You don’t normally associate war with tedium. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could find the time, amongst all the horrors of warfare, to squeeze in a quick bit of boredom. Stuart Cooper’s Overlord hones in on the mundanities of World War II as troops-in-training prepare to join the conflict. ‘All we seem to do is sit in trucks and barracks. Waiting for our part of the war to start,’ writes frustrated soldier Tom (Brian Stirner) who, like many young men, finds himself in the inexorable churning war machine after finding no good reason to ignore the call to enlist.
The humdrum aspects of war are contrasted with archival footage of burning buildings, bombs pulverising the British countryside and footage of soldiers in ships and boats, preparing for D-Day. The back-and-forth between the narrative and documentary is brilliantly edited and shot. Overlord hits hardest when it is silent, but unfortunately, some of the post-production sound effects threaten to ruin the purity of some of the footage.
It is a shame that the dialogue isn’t as effective or interesting as the cinematography. Delivery of lines are often the wrong side of Bressonian; it’s difficult to find something to latch onto and results in the mid-narrative love story not quite landing. There’s a melancholy that pervades the film as Tom and his regiment are pushed ever closer to the catastrophe awaiting them on the beaches of France. It is the small moments burrowed away inside the larger parts of WWII, like Tom meeting a lovely girl before shipping out unceremoniously, where the tragedy of the war is found, but I can’t help but feel this is at times in spite of the film.
One character concludes before the operation that makes up the last section of Overlord: ‘Die in boredom, die in battlefields. What’s the difference?’ Generations of young men would leave their homes to go to foreign lands to kill other generations of young men. They would never get to experience things like love, or even just the everyday boredoms of life that we no doubt take for granted. (6)