Sunday, May 15, 2011

A weekend of viewing

Sunday, May 15, Day Five

Lots of films the last couple of days. I'll mention but a few of the three I see each day.

Two good ones yesterday, The Footnote (in competition) from Israeli writer-director Joseph Cedar, a tragicomedy, or maybe comic tragedy, about two Talmud scholars, father and son, both amply competitive, caught within the academic politics of Israeli Talmud scholarship. And appropriately, The Footnote comes in Hebrew. It is told in high spirits, initially at least (think Marx Brothers), and really slick camera work and editing, and it slowly gathers weight as the full brunt of those politics, and father and son contention, gather steam. Along the way come much suspicion and self-appraisal, both scholarly and familial. And the ending is, well, as unusual as any, Cedar perhaps having written himself into a box, and a wrenching one it is. More from me would spoil that close, which does not so much resolve the puzzle as pose a new one--or several. It is a honest, memorable story that casts a hard light on academic politics, which are pretty much the same everywhere, namely often sordid admixtures of ego, power, hard labor, and idealism.

One film suggests Americans have not reckoned with the rolling terror of the Mexican drug wars. Miss Bala by Gerardo Naranjo might just help in making that a sobering reality. And it is not only the violence, but it is corruption induced by vast sums of money. A relative innocent enters the Miss Baja beauty contest, only to be engulfed, quite by accident in Baja's intense violence, all of which is captured with terrifying authenticity (Die Hard or Fast and Furious XXVII it is not). Watch and weep, for much of this is fueled by loosely-controlled American weapons and ammunition.

And today Sunday came one of the major treats of the Festival, the showing of A Kid With A Bike, a new film by two Belgium brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, twice winners of the big prize at Cannes. The new entry puts them in good stead for a three-peat, to grab some sports terminology. Their plots are remarkable and their style consistent throughout, leaning heavily on the stylistic habits of one of France's great filmmakers, Robert Bresson (Diary of a Country Priest, The Pickpocket, to mention but two) and perfecting him. And like Bresson, a conservative Roman Catholic, they carry some theological freight. All of their stories deal with Belgium's outcasts, as does this one which tells of a ten-year old boy abandoned by his father (there is no mother in sight). The child, understandably, is full of rage, at first not believing his father would do such a thing (and even sell his son's bike), and the boy rides and fights for the bike every chance he gets, on the hunt to get somewhere and find something, anything. Only the intervention of a local hairdresser (well-know French actress Cecile de France) offers the kid any hope. If one thinks, this promises to be a tear-jerker, put away the tissues. The brothers Dardenne are after far bigger game than a bit of gush and roses, and a gorgeous thing it is.

Tomorrow comes the new film by American writer-director Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. It is, as one New York reviewer has put it, the "feverishly anticipated" event of the Festival. Check the trailer on the net, in itself a thing of beauty. And that title, most of you know where that comes from. As the trailer itself puts it, the film sketches the perennial conflict between "nature and grace" (see Malick's The Thin Red Line). More to come on that one.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Thanks for the updates, Roy! I recall that Malick was the focus of your research work, and I'm sure it's exciting to be to that part of the program.
Susan (Calvin alumni office)