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The Lines of Wellington: Review

On 27 September, 1810, having beaten Busaco, Massena was on his way to Lisbon. Already on the defensive, Wellington was strengthening his position and protecting his forces behind a  formidable network of fortifications he had built: the famous lines of Torres Vedras. The French, commanded by Massena, were ignorant of their existence. The confrontation of the French with the lines of Torres Vedas provides the backdrop to Valeria Sarmiento's The Lines of Wellington.

The film was the project of Franco-Chilean director Raúl Ruiz, who sadly died before the film was fully completed. Sarmiento picked up where he left off, and does a convincing job of finishing the film. It features an international cast and stars French, American, English and Portuguese actors - creating a film bursting with individual histories and destinies, from the battle at Busaco to Massena's confrontation of the lines at Torres. More than a simple reenactment of the battle, the film asks us to reflect on the fates of its characters, on violence, death, war and love. Readers who are expecting a film about the Napoleonic wars should be warned that Sarmiento is no Bondarchuk; there aren't great battle scenes here, but rather descriptions recounted by the "heroes" of the tragedy. This does not detract from the overall quality of the film: the focus on the characters, their stories and their vagaries in a ravaged country is what grips the viewer. The film is focussed primarily on characters outside of the ranks, but we encounter Wellington (John Malkovich), Massena (Melvil Poupeau) Marbot (Mathieu Amalric), Segur (Malik Zidi), cannon fire and gun shots, as well as fanatical priests and ambushes.
Our only criticism: the film is a little long, especially the last half an hour, which seems repetitive. In any case, it's a film well worth watching.

- Thierry Lentz


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