“Missed Connections” and “Beneath Hill 60”

I wrote both of these reviews for SCAD’s online student media outlet District as part of their coverage for the Savannah Film Festival. District set up a microsite for their coverage, and this work is still available there.

Missed Connections

The title “Missed Connections” says it all. The short documentary is about the “missed connections” page on Craigslist, where people try to find others that they felt an attraction to, but lost.

Director Mary Robertson wisely left out any form of narration, and instead had the four people interviewed tell their story in their own words, with reenactment shots woven in.

Two stories are funny, one is sweet, and the final is surprisingly sad. The last line sums up the film’s intention for showing these aborted rendezvous: “What if?”

Beneath Hill 60

It is rare to see a war film that is set in World War I. Even more rare is a World War I film where the main characters are from Australia or New Zealand, rather than America or Great Britain.

“Beneath Hill 60” is based on the diaries of Captain Oliver Woodward of the 1st Australian Tunneling Company. A unit composed solely of Australian miners, their orders are to tunnel under German trenches and blow them up.

However, the Germans learned the same trick and sent their own miners to the front. It was an “unknown war” according to the film’s intro cards, where the miners would tunnel near each other, trying to blow up the enemy’s trenches and tunnels. 

Think of it as “Das Boot” underground, but with stethoscopes and shovels instead of sonar and torpedoes.

Woodward (Brendan Cowell) comes to the company as a replacement officer. Though initially distrustful of the inexperienced leader, Woodward earns the company’s respect when he leads a raid to destroy a German machine gun nest by crossing no man’s land. 

The raid is such a success that the unit is sent north to Belgium in order to complete an attack on Hill 60, a German bunker that inflicts horrible casualties on the Allied army. Woodward’s mission is to destroy the hill in what would be one of biggest explosions in history.

Even if the ending is a foregone conclusion, director Jeremy Sims still keeps the tension high. He uses light and dark to create the claustrophobic mining tunnels. Candles flicker in the darkness and slowly burn down as the men holding them wonder if they have enough air.

To compound the tension, Sims makes great use of silence and noise as well. Woodward and his men hold their breath while pressing their listening devices to the walls and floor, to discover where the Germans are. Viewers then start wondering how long the silence can last.

That is when a bomb explodes or a machine gun fires, shattering the eerie quiet. It sounds as though the explosions and firearms are at a higher volume than the rest of the film, even the music. The gunfire is harsh while the artillery explosions actually have a bass that reverberates in your chest. Coupled with the dark tunnels and heavy silence it creates an immersive experience.

“Beneath Hill 60” is one of those war films where such immersion is necessary. When cutting between the Australians mining beneath the hill, and the Germans holding it, the film shows that both sides were experiencing war in all its horror.

Although the horrors of war are a common theme in film, it is refreshing to see a previously unknown story recognized. Even better is when it is told so well.

“Missed Connections” and “Beneath Hill 60” will play again at the Lucas Theater on Nov. 4, at 2:30 p.m. `

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