Only the brave and devoted moviegoer should tackle this monstrosity of a period film. Clocking in at close to three hours and featuring a 1,000-plus cast of European multinationals, “Lines of Wellington” (as it was released in English) is a cinema project of gargantuan proportions, devoted entirely to a battle of Napoleon. Help.
The battle in question? An attempted full-scale invasion of Portugal in the early 1800s, with the added bonus of destroying the English Army that had retreated as far as Lisbon. Here, the British have set up the famed Lines of Torres Vedras, a tiered fort stretching out as far as the eye can see, built to protect Lisbon from Napoleon’s forces. In charge of the defense is Viscount Wellington (played by John Malkovich in his blackest, most finicky mood). The head of the advancing army is Marechal Messena (Melvil Poupaud). Wellington’s armies are deeply damaged, but they’ve sacrificed too much now to go down without a struggle.
This was originally the project of Chilean filmmaker Raul Ruiz, but his death prompted his wife and longtime editor, Valeria Sarmiento, to take the helm and dedicate the finished product to her late husband. It’s an enormous and messy sprawl of a story, but it’s not often you get to see a war movie that’s also a Herculean labor of love.