(Alan Clarke, UK, 1985) 64 minutes


Director: Alan Clarke
Producer: Terry Coles
Screenplay: A F N Clarke
Photography: Philip Bonham-Carter
Editor: Dick Allen
Sean Chapman
John Blundell
Ozzie Stevens
Jason Ciliffe

Reviews and notes

CONTACT and Elephant function as a cinematic diptych about the 'Irish problem'. One panel captures the deadly routine experienced by the English army; the other features sectarian messengers of death. Both portray landscapes devoid of political or religious context, an abstraction that focuses the films purely on survival and murder.

CONTACT ("based on the memoirs of A F N Clarke") is a war film with as many images of apprehension, exhaustion and sleep as of conflict; as much about staying awake as staying alive. It follows a platoon of English soldiers as they patrol the border between Northern and Southern Ireland, a glorious landscape stained with blood.

Except for Sean Chapman's stoic, consummately professional Commander, Clarke doesn't let us 'know' the members of the platoon in any conventional narrative sense - though by day the camera puts us so close to them it's impossible not to live their tension as they search for snipers and explosive devices among the farms and derelict ruins. At night the platoon is photographed with an infra-red lens, which has the effect of turning us into alien observers; the viewer is therefore both comrade and enemy, victim and aggressor. At the end, when a young soldier is killed by a booby-trapped bomb, we're not sure whether to feel grief or triumph.

The final image resolves the dilemma: Chapman seated in front of a white wall, drained of energy and wracked by the pain of loss. The unstated question - why are the English in Ireland? - is one to which there is no clear answer, only a lament for wasted lives.
-Howard Schuman, Sight and Sound, September 1998.

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