The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957)
The Bridge on the River Kwai is a widely popular and acclaimed film from one of the most famous British directors of all-time: David Lean. With 7 Oscars and a #83spot on the not-so-viable IMDb Top 250, the movie should at least ring a bell to anyone. As for its over-heroic characters or its La Grande Illusion wannabe war prisoner flick, The Bridge on the River Kwai sure lets you with an illusion of a great movie. Like François Truffaut said Le pont de la rivière Kwai est un film conçu pour épater l’Académie et empiler les statuettes dorées ornées d’un homme nu tenant une épée en guise de phallus. Well, I’ll translate this citation like this : The Bridge on the River Kwai was made to impress the Academy and pill up those little golden naked men holding their sword as a phallic substitute. The guy couldn’t be more right.
I have a profound aversion towards those films made for a moment, I even prefer the Tom Hanks/John Candy comedy Volunteers where they built a bridge for an important convoy of Viets to cross a river. The Bridge on the River Kwai tells the story of British soldiers captured and forced to built a bridge over the Kwai river. The many face to face between the two leaders wants to demonstrate how mentally strong they are and how they will fight for their men. Anyhow, I kept comparing the dynamic of the prison camp with the dynamic of La Grande Illusion, made twenty years earlier. Renoir’s film is so much deeper and richer than Lean’s spectacular film about courage and brainwashed Army concepts can’t keep the pace and level of the inventive “mise-en-scène” from Renoir just make The Bridge on the River Kwai look even lesser than it actually is.
However, as a whole, the movie is entertaining and the goal is achieved, heroism and courage sweat from the entire film. Although even if they are oversimplified and stereotyped every character still works. The whole story makes you hold your breath and there are moments of pure cinema, but the film isn’t as great as Lean’s other films, say Brief Encounter or Lawrence of Arabia.
David Lean is the kind of filmmaker capable of great and less than average pictures, a fellow critic, Kevyn Knox compared him to Steven Spielberg which I think are two similar filmmakers. They both made superb technical films with great budgets, great recognition, and lots of box-office entries while having a constant lack of soul in their filmmaking approaches.