Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dictators, Cruel Parents, French girls, Bourgeoisie games & Half Nelson

A blistering mad dash through a diverse assortment of films within a week proved that despite the festival season being over, I still can’t get the festival out of me yet! Here’s a quick blurb of the various movies I managed to see:

Molokh (1999 film directed by Aleksandr Sokurov): Rating 7.5/10

Russian director, Sokurov’s first installment in his planned trilogy of movies about three leaders is an interesting effort. If I had seen this a few years ago, I might have appreciated it more. But after having seen the recent Downfall and 2002’s Max (to a lesser extent), I got my fill of watching Hitler portrayed as an average human. So I found nothing new in Molokh although Sokurov does a good job of focusing on Hitler’s moments with Eva Braun. And Sokurov goes further in showing Hitler’s mental deterioration in his final days. Overall, this is a poetic film but I could not stop comparing it to Downfall which was far more engaging.

À nos amours (1983 film directed by Maurice Pialat): Rating 8.5/10

The DVD of this film featured an interview with Catherine Breillat and I can see why. Breillat’s 2001 Fat Girl has shades Pialat’s 1983 film. In fact, the 15 year old main character in A nos amours might have had a lot of advice (about boys and sex) to give to Breillat’s 15 year old character, Elena, in Fat Girl. The difference is that in Pialat’s feature, Suzanne is busy exploring her sexuality by having many boy friends (much to her father’s dismay). Whereas in Fat Girl, Elena starts out with her first lover in the film. Given time, I am sure she would develop into Suzanne. So both films compliment each other. However, Pialat’s movie shows the turbulent relationship between Suzanne and her family (especially her brother who makes himself the head of the family after the father leaves) whereas Fat Girl focuses more on the relationship between two siblings who are opposites and compete with each other.

Tanguy (2001 film directed by Étienne Chatiliez): Rating 8.5/10

A very funny French film about a 28 year old man who won’t move out of parent’s home! In fact, Tanguy keeps finding excuses to extend his stay longer. Eventually, both parents are driven crazy and hatch plans to force him to move out. Temporarily they succeed but with horrific consequences as it turns out that Tanguy gets a panic attack when he moves out. The parents are forced to take him back, but Tanguy quickly gets on their nerves again. In the end, Tanguy finally finds his perfect family and not surprisingly it is in a culture where joint families are a norm. In that regard, the movie is a perfect portrayal of the differences between Eastern and Western parenting techniques -- while the West focuses more on kids moving out as soon as they go to college, in the East joint families is a normal concept. Ofcourse, joint families are disappearing in the East as more and more Western ideas are thrust onto people there. In the meantime, this movie serves as a reminder about certain cultural attitudes that exist.

The Rules of the Game (1939 film directed by Jean Renoir film): Rating 8/10

This film was lost to the world until it was restored in 1959. However, that restoration was longer than the original 1939 version. So in reality, we may never see the original theatrical cut of this movie which was loathed by French public when it was first released. As to why this film was deemed ‘controversial’, Renior answers that on the DVD interview -- apparently at the original screening, an audience member tried to light his newspaper on film with the intent of burning the theatre down. That act gave the general public the impression that this was a terrible film which must be avoided. And the ‘controversial’ tag stuck to the film from there on-in. Watching it today, nothing seems nasty in the movie. A bunch of spoiled greedy self-indulgent rich people go about their lives with plenty of drinking, partying, hunting and gossiping while the servants are left to pick up the pieces. Normal stuff really. But such a film back in 1939 would indeed have upset some people as it must be those rich people who watched such movies in the theatre back then. And one can clearly see the seeds of Gosford Park in Renoir’s film. There is a murder committed in The Rules… but it marks the ending of the film. Whereas in Gosford Park the murder serves as the launching pad for the rest of the story! Overall, The Rules of the Game is an interesting film about class differences, love, friendship and relationships with some wicked camera techniques surely ahead of its time back in the late 30’s.

Half Nelson (Directed by Ryan Fleck): Rating 7.5/10
This is a subjective rating for this movie. I am sure if I was completely objective, I might have rated this film higher. But how can I be objective towards such a clichéd concept? white male teacher is disillusioned with life; needs drugs to get him through the day; believes as a teacher he must make a difference and takes it upon himself to save his young black female student (Shareeka Epps putting in a perfect performance as 13 year old Drey) from the bad influences around her. Drey finds her teacher Dan (played superbly by Ryan Gosling) stoned in the female locker room and helps him to his feet. Dan’s guilt kicks in and he feels he needs to make a difference, he has to; he believes that is expected of him as a teacher. But he stumbles again. The ending does give us hope that Dan might have succeeded. The digital camera provides the perfect grainy look for this movie as it gives the story a realistic tone. But this topic has been shown so many times that I frankly am tired of seeing this. Why on earth do some young American filmmakers focus on only drug addicts or quirky characters as a means to portray their story? Is that the story they really want to tell or is this their ticket to fame as such movies do well at film festivals? Now, I must admit there is a fresh and interesting aspect to this film as well. Dan is not afraid of forcing the kids to think on their own; he teaches them topics outside the school books and wants them to question the nonsense that they are fed via the media and people around them. And Dan’s take on his country’s politics is smoothly integrated into the story as well. The scenes where Dan goes off on a tangent about life and ‘opposing forces’ while his students are either confused or bored are just precious but the other run of the mill stuff turned me off.

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