Friday, November 9, 2012

Man at War (orig. Wirtualna Wojna)[2012]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing* listing

Man at War (orig. Wirtualna Wojna) [2012] [IMDb] []* written and directed by Jacek Bławut [IMDb][]* that played recently at the 24th Polish Film Festival in America / Chicago (Nov 2-16, 2012) is a remarkable documentary produced for HBO-Polska [Eng-trans] that follows a transnational (American, Polish, German and Russian) group of enthusiasts of the IL-2 Sturmovik World War II combat flight simulator video game (played in multi-player fashion over the internet) on a virtual bombing raid from England on Hannover, Germany.  The raid was chosen because the father of one of the American players had been shot down during the actual raid during World War II.

The groups participating in the raid included:

(1) The 302nd VAW (virtual air wing) of the U.S.A.A.F., a group of American enthusiasts that included the man (a still quite active/robust senior) who lost his father in the actual raid).  The members of the 302nd VAW all fly (virtual) P51 Mustangs.  The group was led by a Commander (thin, white haired/mustached, smartly dressed in a USAAF WWII era wing-commander's uniform) who serves as a Deacon at his local parish somewhere in California on Sundays. Others in his group include a 30-something musician from Arizona, a young man who's played these kind of war simulation games since childhood and whose best friend had just come back from serving in Afghanistan (and interestingly the Afghan War vet didn't really want to play this kind of games anymore but still hung around as his friend participated in the raid simulated here) and a Cuban-American teenager who just loved this game and was playing it from his parents' new home in Miami. 

(2) A Polish group of enthusiasts which flies both B-17 Bombers and British Spitfire fighters.  One of the Polish enthusiasts noted that they all could fly fighters but some actually enjoyed flying the bombers apparently because it was kinda cool to drop bombs on Nazi Germany ... One of the Polish players was also still smarting that one of the German players had shot him (his avatar) the last time they played after his plane had already been shot down and he was coming to earth in his parachute (which would be a virtual war crime ...).  So he was looking for revenge.

(3) Two, very _well organized_ :-) groups of German enthusiasts, one group actually meeting _together_ in a large room with a dozen or so computers strewn across a series of tables, each computer outfitted with the requisite joysticks and headgear) flying either ME-262s (the Nazi era jet fighters) or FW-190 propeller driven interceptors. One of the Germans, an otherwise animal/bird lover and soft-spoken architect, had made a wooden replica of the FW-190 cockpit in which he sit (in uniform, goggles on, pet crow sitting on his shoulder) while playing the game.

Finally, (4) there were a number of Russian enthusiasts flying WW-II Yak fighters and Sturmoviks, who were participating _not_ that the Russians would have participated in the actual raid being simulated here, but because the Russians invented the game and as one of the cute, smiling / giggling 20-something wives of the young Russians enthusiasts playing the game put it, "My husband is a nut.  He plays this game every night from midnight to all hours in the morning and then comes to bed telling me that he once more successfully 'defended the motherland from the Fascist invaders!'' 

It all made for a fascinating film.  The American who lost his father in the actual raid that this "rally" was to simulate had a couple of his twenty-something grandchildren sitting on the steps next to his computer watching him play (yes, they appeared as "excited" as one would imagine watching their grandfather playing a video game.  At least they didn't roll their eyes too much ;-) ;-) The game gave him the opportunity to tell the story of his father's time of service in England.  The German architect/bird lover told the camera crew that he honestly doesn't consider himself to be much a patriot, saying that it's "really hard" to be particularly patriotic in Germany as a consequence of this war, but that he really liked to fly the planes.  And the German enthusiast who had shot the Pole in the last game even after the Pole had bailed out of his plane mentioned with IMHO _sincere sadness/remourse_ that his grandfather had actually found himself in one of the "Special Units" (Einsatzgruppen) that was sent to Russia to kill Jews following the Nazi invasion, a unit that he said was responsible for the execution of some 30-50,000 Jews. "It's hard to admit such things," he said, with his head down and in an otherwise uncharacteristically soft voice.

The game itself was rather "slow" at the beginning.  The simulator required that the American and British (flown by the Poles) planes actually take-off from England and fly to Germany for the raid.  The Germans too had to take some time to ascend to the altitude.  But once they spotted each other "all chaos broke loose" and probably an even greater chaos than would have been expected in the actual raid, because in the virtual raid presumably even "the Russians" were there and many of the Poles flew planes (Spitfires) that would not have been there in reality because of fuel/range considerations.  But what the heck, this is _also / above all_ a video game.  So for 10 minutes the virtual sky over Hanover was filled WWII planes of all kinds and _no pilot_ was safe even after bailing out.

So what would be the value of a game like this?  One could easily criticize the game for its violence and arguably for allowing those with a predisposition to still hate another country to continue to do so.  Yet, one gets a sense that there is a certain camaraderie being built here even between former (and present) adversaries.  And actually, it _may_ help the players (and viewers here) appreciate the horror that the real conflict was.

In any case, I found the film to be absolutely fascinating!

* At the time of the writing of this review, machine translation of the text on links given above appears to work best using the Chrome browser rather than Firefox or MS Explorer.

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