Monday, September 01, 2008

The Week in Review - 31/8/08

  • You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang, USA, 1937)
  • Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1922)
  • Il resto della notte (The Rest of the Night, Francesco Munzi, Italy, 2008)
  • La ragazzo del lago (The Girl by the Lake, Andrea Molaioli, Italy, 2007)
  • Son of a Lion (Benjamin Gilmour, Australia/Pakistan, 2007)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, USA, 1940)
You Only Live Once
Hmmm... Henry Fonda playing an ex-crim trying to break free from the past and make a new life for himself. With The Grapes of Wrath below, what a coincidence. These two films could make good companion pieces. Ford's film is superior in every respect that I can think of, but Lang's films is very good, too. I'm going to cop out and leave it at that.

Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler
Part I is two and a half hours. This is great film-making. I'll have more to say after the conclusion of Part 2 next week.

The Rest of the Night
Comments coming with a preview of the Italian Film Festival

The Girl by the Lake
Comments coming with a preview of the Italian Film Festival

Son of a Lion
This film is an impressive accomplishment by Gilmour. Sure, it's a little rough around the edges, but that also has its appeal, especially given the extremely difficult circumstances under which the film was made. Gilmour travelled to the North West frontier of Pakistan, where foreigners are not allowed. At great personal risk (and with ongoing risk to the local villagers), Gilmour filmed in a clandestine manner using nonprofessionals.

It's a simple story, not unlike many Iranian films. An eleven-year old boy, Niaz, works for his father, Sher Alam, an old Mujhadeen who fought against the invading Russians during the long war against Afghanistan. Sher Alam makes guns but Niaz just wants to go to school. I love the way the film assumes the child's perspective. Niaz doesn't want much, but he wants it bad. There's a heart-breaking struggle to achieve his seemingly unattainable goal, and the cultural aspect woven into the film is beautiful.

My seven year old also enjoyed Son of a Lion. There is one brief scene where an animal is slaughtered and we covered his eyes (and ours) for it.

All kudos to Gilmour for making this film. This is an example of world cinema made with passion and commitment, with respect for both the subjects of the film and the audience. Gilmour has no background in film-making. He spent time with these people and decided he wanted to tell a fictionalised version of their story. I highly recommend it. It's screening in Melbourne exclusively at the Nova.

The Grapes of Wrath
What a magnificent film this is, and how timeless it is. It's as relevant today as it was - nearly seventy years ago - when it was made. I read John Steinbeck's book (1939) at high school, though it didn't impress me at the time as much as other novels like To Kill a Mockingbird, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and 1984. Note the common themes in these books? I wonder if social injustice and inequity have the same level of importance in contemporary English classes.

Watching the beautifully restored film at an encouragingly crowded Sunday evening session at ACMI, I was in awe of the beauty of the cinematography, the grittiness of the story and how things have changed little since the times depicted (the great depression of the 1920s). Indeed, one could convincingly argue that it's been the same since feudal days.

The Grapes of Wrath is a fiercely angry film, and I'm not playing on the film's title. There's real indignation at the maltreatment of 'ordinary folk', and how the rights of the individual in the so-called 'free world' have been usurped by faceless corporate interests. I love the way Henry Fonda's Tom Joad seems to delight in telling the truck driver he hitched a ride with that he'd been in jail for homicide. He's such an attractive anti-hero.

The film is overtly political, much more so than could have been done a decade later (with McCarthyism and the hunt for 'the reds'). It seems that the so-called conservative side of politics usually takes the high moral ground on issues of patriotism. Grapes of Wrath clearly places the average Joe, the working families as the foundation of a free society, fighting for a fair deal against the corrupt and criminal corporate class.

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