Thursday, June 10, 2010

2010 Movie World Cup, Group E

Group E -- Holland, Cameroon, Japan, Denmark

Films: Amsterdam, A Trip to the Country, The Human Condition, part I, Flame & Citron

Holland: Amsterdam (2009, Ivo van Hove)

Amsterdam depicts a modern cosmopolitan mosaic of Dutch life and tackles issues such as racism, illegal immigration, crime, broken marriages and familial bonds by juggling multiple story lines which converge with a bang, literally in the form of an accident. Marisa Tomei has a small role where she plays a woman frustrated in her marriage.

Cameroon: A Trip to the Country (2000, Jean-Marie Téno)

A great thing about this movie world cup is that it gives me a chance to catch up with director's works from different countries. I had read about Jean-Marie Téno previously but had never seen anything by him, so I was delighted to view his A Trip to the Country.

Jean-Marie Téno travels from the capital Yaoundé to the Cameroonian country side to highlight some concerns relevant to the local economy such as the decline in agriculture and lack of infrastructure and also examines attitudes related to the desire for westernization and emulation of the west.

The film's ending gives a perfect example about the infrastructural and organizational problems in African soccer and brings to mind an incident when in the mid 1990's the Cameroonian soccer team almost walked out of the tournament due to a dispute about payment/bonuses. Similarly, in the ending of A Trip to the Country a local soccer championship game is almost disrupted due to money issues. As narrated in the film, all local teams had to pay increased registration fees to enter the tournament whose winner would get a trophy and prize money. However, moments before the final's kick-off, the finalists are informed there's going to be no trophy nor any prize money handed out. The players are not happy but are told by the officials to play.

When the game eventually starts, the players have to play on a terrible pitch with the ball occasionally getting lost in the tall grass.

If organizational and infrastructure problems can plague the national team, then it is not surprizing to see these problems taking place at the root level of the game. Although such problems are not confined just to Cameroon but inflict many other African nations as well, thereby making it hard for an African team to mount a serious World cup challenge.

Japan: The Human Condition, part I (1959, Masaki Kobayashi)

Part I of Masaki Kobayashi's 9+ hour, 3 part film, is a brilliant depiction of opposing values and beliefs in treatment of prisoners and human beings. The person caught in the middle of an ideological tug of war is Keiji (Tatsuya Nakadai), the supervisor of a Japanese controlled World War II labor camp. Keiji's desire to have the Chinese prisoners treated properly bring him in constant conflict with his supervisors and even the prisoners themselves. The film is a fascinating case study in showing how diplomacy cannot thrive in an environment of doubt, violence and inflated egos. The examples the film represents regarding the treatment of captured prisoners/citizens of a conquered nation are relevant even today as the world is engulfed in a state of perpetual war where distrust and anger grows on both warring sides.

Denmark: Flame and Citron (2008, Ole Christian Madsen)

A slick and polished production about the brutal emotional wear and tear that political killing takes on an individual. The film is based on two WWII Danish resistance fighters who made their name by tracking down and shooting Nazi party members. Things get complicated when Flame learns that he may have been involved in killing innocent people. Citron refuses to acknowledge that he killed any innocent person because he wants to believe his murders were for a just cause. The information available to the duo only gets more murky and vague as the film goes along, thereby increasing their doubts and shaking their convictions.

Flame and Citron is a smart and stellar film that knows when to let the two lead actors expressions speak for themselves and does not bog the film down with needless words. There are some eye catching camera angles in the film with one of my favourite being the scene in which the Nazis raid Flame's safe house. Flame is shown to be quietly seated at the dinner table when the camera cuts to a close-up of his troubled face followed by a quick cut to show us the view from Flame's eyes which see an army of Nazis swiftly moving towards the house. Another close up gives us a look at Flame's calculating face. Any other person would have panicked in that instance but true to his character, Flame remains calm before making his next move.

Standings and Points (Maximum out of 9)

The Human Condition, part I: 9
Flame and Citron: 8
A Trip to the Country: 7
Amsterdam: 5

Flame and Citron was a very late substitute entry because the original choosen Danish entry Allegro became unavailable and amazingly, it ends up being one of the best films out of the 32.

I took a gamble with the Dutch title by picking a film I knew nothing about it in the hope of discovering a gem. Unfortunately, the gamble with Amsterdam didn't pay off. But part of the fun with this movie world cup has been trying to discover some worthy titles without reading too much about a movie before hand. So there have been some pleasant surprizes and some disappointments as well.

Soccer Group Prediction

Like the film group, this group should present a diverse set of styles and provide plenty of entertainment. However, Holland should easily win this group but the big questions around the Dutch squad have to do with Robben and Van Persie's fitness. Both are technically world class players but the duo are equally injury prone. Some say that Van Persie is just unlucky with injuries as his injury issues problems came in three seperate incidents over the last three years -- the first was caused by his post goal celebration against Man Utd and the next two took place in meaningless international friendlies against Austria and Italy. Van Persie began the 2009/10 season in fine form but Chiellini's awful tackle in the Italy game put him out for almost the entire season. Whatever the case, these injuries have certainly weakened Van Persie and it is hard to depend on him being fully fit to get through an entire tournament let along a full soccer season.

Denmark should progress to the next round in 2nd place because Cameroon have to sort out their internal team squabbles, most recently with Samuel Eto'o threatening to walk out of the team. Eto'o is clearly Cameroon's best player but equally important has to be Alex Song, who has emerged as one of best players in the Arsenal team. I had high hopes for Japan back in 2002 but since then they have been fading and it is hard to see them make any impact at this World Cup.

Note: Friends keep telling me the fact that Eto'o has stayed around means he is committed to the national team and that Cameroon will take 2nd place behind the Dutch.

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