“We must save Private Ryan”, on Paris Première: Steven Spielberg’s “monument” to the veterans of the D-Day

Saving Private Ryan (1998) by Steven Spielberg.


The most violent image ofWe have to save the soldier Ryan is not found in its long and grueling opening sequence of D-Day, June 6, 1944, but in a very simple scene, formidable in its dryness and honesty. In one of the offices of a military administration, middle-aged women are typing form letters intended for families whose son has just been killed in combat. On each of these letters is drawn an absurd memorial where all the names are equal and are erased behind the same sentences.

Read the interview with Steven Spielberg (in 1998): Article reserved for our subscribers “The Allied Landing is a victorious debacle”

As we know, administrations and lists obsess Spielberg. We have to save the soldier Ryan starts where it ended Schindler’s List (1993), on this ring made by the survivors in homage to Schindler, and on which was inscribed this sentence from the Talmud: “Whoever saves one man saves the whole world. »

Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) has plenty of time to mature this reflection and the viewer with him, during a mission that leads him to risk his life and that of his seven men to find an American soldier lost behind the lines allies, last of his three brothers, all killed in action.

Everyone will agree on the stupidity of the epilogue and the prologue, this veteran dragging his feet in a military cemetery in Normandy in front of the graves of his friends who died in combat, while his children, located in the background, cry hotly tears. However, we will not be able to extract these two sequences from the rest of the film like rotten fruit from a tree.

Mourning for a certain America

In Beyond Glory (The Big Red One1980), one of the rare films to approach the Landing without its heroic dimension – and one of the major influences of Ryan-, Samuel Fuller reduced war to a single equation: kill or be killed. Everything else was intellectual chatter. Spielberg insisted on carrying a heavier burden. He mourns the soldiers of the Landing but also that of a certain America, à la Frank Capra, a united country, united, maintained in the respect of certain values, of which the family is the cornerstone.

ryan is the first film where Spielberg surrenders and draws the line between what he can and cannot film. The two anthological passages, that of the beginning with the carnage of Omaha Beach and that of the end when the unit of Captain Miller is decimated in a Norman town by the German army, show a filmmaker at the height of his art.

It is also a traditional war film, superbly filmed, precise and dry; a film “like we don’t make any more”. But also, in accordance with the wishes of its author, a film “like we have never seen”. A war simulator (as we say flight simulator) where the spectator is supposed to find himself in the situation of the survivor of the battlefield.

We have to save the soldier Ryan, film by Steven Spielberg (EU, 1998, 163 min). With Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Matt Damon.

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