A Film Unfinished
A Film Unfinished documents the story of three mysterious reels found in the mountains of a then East German film archive. These reels bear the title ‘Das Ghetto,’ a propaganda film of the Warsaw ghetto that captures the daily lives of the Jews living there. It also show the wide gap between rich and poor Jews and tries to create a strained relationship between those two groups.
What clarifies the truth within these images is a reenactment of a testimony by one of the German filmmakers documenting the footage – Willy Wist, who admits to how systematic the Nazis were.
Another way to shed light into the footage are a handful of elderly Jews who were children in the ghetto years who watch the footage and debunk it. They talk about the inflation and deflation of certain truths into arranged narratives. They clarify that the comfortable dining rooms are owned by twenty or so Jews who were a small part of the thousands who would eat the flowers shown in the footage. In reality, one family had a room, twenty families to a house, the ghettos overcrowded. How The Nazi filmmakers have brought in geese and champagne from the outside to film a banquet scene. But really, only a few can afford what the Germans allowed – horse meat. Children who have smuggled food into the ghetto are shot. Or how one’s mother would wear a colourful coat, keeping her ‘dignity’ despite her hunger. Or disdainfully laugh at a hilariously inaccurate funeral procession scene and circumcision scene.
What’s surprising, however, is how these lies became a bit like the truth. An elder would talk about decent people who would throw their dead family members on the street, one corpse every few meters. The German filmmakers have herded and instructed Jewish passers-by to walk by these corpses, making them look unsympathetic and callous against their own neighbours. This indifference became a way of life, an elder says, a way to keep one’s sanity.
Pardon the ‘final thought,’ and this isn’t the message of the film but what I got from it. Ignoring the homeless and their pleas – guilty as charged here. Letting ourselves be misinformed about people from other races and religions. There are traces of Nazis’ behaviour today.
- Film: Review: A Film Unfinished (avclub.com)
ph. National Geographic Entertainment
Restrepo chronicles 15 months in the lives of soldiers deployed in outposts of the breathtaking, unassuming and dangerous Korangal Valley in Afghanistan. Journalist/ co-directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington capture it in a cellphone camera, shaky cam, non-shaky cam and post-interviews when we get too close into the soldier’s faces. In one of the documentary’s first scenes as the troops drive up to their outposts, the Taliban starts shooting at them. The directors didn’t have time to get sound equipment. It feels like the camera has luck instead of access to capture what they can, making the experience too raw and real. Yes, the first few scenes are jarring, but things eventually smooth out when the multicultural, heterosexual platoon create an outpost they call OP Restrepo.
In another earlier scene, Cortez uses updated Joseph Conrad language but we can’t spite him because he follows that with realizing the possibility of his death within the same sentence. He also talks about the effects he’s experienced of a certain mission in his tour of duty in the Korangal. The directors juxtapose the not-so-bad with the bad, duplicating the emotional whirlwind that the soldiers face daily. Pemble-Belkin has hippie parents, goes to war, draws the scenic valley that might kill him. His mother’s birthday follows a charismatic comrade’s death. A shot of another officer sun tanning gets me nervous because we saw his legs first. They’re told they’re coming home and later told that nine men from another platoon have died.
There are so many little details packed into this film, aided by the soldiers’ different personalities. These guys are knowledgeable in geography and strategy and try their hardest in public relations. That they’re silly enough to get into wrestling matches or make faint-praise gay jokes to each other, or drag each other into dancing to shitty 80’s remix music. That they’re allowed to bring their PS2 consoles. That they’re shirtless a lot, even in winter, which still makes me kinda jealous. That asking for unconditional love and cooperation after accidentally killing a few locals is a splendid way of apologizing, Kearney.
That reminds of the few ‘shuras’ or meetings with the elderly men with dyed red beards featured in the film show that the locals in the film might be nameless but aren’t entirely voiceless. Also, strangely, the few shots of local women and children whose costumes are still colourful despite the war, one girl shying away from the camera. Or birds circling the snowy peaks of the valley makes me think I’ve watched a muscular version of Black Narcissus.
Let me use this part of this post to kinda gripe about the conventions of war films, a genre I didn’t know I loved. Thankfully, this film doesn’t show nor push for war archetypes. Yes, the soldiers sometimes remind me that they’re still the frat boy meat heads of yore by shooting ammo and letting out a hoot. Or when they’re slightly amused by the Taliban running and their body parts dangling, but no more. There are no local bleeding hearts, just ones with grievances. There are blood-soaked uniforms instead of gratuitous death scenes, especially that of the youngest, innocentest one we see in war films. Coldly recounted events instead of soliloquies. Kearney makes passive-aggressive yet carefully constructed language about killing ‘individuals’ – delivered in a straightforward way – instead of being the groan-worthy token racist guy. And no close-ups of dead animals.
Lastly, there’s the other war archetype – Restrepo himself. The film and outpost get their names from PFC Juan C. Restrepo, the said charismatic soldier. The film’s references to him feel like laces, like a soldier gleefully remembering the drunken moments with him in Rome – and yes, I’m jealous because they’ve been to Rome. Or another impersonating his long fingernails and fantabulous flamenco guitar skills, giving us the impression that he may have talked funny. He seemed like a Cool Hand Luke figure, getting that nostalgic treatment because of his death. Nonetheless, this film isn’t about him, a story of a martyr but about the living and their everyday struggles and little acts of bravery.
Seminal Television: In Which I…
…predict what Don is actually gonna say for the first time.
“Yes?” Say thank you.
“Thank you.” Thank you. Maybe say that to Peggy next time you rip off one of her ideas, you douche.
Also, Sally looking like a little Drew Barrymore here. The best conversations happen with Don, on the phone, while the worst encounters happen in person, with people who have stunted family relationships. Not saying that Don and Betty don’t have that. Betty and Sally are lucky because can you imagine Henry allowing Sally to go to a rock concert?
McCarthyism has survived ten years after its peak. If I was Don, I would have ridden it out till they actually caught me, but he couldn’t take that risk just because G-Men wanted to know if he was a communist.
It’s funny seeing Don and Betty being a sort of ‘team’ again, looking out for each other 18 months after their divorce. I don’t necessarily think that they love each other with the same intensity as they used to. They have a secret code between two people – you don’t tell anyone what you’re told not to. Later on, she ironically asks Henry to not have secrets between them, hoping she won’t make the same mistake twice.
It’s surprising how that code worked on Betty and Pete, especially Pete since $4 million was at stake. I wish Don and Pete waited until the board meeting before they cut off ties with American Aviation to save Don’s neck. Burt also knows who he is. How will SCDP and Don survive after all of this?
J or Josh Cody’s (introducing James Frecheville) mother OD’s beside him. He calls maternal grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver), her little, meek voice telling him to move in with her and her sons, family man Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton), ‘don’t call me uncle’ Darren Cody (Luke Ford) – only two years older than J, and fast-moving shirtless Craig. These men are bank robbers. No biggie.
I assumed toughness from these men, and they do exude that on scene and through grainy footage screenshots of them sporting balaclavas and guns. What destroys their bravado is the decline of the bank robbers, as it goes in many films of the same genre. J also confides that they have fear and feel a familial dread, and looking at the brothers supports that assessment. Barry for example looks like he’s holding in a sigh before talking to the detectives staking out near his front door. Or Craig struggling while play fighting on the couch. Or Darren unable to interfere while someone murders a girl in front of him. There is a little part of me that doubts that fear because the narration technically filters our understand of the characters. However, at least it directs into looking at these men’s eyes at quiet moments within the film.
Then the big brother Andrew ‘Pope,’ (Ben Mendelsohn) pops out of hiding. Pervy and destructive even towards his family, he sets off the crucial events within the film. Pope’s to blame for making things worse – I see it, J sees it, but it’s never fully established whether the other characters do too.
In his misdeeds, the audience watches out for two characters. There’s Janine who seems complicit and J, whose estrangement from the family makes him wired differently from them. He can either be part of the fold or snitch to a detective (unrecognizable Guy Pearce). Their performances are underacted, naturalistic. Weaver as Janine surprises by ordering a hit, slyly dangling the reasons why that hit is beneficial to her henchmen while still keeping her motherly cool. Frecheville as J starts out as a silent wallflower but shines in a scene by himself and in another when he maturely wards off Janine’s empty promises of comfort.
However, what I like best about Animal Kingdom is how it treats these subjects and characters with deft and sympathy, while others could have seen them – watching game shows, smoking indoors, going at each other – as crass human beings.
- Movie review: ‘Animal Kingdom’ a wild thriller (sfgate.com)
- Dan Persons: Mighty Movie Podcast: David Michod on Animal Kingdom (huffingtonpost.com)
TIFF 2009 Cheat: Lebanon
(All entries with the heading of ‘TIFF Cheat’ indicate selections from said festival that I couldn’t watch during the festival’s run.)
Lebanon can be separated into two parts. The body of the film is when we see the film through the eyes of young gunner Shmulik, the new addition to the now team of four young Israeli troops in a tank nicknamed Rhino. The other team members are Asi the irrational commander, Hersel the trash talking loader and Yigal the driver, an only child with elderly parents.
In Shmulik’s job, he has two options – to kill and cry about it later or not to kill. He does both and fails, either action leading to the deaths of those they’re attacking either from his hands for someone else wearing his uniform. The other men in his team accuse him of shooting or not shooting at the wrong times, and they’re arguably right.
He says he’s tense. He quivers at the sight of destruction left from the day before, and in his defense, he has to look at the destruction caused the day before and he sometimes gets the feeling that the people and animals he’s looking at, alive or dead, look back at him and know his presence inside the tank. The Air Force has attacked a Lebanese town the day before, and the tank’s job is to ‘clean up’ the town. Gamil tells the crew that the clean-up is swift and easy, a promise that, the audience knows, is not kept. Shmulik’s periscopes close-up to disturbed copies of Christian oil paintings that used to hang in people’s homes, followed of course by a woman who lost her daughter, stripped because of a fire in her dress.
In the final act of the film, Shmulik doesn’t share the point of view of the movie, the camera instead is shaking because of a Syrian attack. There’s less light than the earlier parts of the film. The camera closes up on the four young men and their different reactions and futures.
In general, the film hints at the different fates of these men too easily. But with that we also get the most TMI story of a father’s death, a strange act of kindness, and survival with a subtle deus ex-machina. A solid multi-character study all around.
- ‘Lebanon’: Experiencing the horrors of war, from the inside of a tank (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Lebanon: Seeking truth from inside a steel prison (thestar.com)
Somerset Hitting the Books
Before I show my answer, I wanna show my back-ups.
The most elegant/scary opening credits.
Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) reacts to stuff.
Four reasons why Mills is a terrible person are shown/implied in this shot.
I suppose this is the right space to write about my complaints about this movie, on how Mills, a guy who’s worked homicide for five years is still a moralizing optimist. Or that the murders wherever Mills is from can’t be as bad as the one’s he’s about to see in L.A. I also have problems with John Doe (Kevin Spacey) hating fat people but hating skinny people too. I don’t know about California law but around here if a the defence admits to his counsel of being guilty, the fight is over. I’m also sure that the whore he killed has used condoms while she’s on duty.
Thankfully, my latest viewing of this movie is one when the dominant force is Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), patient, pensive yet jaded. My answer after the cut.
Director David Fincher‘s always known for his low-light sfumato effect in his films. The same goes for Se7en, where even the ‘white’ shots are wedged in contrast with sharp black. There are, however, instances within Se7en when big dots of colour appear, like here, colour shown behind a car window, made translucent by the rain, looking like a Van Gogh.
The neon signs of the city can advertise anything, including, sadistically, this
But my best shots and two that I can expand upon are these.
Green study lamps, aesthetically pleasing. What a way to visualize enlightenment ignored in a dark, seedy, crass city. Bright objects always get to me.
The library guards are on good terms with Somerset, leaving the books all to himself. He chooses a table, sets the briefcase down, looking at all the books that the guards are ignoring. He eventually addresses this disconnect ‘All the knowledge in the world at your fingertips.’ The guards see his bet and tops it by playing Bach on the boom box, making this trip to the library a relaxing time.
It’s been established that Somerset wants to give up his badge. However, it’s stuff like pulling all-nighters that make others, like the guards in this library, think that he’s eternally linked to this job. He absorbs the information on a handful of books neither with young earnestness nor a yawn. No coffee breaks. The film also establishes this scene as if this might be his last trip to this library, and wants to sit down and take his time with the books.
A guard say ‘Hey Smiley, you’re gonna miss us.’ He responds ‘I just might.’ Interesting nickname.
Also notice the lamps in the second shot are pointing different direction, the mise-en-scene arranged in meticulous disarray.
This post is part of Nathaniel R’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot Series.
- Blu-ray Review: Se7en (seattlepi.com)
- Check Out a Classic Scene From the New ‘Seven’ Blu-ray (cinematical.com)
James Mason: Odd Man Out
This Carol Reed directed British film noir has everything and will make you feel everything. A leader of Irish rebel group (IRA in everything but name), Johnnie McQueen (James Mason) decides to lead a part of a heist, despite his dizzy spells. A short chase scene, then the team who made the heist loses him. Everyone including the team, the police, urban bounty hunters and priests start to look for him, with slightly different motivations for doing so. The film has the intense mood that fits the genre and ages well, and it also conveys the paranoia that comes with living in a police state.
It is also, however, very funny. The humour’s not in the same vein as “The Third Man’s” absurd goodness, it’s more subtle. Dim bulbs make stupid decisions, like Johnnie’s mates who drunkenly confide in a gambling madam who is obviously gonna give them up. There’s also people who were going to have a good time in the shed where Johnnie was hiding, which would have been awkward. There’s also some intelligent humour, like the banter of two housewives who discover Johnnie. I also hope that I discovered a few firsts in movie history featured in here, like violent street children influenced by their urban playground and an actor getting kicked in the face on-screen. There’s also Johnnie, filmed from below, making a powerful speech but something he unconsciously does diminishes that power. They’ve always done everything better in Europe. The comedy within the characters’ actions is naturalistic and didn’t seem like it was selling the jokes too hard. We don’t feel like Reed is mocking the characters he’s directed. This well-balanced set of tones within one movie is instrumental in being the precursor to the Coen style of humour. But then those guys mock the people they’re filming, which they’re free to do so.
I love it when a movie examines characters going through the chaos of urban scenes. I love that here too. When Johnnie moves from his second location to a third, and we get introduced to a minor character’s friends in the second half, the film almost lost me there. The movie’s also about the last low points of a chapter leader. The audiences just sees the weaknesses instead of a Shakespearean pull to the ground, which might make some viewers question his leadership. And the hallucinations are dated as hell. Thankfully Reed gets rid of the fat and ties all the loose ends with a remarkably effective ending.