Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Film reviews

I reviewed a couple of films for The Badger. They had to be only 400 words, which is really not enough, but hey. Here they are, if you're curious.

Waltz With Bashir

When trying to find someone to go to Waltz with Bashir with, I described it as what it is, an animated Israeli documentary about soldiers’ recollections of the first Lebanon war of the early Eighties. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I went to the cinema alone. This is a shame, since Waltz with Bashir is so much more than a sum of its parts, and a truly exceptional piece of filmmaking. The story consists of the filmmaker, Ari Folman, trying to unearth his long repressed memories of his time in the Israeli army at the age of 19. He does this with the help of his friends, fellow veterans, and television journalists present during the battle. The use of animation serves to distance the viewer from the horror of what they are viewing, while at the same time highlighting the absurd futility of war. The film is made from the point of view of Ari Folman as a man, looking back at his adolescence as a common soldier. He is no hero, no great warrior, simply a man little past boyhood, thrust into a situation which he does not fully understand, and from which he may not emerge alive. Some people I have spoken to have expressed the opinion that the film is Israeli propaganda, designed to demonize the Christian Phalangist militiamen, and certainly it can be viewed in that way; there are several references to concentration camps and links drawn between the Christians and the Nazis, but I think that in reading the film that way you miss the essential point. This is a film that removes any glamour or glory from war, presenting it in it’s starkest form, that of young men shooting young men without really knowing why, and then going home to try and forget the horrors they have experienced. Rather than being a Michael Moore-ish didactic, one-sided documentary, intent on beating you over the head with his argument, here you are presented with images and (up to a point) left to decide for yourself. Using powerful interview and real testimonies to illustrate his own growing recollection of events, Folman presents us with a film as powerful as it is beautiful, as touching as it is terrible, and one that I would recommend everyone to watch. Not always enjoyable viewing, but essential none the less.

Lodz film school shorts

I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about this screening. The little experience I have of Polish cinema paint it in my mind as a rather grueling affair. The first three films in this collection did nothing to dispel this idea, Universal Spring, Training and Dragon Flies all dealt with largely dissatisfied people living lonely lives, trying and failing to connect with each other, and ending up hurt or broken. After these though, the light broke through. The Princess was an adorable piece of fluff, in the best possible sense of the word. Only four minutes long, it told the story of a Princess setting off into the snow with her tuba in the hope of finding some friends. With no dialogue, beautiful production design and a colour palette completely of white apart from the red of her hair, it was charmingly simplistic and the perfect antidote to the somber mood of the previous 45 minutes. After this the tone was markedly lighter. Episode was a beautiful pastel and pencil animation about a mental patient and his loyal pink ducks, which stay with him even after he is lobotomized; visually stunning, if not a little odd. Red Dot told the story of a woman at a petrol station running away with a man buying petrol, and seemed oddly like a car advert from the 70s. How Are You? was a documentary about a deaf couple who communicate through video messages from Poland and Japan, with a stand-out performance from the quite possibly senile grandmother. But the film that really stuck with me, both stylistically and in terms of content was 13 Years and 10 Months, a documentary about Anastazja, a 13 year old girl with cystic fibrosis, which means she will probably not live beyond 30. Anastazja’s life force, sense of humour and overall demeanor were heartbreakingly positive, and a reminder to the rest of us to make the most of the time we have. She jokes to children at school who say they don’t like her that “they’ll get a break from her” once she turns 30, and while she says she has no fear of death, she worries how her mother will fare when she is gone. This nine minute documentary served the simple aim of making the audience realize how lucky they are to be alive, and how fragile life really is. Overall, a mixed bag of films, but far more uplifting than I ever would have expected. Waltz With Bashir. You won't regret it, honestly.

No comments: