlaschiha (Game of Thrones), Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) and James D’Arcy (Cloud Atlas, Agent Carter) so its a pretty full-bloodied international list of thespians. 

das2On the whole this is a really good drama series which, while it lacks some of the sheer intensity of the 1981 film it really does hold its own. Cleverly it manages to take its own path, largely thanks to those onshore sections involving Krieps but also by telling a different story about another boat, and another crew, as this series is set a few months after the events of the 1981 film (something I didn’t catch onto initially). Actually, I suppose that qualifies this series as a sequel rather than a reboot.

If I had any criticisms, there’s a little bit of predictability regards the plotline aboard the submarine and how the various characters interact; the narrative there lacks real surprises, albeit it is certainly well-realised technically. The section in La Rochelle holds a few more twists but there are unfortunately a few slips of internal logic here and there too. On the whole though its a great series and well worth a look, particularly for anyone who’s a fan of the 1981 film. Its not exactly ‘more of the same’ which may disappoint some, but really, otherwise what’s the point?

*Well, I say ‘new’ but this season originally aired last year and a second season has already aired earlier this year, so yep, as usual I’m far off in the shadow of the cultural zeitgeist. Hey-ho, my list of tv shows on my watchlist is longer than my arm….

Phantom Thread

phantom3Phantom Thread, like its protagonist, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), does not give up its secrets easily, always reserved and distant. In this way it seems the most Kubrickian film I have seen since, oh, the passing of Kubrick himself. It even rather feels like it has the presence of Kubrick, like a ghost, running through it. The film maintains its own pace, and like in Kubrick’s films, each shot has a tendency to linger a little too long, making each feel a little uncomfortable, and perhaps hinting at meanings that might not even be there. Also like in Kubrick films, tradition and ceremony seems to hold import- in Phantom Thread, this is mostly in breakfast, an absent routine for many turned here into almost precise ritual, an exercise in power and control.

The films art direction, too, is so finely curated it feels like another character. I suspect one could return to this film in five, ten, twenty years, and like each time one returns to Kubrick films, it will return something new, some new insight. It is evocative of an era that is as alien to us as the surface of the moon, and is intoxicating and infuriating, warm and cold. I loved it and hated it: so very Kubrick.

But this is not a Kubrick film, of course: this is a Paul Thomas Anderson film; I adored his early films, Hard 8, Boogie Nights, Magnolia but was disheartened by There Will Be Blood, feeling as if it had broken some spell, so painful a film that I only saw it once and dared never to return to it. Indeed, I haven’t seen a film by the director since- both The Master and Inherent Vice have been temptations I shied away from. As a film-buff, it felt like a broken love affair, and while sometimes tempted, it always felt wrong, going back.

phatom1Phantom Thread is set in postwar London, and the strange, frankly alien world of 1950s haute coutre, a tale of obsession and control and love that reminded me of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (no small praise, as Vertigo is one of my very favourite films- will Phantom Thread prove as timeless?).  I expected a film about art and  fashion in the strange world of 1950s haute coutre, but it is actually a bizarre oedipal romance, a man haunted by his mother, trying to shape his muses to his whim and being finally undone by a muse that in turn shapes him to her own.

Or maybe I read it wrong. Maybe its a film about toxic masculinity, of a man in his 60s abusing his status and position, taking advantage of a young woman in her 20s (how sad that this feels so timely). Maybe its a film just about a man ruined by his mother, whose ghost literally appears before him, confirming his fancy that she is always watching him, perhaps always judging him. Maybe its an adult fairy-tale, of the Beast being undone by Beauty. Perhaps it will be a different film each time I see it. Phantom Thread is a complex web, a gorgeous film quite Out of Time, so unlike anything you usually see today. Indeed, how very Kubrick. I hope Paul Thomas Anderson would take that as praise.

Phantom Thread is currently showing on Netflix in the UK, and is of course available on DVD and Blu-ray. I suspect the 4K UHD is quite sublime.