June 18, 2009

Mamma Roma (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1962)

A woman enters a life of ill repute in order to make ends meet. At an early age she gives up her son with a promise to resume her life with him one day. Sixteen years later she has earned enough to break free from her past indiscretions. She picks up her boy and takes him off to Rome to start their new life. He is a symbol of her salvation – but she is already tarnished and cannot escape. She cannot escape her pimp--who refuses his own escape into a life of marriage and work in the sticks. She also cannot give up her "friends" from the street. This is who she turns to for aid. As for her son, he cannot assimilate. He is not the bright, neer-de-well child she had hoped he might be. In the end he bares her cross; but she is not saved through his death. The closing shot: Mamma Roma staring out her window at the Vatican and the only true source of salvation? Pasolini again weaves an undercurrent of religion, politics and philosophy under the surface of his filmic parable. Beautifully scripted and shot.

June 10, 2009

Kingdom of Heaven (Ridley Scott, 2005)

I know I have reviewed this before, but had picked it up the other night to watch once again. There is a bitter irony to the title of this film, as the Crusades did anything but bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. In a pluralistic sense, something this film pushes towards, that is the beauty of Jerusalem. There's an Alpha Blondy song where he sings, "Christians, Jews, Muslims we can all be free. To live together and pray. Amen. Let’s give thanks and praises.” That is what this film is about in many ways. Praying together--and fighting together for a mutual cause. The cause of a pluralistic Jerusalem, shared by the people of the book. As-Salaam-Alaikum. A greeting which itself feels the bitter sting of irony as we witness the next round of Crusaders from France heading toward Jerusalem at the end of the film. Off to disrupt any semblance of peace. I'll get off my horse for now.

June 9, 2009

Caracas: Love Unto Death (Gustavo Balza, 2000)

There are lots of subtleties in this Venezuelan film and first effort from Gustavo Balza. We get a sense of the terrain: street violence, Catholicism, corrupt police, music, large apartment complexes, family dynamics, absent fathers and very present priests. We enter a family where unplanned pregnancies are a pattern and now a new generation of unplanned children is about to begin through the pregnancy of Aixa. Her grandmother, who has raised her, is encouraging abortion and confers with her doctor who is contemplating whether he will do this. Her priest fights against it. The father of the child is a street thug and murderer. He and his partner are always at the outskirts of this film, and yet it is their actions that have brought the family, the doctor, and the priest to deal with much deeper issues. The film gives us clues relating to the past lives of central characters, but does not fully flesh those out, and that is fine. There is no time to fully dwell on the past in this world where the present is demanding the attention of all. Balza presents a rich tapestry of interwoven story lines all building to an unexpected end.

June 5, 2009

Anthem (Bill Viola, 1983)

A US Flag. A low hum. Woods. Lamp in a dark room. Factory. Man in white shirt. Eyeball. Girl in train station. Woods. Sap on tree. Several Shots. Snake crawling up tree. Girl in train station. Hum. Microscope shot. Cityscapes. Girl in train station. Smoke stacks. Bridges. Veins in arm. Rifinery. Flame. Howl in slow mo. Girl in train station. Steam. Fog. Lights in fog. Flashing lights on vehicles. Night light. Light on stove. Soft lit living room. Pillow. Woman’s eye. Lamp. Bread. Girl in train station. Cantaloupe and knife. Girl in train station. Melon seeds. Hand by leg. Cat scan. Oil rig by bridge. Different tones of slow screen. Semi. Workers. Rig. Machine. Fire. X-Ray. Vent. Surgery. Bird. Hall. Girl stoops over and picks up glass of water and drinks. Blade. Man working with machines. More intense scream. Surgery. Heart beating. Dialysis machines. Eyeball propped open. Body part. Chest sewed together. Eye surgery shots. Medical shots. Skull. Black. Girl in train station. Screaming. Howl in slow mo. Stays on girl in train station for extended period of time. Abandoned spaces. Oil rig. Girl in train station. Safeway. Phone booths. People on the street. Beach shots. Necklace. Girl in train station. Black. [Anthem=chorus sung repetitively between each verse of a psalm]

Die Fälscher/The Counterfeiters (Stefan Ruzowitzky, 2007)

The Counterfeiters is a different kind of war film. At times "Hogan's Heroes" came to mind--in terms of the relationship between "Sally" and Herzog being akin to that of Klink and Hogan. At other times Renoir's "Grand Illusion" came to mind. Especially the scene where they have a festival celebration with several of the inmates dancing in drag. Sally is our tragic figure and our hero. He is a Russian Jew living a counterfit life. In other words it is not the life he intended. But that life was robbed of him long ago. And then again his life as a counterfitter in Germany was robbed of him. And in a way his life as a counterfitter for the Third Reich was also robbed of him through the allied victory. Many ways to play on the title. It is a World War II film; it is a concentration camp film; it is a film about the treatment of Jews and yet it is different. As a viewer of this film one brings their own cinematic experience of the war and the holocaust with them into the viewing of this film. This Academy Award winner--Best Foreign Language Film--is worth a gander and will likely stir up some interesting conversation.