"Life-affirming and devastating in equal measure”
Chris Olson, UK Film Review
In a remarkable coincidence, I had the pleasure of watching short film Edelweiss, from director Sam Bradford, after only hours earlier watching Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge for the first time. The two films offer intelligent and affecting discussions on the role of a medic in warfare, and the inglorious nature of conflict which can often see love and compassion overpowered by hatred and violence, even by those on the same side.
Co-written by Emma Fisher and Sonu Louis (who both also take the lead roles) we are transported back to WWII and the fields of Normandy, France where a German Prisoner of War named Ernst (Louis) is being guarded by British forces, awaiting interrogation by his captors. Having a bullet wound to contend with and receiving little sympathy from the soldiers who guard him, Ernst is baffled when a British Field Nurse called Sister Violet Frances (Fisher) offers him some unabashed TLC, the kind of universal caring that can enrages warmongers - much like the aforementioned war movie starring Andrew Garfield.
As a genre film, Edelweiss captures its tone quickly and maintains steady beats of drama that play off the conflict that exists between so-called enemy combatants and the humanity of the people involved. The detached and somewhat cruel behavior of the British soldiers becomes the central menace in the story, especially towards the final section of the short, when their looming plans for this POW become imminent. This sense of threat and dread, though, is not the main appeal of a short story like this, instead it is the beautiful moments of connection that arise between Ernst and Sister Frances. Their transcendental affection is a beacon of hope for the audience which balances the whole movie perfectly.
The cast were excellent, building a believable chemistry and friction depending on their motivation. Fisher in particular delivered a memorable turn as a character brutalised by her role in the war, and left clutching her convictions throughout. The emotional depth that the role needed was given and then some. Louis was also efficient and engaging as the wounded soldier who is utterly in the hands of the gods. A reality few could bare.
From a filmmaking standpoint there is an enormous amount to enjoy here. The intimacy of some of the framing worked brilliantly to capture the intensity of the plot, whilst the pacing was spot on to allow the clash between warfare and humanity to commence and evolve for the viewer, exploring the contrasting ideas of destroying your enemy without losing your soul magnificently.
My only criticism is that the ending felt a little rushed, which robbed the climax of its potency somewhat. Had a few more minutes or scenes been given to cement the full extent of Ernst and Sister Frances’s bond, the finale would have been that much richer for it. That being said, the short and sweet approach can sometimes magnify the impact of a story on someone and this is the kind of short film that could easily be life-affirming and devastating in equal measure.