Your good character is all you have left when the end comes.
Wieltje, Belgium, 1915.
The trench warfare of Wieltje saw the Germans turn to a more deadly form of chemical warfare, moving away from the less effective chlorine gas, releasing 88 tons of phosgene against British troops. Phosgene is an insidious gas, only manifesting symptoms up to 48 hours after exposure. Ill informed soldiers continued fighting unaware they had been exposed. The German officer responsible for the attacks, Oberst Gottlieb, quickly earns the nickname, the Gasman amongst the Allies.
The British 6th Division are under heavy attack from heavy shelling and gas, panicked and sleep-deprived. They are dead men walking. When a dog accidentally strays across no-man’s land during shelling it is injured but not killed, howling in agony, inflicting yet more torment on the shattered soldiers. Lieutenant Lambert takes the bold decision to venture out of the trench into the mist to put the dog out of its misery. The lieutenant is wholly unprepared for what he will find there.
Canis Belli was written, produced and directed by the filmmaking team of Schmidt & Medinger through Chrome Productions.
We're not doing it handheld. We're just not, and that's that.
The film was inspired by the story of opposing soldiers in 1915 ceasing hostilities around Christmas to present each other with gifts, and play a game of football. This tale of humanity rising above the awful horror it had mired itself in led us to write a story about honour and the severest test we could present it. The encounter in the mist echoes the famous encounters between David and Goliath or Hector and Achilles, that of a champion on both sides coming to do battle for the sake of the sides they represent and so avoid awful bloodshed.
For soldiers in the trenches life was often very dull with hours and hours spent waiting for action. The soldiers were desperately sleep-deprived and strung out. We wanted to capture the off-kilter disorientating feeling of being on the front line during those hours when the infantry were not being asked to charge the enemy. Our heroes are stuck in a kind of living hell, not quite alive, not quite dead, but with the threat of imminent death just a moment away.
Steven Spielberg casts a big shadow, a very very big shadow. Ever since Saving Private Ryan earned plaudits for its gritty, handheld, shuttery take on WW2 filmmakers have invariably steered towards a similar visceral depiction of life on the battlefield. Right from the off our instinct was to avoid this. We wanted to create a tense, suffocating atmosphere where the stillness was just as potent as any shaky camerawork. We were hugely inspired by experimental European films from the seventies with their radical use of titles and difficult dissonant music (Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising is a great example of a recent film that shares this sensibility). We felt that would make for a film that was fresher, more compelling and would allow the audience to feel Lambert’s climax decision much more keenly. Our temp score was provided by Gorecki and Ligeti.
We have high hopes for Canis Belli. It’s a war film where barely a shot is fired and there is no tub-thumping. War is horror and we make no bones about that.