Eye For Film >> Movies >> June 6th (2010) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
"I'm a nobody," proclaims former soldier Eric Gibbons at the start of this documentary. Just an ordinary guy from a quiet part of England, recently widowed, getting on with his life. "Not a John Wayne." But 66 years ago, Eric did something remarkable. Along with 160,000 other soldiers, he landed on the beaches of Normandy and began the invasion that would drive the Nazis out of France. He may just have been one among many, but the bravery with which he faced danger, and the losses he bore, are something without which many people watching this film might never have been born.
Of those 160,000, few now remain. It is generally believed that the 65th anniversary of D-Day, which took place last year, will prove the last at which a major ceremony will occur; in their eighties and nineties the survivors are too old to travel. That didn't stop one Normandy woman going along on the offchance of seeing a man she remembers as a teenager, whom she still thinks of often. ForEric, it was the first such ceremony. Before, he says, it always seemed better to forget. He's a man who does cry - "We Englishmen don't" - and perhaps he was hiding from that. Seeing the graves of friends he lost, still well tended and deckedwith flowers by local schoolchildren, he cannot help but shed a few tears. He says he never realised how important it is, and this visit clearly means a lot to him.
Besides Eric, we meet a number of other former soldiers in this 15 minute film, each with his own story to tell. There are memories of actions taken, horrors witnessed, and the local people they met, a valuable history to preserve on film now that they are close to the end of their lives. But much of what is expressed within this film is not verbal. Watching Louis and Edna Martin walk together across a beach, we see the different kinds of pain they have faced, he looking haunted in a way no-one who wasn't there will ever fully understand, her face reflecting a lifetime of effort to protect and understand him, entwined arms showing the fortitude with which they have held on to each other despite the gulf in their experiences of the world. It's these astute visual observations that raise the film above most of its ilk.
When these men die, this film may be all that remains as testimony to their experience. It's rooted in a much larger historical context. An early shot takes us along one of the wide straight roads that Napoleon had constructed with trees at the sides to shelter his marching armies. The Nazi invaders found the roads useful for their tanks, so the locals cut down the trees in an attempt to barricade them. The trees that grow there now are 20 years younger than the film's human subjects. Later we encounter the landscapes of the present; at the back of the bleak beach that "smelled like a cemetery" there's a thriving little seaside town. The men remember the small boats that helped in the invasion as they relax on a spacious channel ferry. These things are their victory, the prize for which they fought - and they signify, also, a world that will carry on without them.
John Wayne would have felt flattered to be remembered in film like this.Reviewed on: 13 Jun 2010