Lines of Wellington is an historical epic in the most sweeping sense, yet it includes stories (vignettes) of ordinary people that give the drama of war a very human dimension. Conceived by beloved Chilean director Raul Ruiz, the film was completed by his wife, filmmaker Valeria Sarmiento. Perhaps, the best way to experience the nearly three hours that fill the screen with battles, suffering, privilege, love and the struggle to survive is simply to let yourself get lost in the stunning panorama and not worry too much about the plot.
Lines of Wellington is based on a key event in the 1810 Peninsular War between France, Spain, and Portugal when the English Duke of Wellington ordered a series of massive barricades to defend Lisbon from seizure by French invaders dubbed “the lines of Wellington.” John Malkovich delivers just the kind of idiosyncratic performance he’s known for as Wellington. He instructs a painter depicting the big battle: “Fewer deaths, less blood, more heroes, less corpses.” The cast is filled with plenty of other famous faces from Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Hupert to Vincent Perez who add to the dazzling display of talent. While heartache abounds, there are moments of bawdy comedy too.
Throughout there are also the haunting scenes that remind you of the daily images of the horror that have filled the screen during the current terrible conflict in Ukraine. Refugees — men, women and children young and old — drag themselves through hills and valleys, between ruined villages, charred forests and devastated crops. A mass of fugitives simply trying to stay alive.
In the end, it’s their little stories that you may remember most.