Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Playing it straight

The next three movies I saw have been of a totally different flavour: all historically recreated films. There is a lot of merit to such films: they're educational, thought-provoking and, at times, challenging.


As a historical moment, the partition of India has always interested me. Gandhi really did interest me in this respect to show the sheer power of politics, allying themselves with religion, to wrench a whole intact civilisation apart. Firaaq documents another piece of the aftermath to the division, the 2002 Gujarat Massacre. The plot follows several ficitional families and individuals, based on real accounts, as they wrestle with the collective trauma after the incident. Only the first scene and the occasional background TV reports make any direct illustration of the true carnage of the days of violence; the viewer can only feel the residual fear and anger the permeates the whole film. The film was well done, although I'd say that some of the less savoury characters in it do seem more caricature than character. There seem to be clear distinctions the virtuous and evil, the perpetrators and victims, the saints and the sinners, that one feels that it might not necessarily be a fair depiction. One can only pursue the information for themselves.


Che was, in fact, two movies in one: a whole 260 minutes of film for the price of a ticket! That in itself was a tempting proposition. The director (Soderbergh) is acclaimed, the subject of the film a significant personage and icon, it was an opportunity too good to skip. And so the first movie began on how Che was involved in the Cuban revolution. History dictates the flow, so all we can see is the nuances of his personality and life, a man of resolute principles, of humanism above all. The second film starts after he returned from nuturing revolution into the Congo and in complete secrecy slipped into Bolivia. History dictates his demise here and so we see how circumstance brought his life to an end. I remember a review after watching The Motorcycle Diaries saying that it was more a hagiography than a biography. This may apply to these films too in that without personal research it is hard to know whether Che is as virtuous as he is presented; indeed in the film his only shortcoming seems to be asthma. This may or may not be the case. The two films put flesh on the bones of knowledge that I had; the story was presented well with style and technique. It was a wholly worthwhile movie to watch.


"Before the first screening I told the audience that my movie was the most unique movie of the festival. But I hadn't read the festival programme. So since then I've read the programme and I can say with certainty that this is the most unique movie in the festival. It may also be the best movie in the festival. Well, we can discuss that after you've seen it. Regardless, it'll be a true cinematic experience." So said the director of Birdsong, Albert Serra.

Of all the movies so far Birdsong was the first arthouse movie. And as such, it needs to be approached with an open mind, infinite patience and a sense of beauty. This is the "historical" story of the three wise men coming from afar to visit the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. They are devoted a mere three lines in the Bible, which Albert decided to inflate to just over 90 minutes. What it seeks to do is provide real humans and humanity to an arduous journey that has become something sanctified, holy and totally devoid of humanness. We follow the through valleys and deserts as the bicker and navigate, go silent and quest forward, never mentioning their goal (the plot is known to all, there is no need to use their speech to indicate where they're going). Joseph and Mary are recuperating after the birth, Mary with baby, and Mary with her goat. And that is the simplicity of it. I did enjoy it, although even I would have wanted him to use time less as a tool.

"That is the most terrible film I've ever seen." So said the ill-tempered hypocritical woman I sat next to after enduring it.

No comments: