Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

I'm not sure why I skipped this one nearly a decade ago, but it's some pretty powerful filmmaking. It's the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who tries to rescue his family and fellow citizens from the 1994 Rwandan genocide. What I liked about the movie especially is that it was about ordinary citizens caught up in the sweep of war, trying to survive and save others. It added a personal edge to the film that made it easier to relate to without (IMO, anyway) being manipulative or preachy. Don Cheadle is excellent as Paul, a Hutu man with a Tutsi wife (Sophie Okonedo, also excellent), who attempts to keep his mostly-Tutsi neighborhood safe inside the Belgian hotel he works in. It's a film of humanity, and the drama builds out of that. ****

I remember when this came out and it was one of those movies that weirdly polarizes the internet. I thought it was a well-made, intense genre exercise; a found-footage, ground-level kaiju flick that mostly works. It trades pretty heavily on 9/11 imagery, but I think it deals with it in a way that's not offensive or pandering. The removal of using a giant monster instead is an interesting way to comment on it; I wish the movie had more to say about that, actually. But it's more content to be a movie about how people come together and often act irrationally in a crisis, and on that level, it's surprisingly involving. And intense. Very intense. I felt pretty exhausted after watching it. ***1/2

A HOUSE DIVIDED (1913) ***1/2
Three silent films by cinema's first woman director, Alice Guy Blache. Her directorial style is especially lush and pretty for the time, and her actors are very expressive. Her films are about generating emotion, but not quite about exploring them. A House Divided, with its focus on a married couple going through a troubled period, is the best of the three, but my favorite was actually Falling Leaves, about a woman dying of tuberculosis who will die "by the times the last leaves fall." I was touched by the way her little sister tries to tie the leaves to their branches so they'll never fall and her sister will never die. I just wish that the movie had earned an emotional reaction instead of merely observing one; it never draws you in with characters, it just shows you something pretty but sad. Canned Harmony is funny but kind of stops just before it gets going.

Probably DW Griffith's masterpiece, one that transcends his preachy moralizing and becomes just an enjoyable story with an excellent central performance by one of the silent era's greatest actresses, Lillian Gish. She stars as Anna Moore, a young country girl tricked into a mock marriage by a lothario and left for herself when she becomes pregnant. Her baby dies, and she wanders alone until she's able to find a job working on a family farm. But soon, the lothario shows up, having bought the next farm and making a play for a local girl. Anna refuses to leave but agrees not to say anything, but she's undone by town gossip, leading to a justly-famous sequence on an ice floe done without stunt actors or special effects. The story is a bit on the melodramatic side (it's a soap opera), but that's softened by Griffith's crazed pro-monogamy moralizing. The film also takes shots (but more organically) at religious hypocrisy and misogyny. The film itself is just really well made; Griffith continues in this film to invent a uniquely cinematic language. Gish once lamented that sound ruined cinema by taking something that was becoming quite unique and built on impressionism and emotions, and chained it to the spoken word. Her performance in this film shows that emotional language transcends time and place. It makes the film. ****

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

Never saw Hotel Rwanda. I remember borrowing it from the library at least twice, but I need a block of time to actually watch it as though I were in the theater, and it didn't happen. Roger, add it to the list, again.