…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “death

Restrepo


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.

Advertisements

TIFF Hangover: Attenberg


Two themes support Attenberg, the first is its portrayal of awkward human interactions. We see protagonist Marina, a 23 year-old girl with an extremely low sex drive, learning how to French kiss from her sexually experienced Charlotte Gainsbourg lookalike of a best friend, Bella. She can talk to her architect father about taboo sexual issues in their native Greek, French and animal. She’s a chauffeur for a little company, driving around a visitor who she’s going sleep with. She describes every little thing she does to try to arouse him. I’m serious.

ph. cinema-architecture

All of this happens in decay, in a small Greek city with ample infrastructure – hospitals and tennis courts. Yet there only seems to be a handful of people enjoying these things. The movie spends most of its time capturing Marina and Bella’s walks together, showing that boredom is quirky’s workshop. It’s only until their third or fourth walk together that the film shows people other than the main characters. They sing a Brigitte Bardot song ironically, the sidewalk near the tennis court isn’t ripe with the men or women of their sexual fantasies.

Attenberg doesn’t have a good start pacing-wise but it has a lot of good ideas. It keeps the audience laughing and thinking and has a different approach in human behaviour in an isolated and limited world. Labed perfectly captures the boredom, confusion and pain so subtly in a role that won a best actress award in Venice. And a good indie rock soundtrack always helps.


TIFF: Rabbit Hole


In John Cameron Mitchell‘s adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire Pulitzer winning Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman plays perfect modern wife Becca Corbett, and the film can serve as a primer for what Kidman can do. In describing Becca, the people in her life – her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart – not a good yeller) her mother Nat (Dianne Wiest), her sister Izzie, Jason, the people in her God-fearing support group – would give different answers. The audience can watch Becca pretend to be normal as she does her chores. You can also watch her giddily hopping down the streets of Manhattan in high heels as she goes back to her old turf at Sotheby’s. And almost get turned on by Al Green. And make drug jokes. And cry while watching teenager Jason be driven off to prom.

ph. TIFF

Abaire re-imagines the characters in his play. Becca, Howie and Nat are intact, he waters down Izzie’s confrontational trashiness while Auggie and Howie’s SPOILER alleged mistress (Sandra Oh) END SPOILER appears in the film. Like Becca and the principal characters in her life, the film never reuses the same emotion or depicts every scene in the same way. Sometimes the cloud hanging above Becca and Howie, perceived by others, lifts and humour finds its way into their natural conversations. Rabbit Hole, shot colourfully without being too artificial, is not one of those movies that try to change your life. However, it can change the way one thinks of emotion and the permanence of one’s loss. 4.5/5.


Before Night Falls


ph. Warner Home Video

Cut it, Javi. You’ve had bad hair for a role before.

Before Night Falls is playing at the Cinematheque at 9:30 tonight. Come because I probably on vacation and can’t.


Feminism and Autumn Sonata


ph. Criterion

If it was only as instinctual as Helene, a disabled young woman, calling out for her mother, Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman). But Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata is about Helene’s sister Eva (Liv Ullmann), who sees an opportunity in seeing Charlotte again and she has a lot to say. What drives Bergman’s characters are emotion and memory, and therefore the possible social and political ideologies behind them get more ambiguous.

In a scene where Eva takes Charlotte to her room, we find out that she is and can be beautiful, sorrowful, vain, demanding, impatient and cruel, and she is all those things throughout the film. Eva, however, takes on her mother’s attributes in parts of the film, especially when she feels in control of the situation.

What makes the film just as ambiguous, then is how similar they are despite their different appearances and chosen paths.

I wanted to discuss its political interpretation because of a certain shocker spoiler. We can’t fully talk about artistic intentions here, but when a movie, a script or a book brings up a learned woman’s stance supporting abortion, she ends up looking like a babbling shrew. I suppose my discomfort comes from the later texts that had a less complex interpretation of the issue. In this movie, its hard to map out what it means for Eva to rid of a child under Charlotte’s orders, that Charlotte’s taking away Eva’s right to become a mother, that it is never explicitly said whether Charlotte is pro-choice, when the operation is allegedly forced, or if the child is presumable conceived out-of-wedlock.

By the end of the film, Eva’s husband seems to have questioned his unadulterated worship towards her. Watching and listening in the hall whether Eva is alone or with Charlotte, he’s the stand-in for the movie’s audience. We’re asking questions too, which is another thing I love about this movie.


Salo, or 120 Days of…


ph. Criterion

Saw this at the TIFF Cinematheque as part of their Pasolini retrospective. Apparently I would have stayed longer in the theatre for 25 more minutes if the Cinematheque had the premiere version. It’s either in Criterion, on the internets, or is lost ‘forever.’

The movie isn’t porn. It isn’t titillating, unless having a two second glimpse of 16-year old flaccid penis gets you off, which is, good for you I guess. Four men, the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate and the President sign a book of rules, shepherd eighteen adolescent boys and girls into a mansion and degrade them sexually. There isn’t the contact nor intimacy nor should I say, intensity of ‘normal’ sexual activities. The adolescents are ‘taught’ sexual acts and are told that that’s their purpose. They have to please these four men and their pleasure isn’t a reward. And they eat shit and they get sliced in the forehead. If you were expecting something else, sigh on you.

It’s funny how I can’t show any nudity or sexual acts to a 20 year old in the screen caps – I won’t anyway – but it would probably have been OK to show the same 20 year old with a gun on his head. Or his tongue cut off.

This movie is Pasolini’s critique of fascism in Italy, but I’ll get back to more on that. While the men are examining one of the potential girls, the Magistrate asks her if he will prefer them to the nuns in the convent, the gamine answers that she doesn’t know that yet. This might look like overreading, but a madam transfers the innocent child from one oppressive system to another, a typical problem in ‘modern’ Europe when religious absolute monarchies are overthrown by totalitarian regimes like that in Italy. Depending on your judgment of the girl’s fortune, she wasn’t chosen because of a missing tooth. The nuns already turned her into damaged goods.

Again, critique of Fascist Italy, and conspiracy theories suggest the Neo-Fascist P2 killed Pasolini. That was repeated by my friend’s friend outside the theatre at the end of the film, who likened the mansion in Salo to the 9 billion secret prisons being built in Canada at this moment – his opinion, not mine. The fact that Fascism ruled in more than one country in Europe, and that threat constantly pops up made the film more resonant to me. And that I couldn’t like the inane blindness and heteronormative stance of Amarcord, a movie made near the same time about the same earlier period, after watching Salo. Although it’s not a great one or a favourite, it’s essential.

However, Michael Haneke names this one of his ten favourite films. Obviously.


Madadayo


ph. DVDBeaver

Two scenes in Akira Kurosawa’s swan song Madadayo say it all, and in a way the latter scene repeats the same message as the former. The first scene of the film shows the Sensei, a German professor, appearing behind a blue door and entering a classroom. He stands in a platform most Westernized classrooms are equipped with. He announces his retirement from teaching. The whole class tells him that he will always be their Sensei, stands to show their allegiance to him. He pulls a handkerchief and dries his tears.

The second scene is Sensei’s first Madadayo banquet, in a German beer hall, a party held with the constraints of postwar finances. He drinks a glass of beer as big as his arms. His former students perform some curious, culturally esoteric ritual where they ask him if he’s ready – to die – and his frail old voice confidently bellows, “Madadayo,” meaning not yet.

Both scenes show the Sensei towering over his students, then seamlessly make him short and meek and humble within five minutes or less. He’s a great man, raised by his status, but he’s human and relatable. Kurosawa’s always shown masculinity as a contest but he refreshingly shows manliness as gentle and civilized. There’s still the war context and the Westernization of Japan. None of the men in the movie are shown literally fighting, but the Sensei is defiant and has successfully taught that defiance to his students.

Also, it’s a story about a man and his cat, if you’re willing to endure something like that. As a character study, it’s difficult for Madadayo to become a great film. His students repeatedly call him “a lump of gold without impurities,” which may be applied to this film. It’s no bracelet, but you’d be a fool to dismiss its beauty.