Vimy Day Movie: War Horse
Vimy Week Movie is a series of WWI movies. It has three parts that will be doled out within four days, matching the battle’s grueling duration. Instead of doing this series on Armistice Day like a normal person I’m starting this today on Vimy Day, a holiday that will be recognized if we Westerners feel like it, which we really don’t. But there are mini-events and pins to commemorate the day, since we’re not on the holiday-size yet.
With War Horse Steven Spielberg not only proves himself again as a filmmaker but also as a nightclub promoter. Anytime I entered a multiplex that also showed War Horse there was a tendency that its sound system would overpower the walls, which was totally annoying. But it also invoked jealousy, making me want to enter the screening room despite the mixed reviews. I finally saw it in a smaller sized theatre which didn’t do the sounds any justice.
It’s almost embarrassing to admit to like this movie, especially the second time around when I hear ‘Be brave’ and when Jeremy Irvine says anything. But it’s by its awesome antebellum moments like ducks quacking to make David Thewlis go away and Emily Watson using her yarn needles to make David Thewlis go away. What has David Thewlis done to these characters except for threaten their livelihoods like villains do? There are also great war moments with Joey, the titular war-horse and method actor, and his black beauty of a rival. I also mention ‘antebellum’ and ‘black beauty’ because this movie also references another great war movie Gone With the Wind, Spielberg echoing that American classic’s deep colours and broken, borderline delusional characters. References also include Terrence Malick’s poetic approach to nature – although Spielberg tries and competently success to do in seconds what Malick would do in hour-long sequences – and John Ford’s methodical battle scenes. And of course, he incorporates his own hammering method of portraying violence.
A friend of mine really loves this movie and we like making fun of him. What I also like to do more is to sandbag him because he calls this ‘melodrama’ in the positive sense of the word. Although I don’t feel comfortable with that word because there’s some earnestness in this movie, which begins in the movie’s hour mark, which is, admittedly late but boy does it compensate. It brags stellar actors including David Kross and Niels Aestrup who, despite being German or French, speak English because they want to be in more Hollywood movies. On the English side it stars Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Marsan and Toby Kebbell, the latter somehow aging backwards. There are also some moments where it just looks dirty and muddy as it should, because war is. And when the boy (Jeremy Irvine) comes home, he’s as fractured as his father (Peter Mullan) but is trying to rebuild the family he left temporarily.
A Woman’s Scene: The Proposition
Then comes a scene inThe Proposition when Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) is haunted by his titular…proposition. I know he’s right but he doesn’t successfully convince two people, his boss and his wife, Martha (Emily Watson), who is listening next door. Now I know what’s she’s thinking, being mad at Stanley for releasing one of the men who allegedly has raped her friend. She later voices out ‘What if she had been me,’ giving us Lars flashbacks. In both senses, I can’t fault her. Maybe Watson’s superbly visceral portrayal of Martha’s engender the emotional distance between her and me, the viewer, and Stanley. Between opposing definitions of justice and retribution. That moment definitely made me want to reach out and try to fully understand.
- The Road – 2009 | Con Đường Hy Vọng (pittari.wordpress.com)
The Golden Age: Gosford Park
The first time I saw this film I thought it was lighter and less stiff upper lip than its reputation. I even tolerated that it used the oldest joke in the book – ‘…deaf in one ear.’ ‘Sorry?’ I also thought that this would end up being one of those movies where ‘nothing ever happens,’ even if it does.
Pardon the socialist reading of the film, but Robert Altman‘s GOSFORD PARK shows the class stratification between the dying British noble class and their servants. The latter is both gossipy best friend and lap dog to the former, this dual role making the relationship more complex, nuanced and multifaceted than any worse ‘camp’ possibilities it might have already had.
This latent function of the servants make them the eyes or the audience stand-ins for the movie, especially Mary MacEchran (Kelly MacDonald), the ‘Miss Trentham’ to Countess Constance Trentham (Maggie Smith), Mary being new to the country world as we are. She’s the one finding out things like bringing a small box to store jewels that would be used on the first night. The secrets of the house falls under her lap, and she spends a significant time in the film running around the servants’ level to ask her coworkers why they’ve done certain things she wouldn’t.
What I love about this film are the scenes like Constance throwing a scarf at Mary to pack while leaving the house. It’s simple moments like this that can create a feeling of outrage within an audience, specifically because of how fast they can happen. Constance also does this childlike, as if she’s doing nothing wrong.
Then I realized that Constance, just like the upper classes in most movies set in the first half of the twentieth century, is a child. She needs an allowance that is threatened by Lady Sylvia McCordle’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) husband, businessman William (Michael Gambon), who for some reason has control of the finances that would be passed down from centuries long lines of nobles. It also reminds me of Vera’s condescension towards her own mother in “Mildred Pierce,” a warped and archaic mind-set that income is a birthright.
By earning his, William is threatening the nobility’s old world order, although that doesn’t stop them from depending on him. He is the one to ask for allowances and investment money, having created many businesses that continually exploit the poor in many ways. And they get disgruntled when he ruthlessly takes away.
The movie also shows the characters’ diverse reactions what is happening around them. Constance anticipates the shame in the inevitable event that would lead all of them to confess their grievances about William. Mary grows, although the sills she attains as a novice servant may eventually be useless. Sylvia’s callous, thinking about selling the house as if that is only a minor change.
However, there are characters like Elsie (Emily Watson, who usually plays innocent roles), the first head maid, the woman who teaches Mary about the big and little things about serving in a country house. She’s like the older sister, smoking a cigarette and telling a younger Mary on her lovers and the realities of romance and sex in the upper and middle classes. She wards off Henry Denton’s (Ryan Philippe) come-ons. She gets sacked for speaking to Sylvia out of turn but she bravely says that this even ‘might be the making of me,’ riding off in Hollywood producer Mr. Morris Weissman’s (Bob Balaban) car, a beginning in itself.
100: Breaking the Waves
Bess McNeill (Emily Watson) petitions to an all-male Christian council to be married to an outsider, Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgard). She tells them that the outsiders are good because of their music, her eyes telling the camera that she isn’t talking about music at all. It’s already been established that her community’s very patriarchal, that even in the beginning, a beloved member of a community and her family will be addressed with the words ‘Hold your tongue, woman.’ Or that women in her community are not allowed to discuss questions during church like men. Or that this society relegates women to waiting for their men for long periods of time as they go to work on the rigs. These first scenes already denote the film’s themes – a young woman’s blossoming sexuality clashing with patriarchal suffocation. In no way do these scenes prepare us for the film’s second half, putting Bess in an emotional roller coaster on earth previously unimaginable.
Women are forbidden to go to funerals. Antony Dod Mantle (not pictured, not that I know) will rise again to win an Oscar.
Bess has put a heart on November 26 on her calendar, marking Jan’s scheduled return. She lets out a childlike outburst when she finds out that her sister Dodo has ripped and hidden the calendar. She wrestles with God (Watson in a deeper voice, don’t ask) for her husband to return ten days before he’s supposed to come. God tells her that she’s changed but nonetheless grants her wish. I watched the movie on November 27, thirty something years and a day after Jan’s supposed to come back.
I’ve had at least a week to think about the film’s ending. Sure she didn’t plan for her husband’s debilitating injury. Nonetheless, Bess got the best possible escape to her situation. I wish I can have someone to politely argue against this film with me. I’m usually good to subscribe to feminist, politically correct readings that speak out against auteur’s misogyny. Yes, showing a woman being oppressed isn’t enough to be the equivalent of a statement that women shouldn’t be oppressed, as many aueturs and apologist critics and film writers have lazily tried to argue. von Trier, from the only other movie I’ve seen of his, gives his women 150 seconds of victory to erase 150 minutes of degradation. It’s up to you the audience to buy that, which I do. Yes, change is the only way to combat a patriarchal society. Yes, Bess is still dead. However, it’s not as if Bess can move to New York City and burn her bra. Yet her sacrifices ensured her husband’s convalescence who in turn can defend her right for a proper burial. Dodo eviscerating the men at Bess’ funeral seems satisfying. Lastly, von Trier successfully makes his audience believe that Bess did go to heaven. I know I should have a problem with the material, but I don’t.
- Take Three: Emily Watson (filmexperience.blogspot.com)