Archive

Movies

Set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of two twelve-year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness.

Make sure you check the trailer of this amazing movie by Wes Anderson, and make sure you watch the entire movie, we’ll write our review shortly (anticipation: we loved it).

The movie review is back from a brief summer break—I will try to keep writing this coming Autumn every other week, in a slower pace this time.

~  ~  ~

Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003), directed by Peter Webber, tells the story of a masterpiece of Dutch art; Het Meisje met de Parel (Girl with a Pearl Earring) by Johannes Vermeer. Based on a novel of the same name, written by Tracy Chevalier, the film depicts a fictional account leading up to the creation of the painting, in particular the special bond that forms between Griet (Scarlett Johansson), a housemaid (who becomes Vermeer’s muse and model), and Jan Vermeer (Colin Firth).

Griet enters the family home run by Vermeer’s mother-in-law, Maria Thins (Judy Parfitt), as a maid in order to support her family; her intelligence is apparent, and she has an eye for color and composition which Vermeer notices. Much of the film takes place in the atelier, the sanctuary of a bustling, chaotic household (Vermeer and his wife, Catharina Bolnes (Essie Davis) had 14 children) Despite the gaping divide in their class rank, Vermeer lets Griet in on the process of painting, eventually asking her to assist him in preparing the paints—one of the most essential phases of painting. As a slow painter Vermeer produces only one painting a year, and the household is dependent on an affluent patron, Pieter van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), who has set his eyes on Griet. This is how the portrait of the girl comes into being; an official painting, and a secret portrait of Griet in parallel.

Griet: Madam, shall I wash the windows? 
Catharina: You don’t need to ask me about such matters. 
Griet: It’s just… it may change the light. 

The setting of the film is Delft, 1665, intricately reproduced  with the aid of Vermeer’s and other paintings of the golden era of Dutch art as references; with such detailed source material, the film manages to capture the atmosphere of the paintings perfectly. In a way, the film is also treated as a painting: it builds up slowly, layer by layer, with a sense for details and beauty. During a pivotal scene, a dinner celebrating new life and the disclosure of a Vermeer’s finished painting, we get a look at the harsh reality of household servants; the effort put into the celebration, and briefly glimpse the conversation through a glass window along with Griet, a reminder of separation within the household. 

Over time the Girl with a Pearl Earring has gained the same kind of enigma that surrounds the Mona Lisa, and has been dubbed the ‘Mona Lisa of the North’; in both paintings the model is unknown, and their expressions are indecipherable. Chevalier has described how the way she looked at the painting changed as she imagined the portrait rather as a portrait of a relationship, which inspired the premise of the novel. Girl with a Pearl Earring explores precisely the relationship between the artist and subject; how their interaction is affected once Griet becomes Vermeer’s model.

The Darjeeling Limited(2007) directed and written by Wes Anderson (along with co-writers Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman), is a story about three brothers, Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman), attempting to reconnect after not having spoken for a year. Francis, having survived a motorcycle accident feels the need to reconcile, and has arranged a train trip on the Darjeeling Limited through India, with stops in between to visit local temples as the backdrop for their ‘spiritual journey’. They start out distrustful of each other, ever since drifting apart after their father’s funeral; Francis, as the eldest of the brothers assumed responsibility for the other two, and micromanages their travel arrangements, (complete with a laminated itinerary, which is slipped under the door of their compartment each morning) while Peter and Jack grudgingly comply.

Francis: I guess I’ve still got a lot of healing to do. 
Jack: Gettin’ there, though. 
Peter: Anyway, it’s definitely going to add a lot of character to you. 

Alongside the whimsical dialogue and character of the film, there are also more serious undertones; it’s clear all three are still processing the death of their father, signaled by the constant squabbling over who is entitled to his possessions, and each struggling with issues of their own. Soon enough, their journey gets derailed when they are kicked off the train in the middle of nowhere, (after accidentally letting a lethal snake loose, and abusing cough medicine) along with their 11 matching bags, and they are thrust into the real India, where healing can begin.

Drawing inspiration from the films The River by French filmmaker Jean Renoir, and documentaries on India by Louis Malle, Anderson has brought to life a warm, vibrant Indiaperfectly in tune with a wonderful score featuring Satyajit Ray (to whom the film is dedicated) and  The Kinks. Also, accompanying The Darjeeling Limited is a short film, Hotel Chevalier, which gives some background details to the story. Perhaps warmth is what best describes Darjeeling Limited, in all it’s quirkyness and deadpan humor; there is something contagiously uplifting about the film as a whole, in addition to the comedy arising from the interaction between the three brothers.

The Pianist (2002), directed by Roman Polanski, is based on the memoirs of Władysław Szpilman, a renowned Polish-Jewish pianist, recounting a miraculous survival through World War II. Beginning with the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Władysław (Władek) Szpilman (Adrien Brody) and his family are subjected to a deterioration of living conditions, enforced by increasingly degrading, absurd decrees. Jews are barred access from cafes, shops and most public spaces; even the sidewalk on occasion, illustrated by a memorable scene where Władek’s father (Frank Finlay) is commanded to continue his walk in the gutter

Their situation in Warsaw escalates by 1940, when the entire Jewish population of the city (over 360 000) is forced to resettle into the Warsaw ghetto. Life becomes a struggle for survival, where Władek is among the more fortunate; playing piano in cafes to support his family, while poverty and disease reign in the streets. Eventually they are rounded up for deportation to Treblinka, during which Władek is pulled aside by a member of the Jewish police, never to see his family again. He joins the laborers left in the ghetto, and helps to smuggle in weapons for the ghetto uprising, managing eventually to escape to the other side.

Originally titled Śmierć Miasta (Death of a City), Szpilman’s memoir was published in 1946, and an expanded edition was re-published in 1998 by Andrzej Szpilman, with another title: The Pianist. It caught the attention of Polanski, who had sought to make a film dealing with the era as a way to address his own past as a Polish Jew from Kraków, who survived the holocaust, but found an autobiographical approach too heavy. In adapting Szpilman’s memoir into a film, (with the  contribution of Ronald Harwood, who wrote the screenplay) Polanski found a balance in telling a story parallel to his own, adding details inspired by his own experiences.   

“Everything that touches this event defies the imagination.”                                                                          — Elie Wiesel

The power of a film like The Pianist is in how it manages to raise more questions than answers, and draw comparisons between one’s own life and the story depicted onscreen; life under extreme circumstances. The holocaust is approached with sensitivity, as the narrative outlines Szpilman’s survival in the ruins of Warsaw and leaves out the horrors of the concentration camps. Instead, the focus is on the developments leading to the final solution, the process of de-humanizing the Jews, which led to the holocaust. There are no heroes, just people adapting to their environment, and Władek’s survival is shown to depend upon random acts of kindness, and being in the right place at the right time.

Adrien Brody carries the film with a subtle performance, where his character breaks away from the sphere of affluence and security into disbelief, witnessing a world gone mad almost like a spectatordetached from his surroundings. Brody went through a physical transformation as well as an emotional one in preparation for the role, by losing weight, selling his apartment and car, and isolating himself from media. The Pianist swept up a number of Academy awards, including best male lead (Brody was the youngest actor to receive one), best direction and screenplay.

La Strada (1954), directed by Federico Fellini (and co-written by Fellini, Pinelli and Flaiano), captures the windy, grey postwar Italy from the perspective of two travelling entertainers. Sold by her mother to a brutish strongman Zampanó (Anthony Quinn), Gelsomina (Giulietta Masinadelights in the idea of learning to sing and dance. She is quickly disillusioned, since Zampanó treats her like a slave—barking out orders or gruffly telling her to shut up—yet Gelsomina is tied to him for better or worse and despite her hard life, retains a chaplinesque innocence. Their encounter with Il Matto, a tightrope artist (Richard Basehart) paves the way for tragedy, as he stirs up an old rage in Zampanó, while Gelsomina is dazed with admiration.

Federico Fellini is one of the greats of Italian cinema, and La Strada remains one of his most personal films, with autobiographical influences and elements which recur in his later films. Before his career as a director, Fellini worked with a circus troupe, and continued in the field of comedy as a cartoonist and radio sketch writer. He became more involved with filmmaking as a screenwriter when he met, and began collaborating with Roberto Rosselini on the production of Roma, città aperta.

La Strada is also closely associated with the Italian neorealism; while displaying the gritty side of Italy and the aftereffects of war, the focus is less on social criticism and more on the individuals. Fellini has a special talent in seeing the essence of a character, and bringing it out in an incisive visual form (either on paper or on screen), and it’s the characters of Gelsomina, Zampanó and Il Matto, with a quantity of sadness and a dash of whimsicalness, that make the film unforgettable. At times, it seems that the childlike innocence of Gelsomina comes close to a caricature; like the clown-persona she acts out with Zampanó, her expressions of sadness and happiness are extreme.

A Single Man, (2009), directed by Tom Ford, tells the story of George Falconer (Colin Firth), an English professor living in the 1960s, Los Angeles; following the sudden death of his partner, Jim (Matthew Goode), George has sunk into depression and has decided to end his life. A Single Man is based on a novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood, charting the events of George’s life within the course of a single day. The focus of the film is on the fleeting moments, the small things that make life worth living—having made his decision, George goes through the day with a heightened awareness of all the beauty around him.

GeorgeFor the first time in my life I can’t see my future. Every day goes by in a haze, but today I have decided will be different. 

Tom Ford is primarily known as an American fashion designer; having propelled the fashion house Gucci into fame, he is the name behind its success. It is no wonder that the cinematography radiates beauty in all aspects, including an elegant score by Abel Korzeniowski alongside the stunning visuals. In adapting the story to screen, Ford made the film his own by adding and replacing some details with events from his own life (for instance, the neighbor girl owning a pet scorpion).

In addition to the wonderfully choreographed visuals, A Single Man displays George’s feelings and thoughts through use of metaphors: his struggle with depression is shown as an underwater sequence, and a surge of pleasure (an exhilarating conversation, or a pretty smile) colors the screen with vibrant tones. As George notices and appreciates details, the camera zooms in and delights in these simple pleasures. Also the pace alters in accordance with his experience of time, where the scene slows down, or flicks between George’s memory and the present. One flashback, in which George discovers an old photograph of Jim, the scene plays out in black and white, like the photograph—almost as if the photograph comes alive.

George: A few times in my life I’ve had moments of absolute clarity, when for a few brief seconds the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think, and things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh. I can never make these moments last. I cling to them, but like everything, they fade. I have lived my life on these moments. They pull me back to the present, and I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.

The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.’ 

Into the Wild (2007) tells the story of Christopher McCandlessdirected by Sean Penn and based on a biography of the same name, written by Jon Krakauer. Following Christopher’s (Emile Hirsch) graduation from college, he has already decided to break away from society; sacrificing a promising career, he donates his $25,000 collage fund to charity and heads out West without a trace. Christopher keeps a journal of his experiences throughout the two years of roaming across the country, completing his transformation with a new name: Alexander Supertramp.

The precise circumstances of his death remain unclear, but starvation was the main cause. Christopher was discovered in an abandoned bus in Alaska, and a piece of news about the unknown, young hiker captured the attention of Jon Krakauer. Beginning with the journals, Krakauer traced the pieces of his travels together and released an article titled ‘Death of an Innocent’, which he later expanded into a full biographical account—using material from interviews with people Chris encountered through his travels, as well as his journal.

Into the Wild examines Christopher’s character and motivations for seeking out solitude of such a degree, presenting the narrative without judgement—the events proceed out of sequence, beginning with Christoper’s final destination, Alaska, displaying meaningful encounters with people along his travels, and formative childhood memories. He is shown to be a strong-minded, intelligent idealist inspired by the ascetic philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, and especially Jack London.

Throughout the production of the film, Sean Penn negotiated with the McCandless family about how to portray aspects of the story, and Hirsch’s moving performance was an important part in how the film turned out; in capturing the spirit of Chris, and painting a broader picture of a young man trying to come to terms with his parents and his culture. The filming locations followed in the footsteps of Christopher’s travels, and filming proceeded for 8 months in order to replicate the harsh weather conditions, and incorporate seasonal changes. The score provided by Eddie Vedder (Penn contacted him personally to contribute music for the film) is powerful and adds to the storytelling.

Christopher McCandless: The sea’s only gifts are harsh blows, and occasionally the chance to feel strong. Now I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions. Facing the blind death stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head. 

%d bloggers like this: