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.
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.
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.
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.
- TIFF: A Glimpse of Rabbit Hole Enthusiasm To Come? (filmexperience.blogspot.com)
Before Night Falls
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
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…
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.
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.
Y Tu Mama Tambien
My TA John was talking about subtext in film and talked about this movie in how Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) are using Luisa’s (Maribel Verdu) sexually to hide their feelings for each other. Annoyingly I interject ‘But isn’t it also about the history and sociology of Mexico undergoing generational and political change?’ He, like a saint, replies something in the lines of ‘Yes, as well as about two dudes who secretly wanna fuck each other.’
The second time around, I appreciated how much Luisa rubs that subtext in the guys’ faces.
My mom walked into the scene when Tenoch was having sex with Luisa. And apparently my aunt was ‘shocked,’ even though the latter quipped that my viewing of it was ‘educational.’ That went well.
The first time I full watched this movie was thankfully by the time I was in college, since nudity would be close to nothing to me and just cared about the bleak Mexican landscapes. And this movie also taught me what ‘pendejo’ means.
The second time around might feel like grasping at straws, but when you’re watching a movie the second time do you just look at things like the characters’ tastes in interior design, books, music, etc.? This is a movie about teenage boys, a social demographic that barely if ever cleans their house or are tacky enough to put lots of stickers in their cars. Like the anarchy sticker on the right hind (?) windows, showing how Julio shares his car with his college activist sister. That we’re always looking out through the right set of windows to be reminded of that sticker once in a while. Or, most likely unrelated to teenage aesthetics, that I’m kinda angry that I can’t tell who the girl is in that Vogue Eyewear ad campaign at the background in the end of the movies. Or that Luisa hasn’t touched that Yeats book that her pretentious, cheating ass fiance owns. Or that there’s a hotel in rural Mexico with nice beds and a shitty pool. Or, as Lars pointed out the Jules et Jim and Harold and Maude poster and in the room where Tenoch is fucking either Ana or Ceci. Both posters also foreshadow the film’s plot.
Also, where is Maribel Verdu’s ticket to Hollywood? Yes, she has Pan’s Labyrinth, but where’s her Bad Education or Milk or Vicky Cristina Barcelona? Verdu can tell Debbie Downer stories without sounding like Debbie Downer herself.
Speaking of Debbie Downer, I’m trying to fully articulate what I think about Luisa. She’s receptive of the adolescent goofiness of Tweedele-boi and Tweedle-bum, cries in private, receptive again – no pun intended, then she blows up on them, then receptive again. It’s difficult to believe that she easily adapted a Hanna Schmitz-like role towards these boys and/or that she only came out with them as a now-or-never thing. Tenoch lightly accuses Julio of being a leech, but she partakes in the leechiness too. Sexual favours, her escape towards a paradise death – dying in Heaven’s Mouth, so to speak. And that we only see her cry once without having a barrier between her and the camera shows how we’re seeing this woman from a man’s gaze – we pity her but we will never understand her, and it’s a bit frustrating but thankfully not distracting from the film’s merits.
Bechdel time! Luisa asks tour guide Chuy’s wife Mabel for travel tips for where the other beaches are, and she also asks about the beautiful native names of the beaches and towns. Pass!
And not the biggest fan of the shakycam.
Lastly, I also wonder whether Julio and Tenoch would ever friend each other on Facebook.
The male characters in the Southern small-town setting of Sling Blade are different yet the same. Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) is a slow-witted man who’s out from the ‘nervous hospital’ after being there for twenty-five years. His friend Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black) is just a boy – he reads books but we never see him go to school in most of the film. Their friend Vaughn is an owner of a stable dollar store, his homosexuality an open secret to the small community that is ambivalent in accepting him. Frank’s mother’s boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam) is an abusive alcoholic who has aspirations in the music business.
Frank’s mother defends Doyle by saying that ‘he’s had a hard life,’ a statement that applies to all four guys. Specifically, in the first three examples, they have shitty father figures. With the ‘same difference’ that these four guys have, the film paints a social pattern. This movie is only a public service announcement for those who will see most movies that way. What separates this fictional community from lesser movies is that it doesn’t ask for outside help and takes care of its own problems.
Or that Thornton, also the movie’s director, didn’t choose to portray the plot points by changing the tone of the movie through non-diagetic music or heavy editing. What happens in the movie gets normalized through long takes, etc. It’s strange when Karl and Frank talk about something that is bound to happen again. I’m not sure if that prepares me as an audience. What happens, nonetheless, is still shocking when I finally see it.
The performances of the two leads, Thornton and Black, are an acquired taste, arguably dated, but I got used to them eventually. For Thornton’s Karl, there’s mannerisms, check. Catch phrase, check. And we’ve had a lot of ‘special’ male characters in that decade. Forrest Gump, Leo in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Geoffrey Rush in Shine. With any character like Karl, it takes a lot of commitment to be entrenched in a character like that and it’s hard to judge choices like his. And Black at first seems less animated for an abused child, but the one scene in the climax proved that I spoke against him too early. He was just getting warmed up.
But Melanie … Ralston … Is A Badass Too
I love how every stoner posits him or herself as a medical or legal expert, such as Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda) in Jackie Brown. You’ve had one of those in your social circle.
Coughing’s good! It opens up the capillaries. You know, when you cough you’re pulling in air, or in this case – smoke, into parts of the lungs that don’t normally get used. So, coughing’s good, it gets you higher.
I mean, she’s white. She must have gone to college or something. And Fonda never hesitates nor clings on a word and just lets them fly out of her mouth with such certainty and security. While depicting drug addicts or questionables or damaged an actress can either go shrew or 33 variations of victim, and thankfully she’s neither.
For some reason, everybody watched Jackie Brown last Tuesday or Thursday nights when it was on at CBC at one in the morning. I only caught the last two hours of it, but I remember past viewings when Samuel L. Jackson shoots Chris Tucker. And by watching the rest, I guess I get the picture. I just love Bridget Fonda’s performance and character here so much. I’m not alone. She’s well-traveled, liberated, subversive. I had to blog her.
Quentin Tarantino is a great director in a technical side, deftly showing his audience the shot-counter shot relationship through Melanie, such as shot.
Stop hating, Jackie.
Hey, girl, what’s up?
Hey, are you getting that suit?
Yeah. You like it?
It looks really good on you.
You got something for me?
I put a cherry on top. Booh-yah!
Melanie the character also has one of the greatest swan song in movies. Melanie started this precedent of women dying awesome in Tarantino’s oeuvre. O-Ren Ishii’s (Lucy Liu) decapitation, Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah) losing an eye, Bridget von Hammersmarck (Diane Kruger) getting strangled. For Melanie it all started with ‘Louisss…Lou-isss…’
And she gets shot. The end!
Other critics have written about the curiously interesting film making techniques that Nobuhiko Obayashi has used in his feature debut, Hausu, which makes me question my sobriety until this moment as I’m writing this post. But I’ll talk about how marriage-obsessed this movie is. A female gym teacher’s having an arranged marriage, and audience members can deduce that the marriage had to be arranged because she didn’t have the volition to look for a man herself. A high school student, Gorgeous – seriously that’s the character’s name – is angry because Daddy’s getting remarried. Gorgeous and her friends are staying with her aunt for the summer. On the way, a poster tells then “Stay at the countryside. Get married.” The aunt’s lover died in the war but stubbornly waits for him forever, and eats young women so that she CAN wait forever.
Hausu is a part of the Japanese horror/Noh/kabuki tradition like its more coherent predecessor, Ugetsu Monogatari, since both have haunted houses with ghostly female hosts trapping new guests, national metaphor, yadda. Hausu is also a part of horror tradition in general because it kills of the useless ones. Who will survive? How many? Will it be Gorgeous, the young woman who might inherit her aunt’s house? Fantasy, the observant one, doting and waiting for her male teacher? Prof, the one who reads while cats with laser eyes – Andy Samberg oughta be sued – is attacking her and her friends? Kung Fu, her name being self-explanatory, although she presents herself as another obvious enemy against the house? Melody, who shares the aunt’s interest in the piano? Sweet, the one who cleans the house? Or Mac, the one who gives the aunt a watermelon? You have two more days, today till Thursday. Go see it!
I do like these girls, walking through the countryside like that. Girls today would be too conscious that they might be watching their pedicures while treading on their impractical Louboutin heels. Or maybe that’s just me being sexist.
I wasn’t scared in a way that I wasn’t jolted by the movie, but it’s creepy and that’s good enough for horror. Enjoy this movie.
I’m trying to be nicer to this movie because what Roger Ebert and Liza Schwarzbaum and one other critic I can’t find have said about this movie are valid. Girls like sisters Elena, 15 and the titular fat girl Anais, 12, or at least adolescents, can be cruel to each other and then hug and comfort each other the next morning as if nothing happened. And yes, what happened in the ending can happen. You can’t blame the mother (Arsinee Khanjian) for making her choice because motels are just as creepy.
But there’s three things that bugged me during the movie. First is the mother’s thin characterization Her blase response to her husband’s question that “young people meet” makes her a passive accomplice to Elena and Anais’ sexual misadventures. Elena flirts with law student Fernando while Anais is the same room, while the parents are in the same house. Fernando and Elena opens doors, they converse, the smoke cigarettes, Elena has anal sex with Fernando for the first time. The first thing on that list should have woken the parents up. Then when Fernando’s mother reveals the relationship, both mothers are shocked as if nobody knew what was going on.
Second, that Elena is stupid enough to fall for Fernando’s lies. Anais is Elena’s foil in that she’s smarter and more jaded about sex despite being a virgin. She represents the contemporary adolescent, in theory smarter than their predecessors. Elena’s smitten by Fernando, and she really wants the experience. But she doesn’t even listen to reason, even from Fernando. When I was watching this movie, the future parent in me came out in full fury.
Lastly, there were parts when I felt there wasn’t enough of Anais. She is the fat girl in the title, why can’t she have her own misadventures? And the ending doesn’t count as one.
Road to Perdition
Sam Mendes‘ sophomore outing Road to Perdition is gonna be on the History Channel Canada at 9 tonight. This movie’s both underrated and over-appreciated. It was released in the summer with decent box office revenue but met with little recognition by the Academy. It’s overrated because, well, It’s Sam Mendes. Watch it to see Tom Hanks do one of his most difficult roles in his long and admittedly monotonous career.
There are a few flaws, like the dated hopeful musical score by Thomas Newman and the CGI. The rest of it is gritty captured with an ‘opposites complement’ clean cinematography by the late Conrad L. Hall, making this movie a career best for Mendes.
The Luminous Kate Winslet
I realized how well April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) is photographed in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road. She’s often wearing white or bright colours. Summer colours, like she’s on a permanent summer vacation in the Hamptons, or stuck in heaven. Or more than likely sitting or standing near a window. Frank Wheeler (Leonardo di Caprio) has a beautiful wife and so did director Sam Mendes, and the latter wanted to show that off. And it’s like there’s light within her but, as per the movie, I have the feeling that that light in her is clamped down.
Revolutionary Road is gonna be screening at the Revue Cinema at 7 tonight, with an introduction and post-screening discussion led by Toronto critic Geoff Pevere. I’m still wondering whether I’m going or not. I don’t particularly wanna slit my wrists tonight. I also don’t wanna see couples masochistically watching the movie and coming out talking about the performances, because they don’t wanna talk about Frank and April’s relationship. I also think about the numerous casting possibilities if this movie have been greenlighted earlier (Paul and Joanne, Mia and Robert, Jessica and William, Julianne and Dennis). I’ll give the movie another shot, and hopefully, so will you.
Ran – a movie about an aging Japanese warlord Lord Hidetora “Tora” Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai), patterned after the Shakespearean tragedy King Lear – stayed on the grassy hilltops for twenty minutes. I would like to think that I can bear with long scenes with just dialogue but maybe this movie might prove that I just can’t. Is it Kurosawa’s meditative pace again, or the language barrier?
The film’s galvanizing point is when Tora’s ex-right hand man Tango tells him that the latter’s eldest son Taro barred the villages from serving him rice just after he ordered to burn said villages for being presumptuous in their ‘charity.’ He also hears Tango’s interpretation of the third son Saburo’s actions after the latter’s estrangement. His actions alienates the villagers just as it does to his sons. The movie becomes a great one with that scene and every other scene that follows that.
I was also utterly disappointed with the replacement of daughters with sons. The only Kurosawa film I know that has the most/best female characters is his adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. I’m not an expert of Japanese culture so I wouldn’t know what would have happened to Tora’s daughters, or he married off those daughters, or if he had to made his wife and concubines suffer to produce three sons. I concede that I like the characterization of the sons. Taro is ambitious,disrespectful and affected. Jiro is weak. Saburo is coarse yet loyal. I vaguely remember Shakespeare’s characterization of Regan and Goneril, except for evil and more evil. From what I remember, Regan asks “What need one [attendant for Lear],” which can either be interpreted as cruel or cowering. She shares one or two more bitter arguments with Lear than Goneril did. And Cordelia’s, you know, silent. Back to the film, this was a wasted opportunity for Kurosawa to explore female characters.
But fine, Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada) is an audience favourite. Having read a lot about her explosive, gutsy performance from Sarah Boslaugh, Harada impresses when she reveals her hatred against Tora. I kept wondering where she was through the stretches of bloodshed that the men have committed. Then she lunges at Jiro. She closes the doors to the Lord’s room while she laughs, not caring if anyone in the palace might hear her. She blackmails Jiro, tears her own kimono with a knife, then kisses Jiro and the wounds she gave him. It’s an extraordinary scene and it feels like watching something demonic for the very first time.
Kaede, then, is Goneril and Regan lumped into one, having to marry to satisfy the lord of the household and therefore appease a patriarchal society, conniving herself from husband, finally owning her family’s castle for at least a short while. She’s also one of the characters that remind the audience of the Shakespearean tragedy’s worldview. Nothing that the hero or anti-hero owns is rightfully theirs, that any property has a lengthy history of thefts, and that just as many wars have conquered nations and killed kings, vengeance after vengeance will come. She’s also a Lady MacBeth in a sense that she’s chosen to become this evil and ruthless to survive the society that would otherwise spit her out. Lady MacBeth because Ran has a Lady MacDuff in the form of Lady Sue, the latter being pure, forgiving and altruistic even if she goes through the same thing as Kaede. The film has one great female character and her foil, but there could have been more.
Unlike Lear and the Fool, Tora and Kyoami have a strained relationship. Tora hits him. Kyoami’s the only person who calls Hidetora ‘Tora.’ At first, Kyoami is able to joke about Tora’s madness, but frustration sets in. Tango and Saburo are loyal to Tora, but it’s like Kyoami’s the only person who actually loves Tora. He wants to leave but can’t. Tora’s death devastates Kyoami while Tango’s stoic. Kyoami’s adrogyny – and Tora’s ghostly concubines – lets him emote unlike the other male characters in the film and puts a bit of subtext to the relationship, if you’re looking for one.
Almost every shot in this movie is a painting.
This was pretty badass.
I guess beginning the film in grassy hilltops makes sense. We drink in the scenery. In the end all we have are red crags, where Lady Sue’s blinded brother is stranded. He gets his land back but it feels more like limbo instead of a vindicated end. He’s a footnote in this land’s bloody history.
The Merchant Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howards End has its Murnauesque tendencies. A drama about property, class, and family, the film’s first four minutes have no dialogue, as Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), owner of the titular house, walks ghostly outside in the garden. She looks in while her husband Henry (Anthony Hopkins), the rest of her family, and a guest, Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter) are inside having a party. The film evokes a poetic atmosphere within the English suburbs, with the grass and wisteria and trees and the moon. Helen lightly blames the moonlight for her short engagement with one of the Wilcox son, Paul.
Helen’s poor friend Leonard Bast gets enthralled by his environment as well, and thus gets his silent sequences. They meet after a lecture on Beethoven’s Music and Meaning, showing his intellectual side despite his poverty. She steals his umbrella, he walks in the rain to get it back. He goes on walks because of a book he’s read, much to the chagrin of his wife Jacky. He also has a strange recollection of his first meeting with Helen, the gates close on him but she looks back, smiling.
Howards End is a movie of many tones, but I don’t mean that it’s uneven. There’s the comedy of errors tone, when the other Wilcox son Charles (James Wilby) drives the Schlegel aunt to the house. She confuses him for Paul and a row ensues. Helen and Margaret (Emma Thompson) are pretty funny characters themselves, calling themselves chatterboxes, the Schlegel children critical of their outspoken ways.
Then there’s the elegy, represented by Ruth. If you’ll indulge me in overreading, Ruth is also after a Biblical figure of unwavering loyalty and standing by her family. She was born in Howards End, Howard being a prominent name in some noblemen, a family plagued by tragedy. She’s kind of fragile, most of her children have grown up and married. and her husband tends to leave her in the house for business. She symbolizes permanence, shocked by the notion that Margaret has to move from the house where the latter was born. She has bursts of energy now and then, thanks to Margaret’s friendship, and there’s an implication that Henry and her family bring her down. This role’s part of the roles Redgrave has been getting in her later years, a woman haunted by her past.
There’s also a sense of urgency in the film’s drama, culminating in the forty minute mark, with Margaret becoming the protagonist. She’s like sunshine to this movie, her early moments especially with Ruth, we see her smiling and accommodating. Ruth’s last wish is that Margaret would inherit Howards End, Henry eventually asks Margaret to marry him. In Ruth’s last moments, she inadvertently passes the torch to Margaret, her silence replaced by Margaret’s protestations. Thompson made leading roles out of being the elder sister or friend with the voice of sanity, and her Margaret is still that archetype to Helen. But here in Howards End, she’s stuck between Helen’s idealism and Henry’s ruthless prejudice. Her last fight with Henry is one of the riveting arguments I’ve seen in a British period film and perfectly encapsulates Forster’s liberal stance.
There’s no need to say that Anthony Hopkins is amazing in this film. He plays his character with charm, ruthlessness yet repressed humiliation, opposite yet same from the cannibal that won him the Oscar. It’s reminiscent of other actors doing something different after their Oscar-winning or infamous roles. Like Marlon Brando dabbling in musicals after winning for “On the Waterfront,” or Denzel Washington becoming a sensitive shrink after becoming a psychotic cop, or Jack Nicholson playing a wounded playwright after playing a homicidal novelist, or John Wayne playing fatherly after playing racist.