Life During Wartime, Blu-ray (2010/2011)
Director: Todd Solendz
Starring: Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, Ally Sheedy, Ciaran Hinds, Paul Reubens
Studio: IFC Films/The Criterion Collection 574 [7/26/11]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Extras: “Ask Todd” audio-only Q&A with director, “Making Life During Wartime” documentary – interviews with actors, Interview with cinematographer Ed Lachman, Theatrical trailer. Illustrated printed booklet with essay by film critic David Sterritt
Length: 97 minutes
Wow – this may be unlike any other film dealing with family life you have ever seen. Talk about grim but fascinating; I kept thinking what a good double feature this would make with the Coen Brothers recent A Serious Man. At first the blocked, teary exchanges between all the emotionally-tormented characters seem to be way over the top – like a soap opera on uppers – but then if you haven’t gotten really queasy yet you may realize Solendz is dealing in an unusually direct no-holds-barred way with contemporary American family life in a post-9/11 world.
This film is not a sequel but has many similarities to his 1998 dark comedy Happiness, though he has entirely different actors playing the various characters. (In a similar naming ploy, Joy is the name of one of the most unhappy characters in this film.) A primary theme here seems to be pedophilia, but he uses it as a metaphor for what is most despised in our culture today. Solendz doesn’t feature terrorist attacks, but calls Life In Wartime a port-traumatic stress disorder film. His previous Happiness was described as “subversively hilarious,” but I didn’t find much comedy in this one, especially in the second half. This is another of those films you will probably either hate or love.
The overly-bright sunny colors of the surroundings – it’s supposed to be in Florida though shot in Puerto Rico and elsewhere – and the highly detailed digital cinematography (Lachman used the Red digital camera) contribute to super-real/unreal quality of the whole film. I really wanted to hear the audio-only questions and answers which viewers had emailed in to director Todd Solendz – the first of the bonus features – but there was no sound on either of my Blu-ray ray players. The essay in the booklet would be a good place to start before seeing the film if you are unfamiliar with Solendz’ work.
— John Sunier