Movies - Foreign postsMonday December 08, 2008
Gomorra in Europe
The European Film Awards (EFAs?) were handed out in Copenhagen over the weekend. Here are the nominees for Best Picture:
L DIVO, Italy
written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino
produced by Indigofilm, Lucky Red, Parco Film, Babe Films, StudioCanal,
Arte France Cinéma
ENTRE LES MURS (The Class), France
directed by Laurent Cantet
written by Laurent Cantet, François Begaudeau & Robin Campillo after
the novel of François Begaudeau
produced by Haut et Court, France 2 Cinéma
GOMORRA (Gomorrah), Italy
directed by Matteo Garrone
written by Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni di Gregorio, Matteo Garrone,
Massimo Gaudioso & Roberto Saviano
produced by Fandango, RAI Cinema
written and directed by Mike Leigh
produced by Thin Man Films Ltd., Summit Entertainment, Ingenious Film
Partners, Film4, UK Film Council
EL ORFANATO (The Orphanage), Spain
directed by Juan Antonio Bayona
written by Sergio G. Sánchez
produced by Rodar y Rodar S.L., Telecinco Cinema
WALTZ WITH BASHIR, Israel/France/Germany
written and directed by Ari Folman
produced by Bridgit Folman Film Gang, Les Films d’Ici, Razor Film
Produktion, ARTE France, ITVS International
"Gomorra," a modern mafia story, won, and will be released in the States on December 19, which should be good news for fans of mafia stories. Should be. We'll see how far-ranging the release is.
The European Film Academy, in case you're wondering, was founded in 1988, with Ingmar Bergman as its first president.
Madame, reading from newspaper: “Fears of war in the Pacific.”
Woman 1: What does “Pacific” mean?
Woman 2: "Peace."
— from the English translation of the "La Maison Tellier" segment of Max Ophuls' Le Plaisir (1952)
The film, based upon the works of Guy de Maupassant, is split into three stories that reflect three levels of pleasure. The first, "La Masque," about an odd man at a dance, may be the best cinematic representation of a short story I've ever seen. An event unfolds. It feels sad, and not. Lessons are learned, and not. Nothing more can be done with this. It's deep, but perfectly enclosed.
Ophuls is great at giving us such sad, deep, shrugging moments in his films, no less than in the second part and centerpiece of Le Plaisir, "La Maison Tellier," in which a house full of prostitutes close up shop for a weekend to attend the communion of the Madame's niece in a nearby village. On the train there, an older couple gets on, the women pretend to be more than they are, and Madame Rosa (Danielle Darrieux), who will factor greatly as the story unfolds, feigns a husband: a thoughtful man, she says, who sends her dresses and jewelry and flowers. "He kisses my hand and tells me wonderful things." The conversation is with her friends, but is meant for the older couple, the scowling old woman. Ultimately it's a conversation with her heart. It's a bittersweet moment, but, in Ophul's hands, it's more sweet than bitter, and more poignant as a result.
Ophuls keeps doing this kind of thing: Here's life. He's not even shrugging. He's not pushing. Just...here's life.
Om Shanti Om — Addendum
Don't know if there's anything to this but I found it interesting that Om Prakash was only able to achieve his goal of reaching a new level of society, a new class, through reincarnation. He had to be reborn into the upper strata. Hollywood films usually allow class-jumping to occur in a single lifetime. The original moguls of Hollywood, with their lower-class, eastern European origins, certainly understood this dynamic.
Also, when the villain, Mukesh Mehra, recognized the reincarnated Om as the original Om, and laughed because he knew Om's evidence, based upon his reincarnation, would never stand in a court of law, Om should've laughed back and said, “Don't you get it? I'm reincarnated. That means you're going to be reincarnated, too. And, given the way you've lived your life, what will you be reincarnated into? I don't care about the courts here but you should certainly care about the courts there.” Might've turned the movie into more than a reincarnation-revenge flick.
Om Shanti Om
The biggest distributor of Indian films, Eros International, recently announced a distribution deal with Lions Gate, in which Lions Gate will handle many of Eros’ films in the states. May they do as well. Last year Eros distributed 13 Indian films here, and, though 12 of the 13 never played on more than 100 screens at a time, seven still made over $1 million. Salaam-E-Ishq, which played for three weeks last January and February, still made more money ($1.7 million) than many U.S. films that played in six times as many theaters.
But their biggest success, in both the U.S. and abroad, not to mention back home in India, was Om Shanti Om. It played for five weeks in November and December and still made more money ($3.5 million) than Sony Classic’s The Jane Austen Book Club, Paramount’s Things We Lost in the Fire and Picturehouse’s Gracie, despite playing in a fracture of their total theaters (570 theaters vs. 2,674, 2,615 and 2,524 respectively). It nearly made as much money as Warner Bros.’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, a good, atmospheric western with a huge international star (Brad Pitt) and a great supporting performance (Casey Affleck), which is just another of the many recent and shameful mishandlings by that studio. Remember Kiss Kiss Bang Bang?
Anyway, curious, I watched Om Shanti Om last night. It’s only my second Bollywood film and it made me wish I’d seen more. Not because the film was great, although it was fun, but because — besides being a reincarnation-revenge flick, a romance and a musical all rolled into one — the movie is, one suspects, an homage to the Bollywood of both the 1970s and today, and I had no point of reference. Jokes, both visual and verbal, flew by and I had no clue. Interesting situation to be in.
The plot? Get ready. Om Prakash (Shahrukh Khan), a “junior artiste” (extra?) in Bollywood in the 1970s, who wishes to be a “hero” (star?), falls in love with a true star, Shanti Priya (newcomer Deepika Padukone). After he rescues her from burning fields, they become friends; then he discovers she’s already married, secretly, to the producer Mukesh Mehra (Arjun Rampal), who, when he finds out she’s pregnant, leaves her in a burning building to die. (Somehow, public knowledge of the marriage/pregnancy will ruin both their careers.) Om tries to save her, dies, and is reincarnated. Thirty years later he’s what he always wanted to be — a movie star — but slowly he begins to realize who he was and how he died.
Shahrukh Khan, particularly in his first, more comedic self, reminds me a little of Jackie Chan, while Deepika Padukone is deeply deeply gorgeous. The film is silly, melodramatic and lavish in the way of Cinemascope films of the 1950s. Some of the songs I can't get out of my head, particularly “Dhoom Taana,” which you can see here, and which shows off nicely: 1) her beauty, 2) his comedic talents and 3) the whole Bollywood homage.
El Orfanato and the power of women
I keep going back to that Manohla Dargis article from last Sunday’s NY Times. Sure, she conflates two issues — “Where are the women in movies?” and “Why are the women in movies so unrepresentative?” — but her complaints raise a good question. The unrepresentative man, the fantasy man, in popcorn movies is the superstrong man — Iron Man, Batman, the Hulk — because power for men manifests itself in physical strength. But what’s power for women? How does that manifest itself?
You could argue sex appeal. It’s why women in those aspirational comedies Ms. Dargis dislikes (Legally Blonde, Pretty Woman) get their hair and nails done: they’re strapping up for battle. But there’s another, more obvious answer, and I didn’t think of it until I watched El Orfanato (The Orphanage) the other night.
The Orphanage, directed by first-time director Juan Antonio Boyano, is a beautiful Spanish horror film that’s super-spooky in the way of The Others and The Changeling: not a lot of gore, just a lot of creep. Laura (Belen Rueda) and Carlos (Fernando Cayo) are raising their adopted son, Simon (Roger Princep), in the orphanage where Laura grew up, and where she plans to open a school for children with special needs. On the very day they’re opening the school, Laura fights with her son, slaps him (she’s horrified with herself before the slap is even through), and he runs away. Or disappears. Or... It’s a horror film. Anything’s possible.
Earlier, he and his mother had a conversation about Peter Pan, which references his imaginary friends. (Exactly: Beware any imaginary friends in a horror story.) It’s a great conversation in that it feels like a real mother-son conversation — both for what she says and what she avoids saying — while it encompasses most of the themes of the movie. In fact, it prefigures the rest of the movie. And it creeps you out:
Simon: Wendy grows old and dies?
Laura: Wendy grows old but Peter Pan takes her daughter to Neverland every year.
Simon: Why doesn’t Wendy go, too?
Simon: If Peter Pan came to get me, would you come, too?
Laura: No, I’m too old to go to Neverland, darling.
Simon: How old are you?
Simon: When will you die?
Laura: What kind of question is that? Not for a long time, until you’re very old.
Simon: I won’t grow old. I’m not going to grow up.
Laura: Will you be like Peter Pan?
Simon (smiles): Like my new friends.
Laura: There’s more than one?
Laura: They won’t grow up either?
Simon: They can’t.
Months after Simon’s disappearance the police are clueless, the husband is helpless (he’s got the thankless Joseph role — not even contributing his seed) and Laura is more desperate than ever. Eventually she consults a kind of seer, Aurora, played by Geraldine Chaplin, who tells her, among other things, “My dear, you are a good mother. Your pain gives you strength. It will guide you. But only you know how far you are willing to go to find your son.”
That’s when I began to think of the Dargis article again. What is a woman’s power? Her strength?
It’s not very 21st century to say this, but... What’s the most fierce animal in the animal kingdom? Isn’t it a momma bear whose cubs are threatened? And who is the most successful action heroine in movie history? Isn’t it Lt. Ripley in Aliens, with a big gun in one arm and a little girl in the other? One matriarch battling another matriarch. You could say The Orphanage is also a battle between two matriarchs.
A man gets super powers and does what? Protects society. These guys are usually single and childless and protect society against all the baddies. Attempts to slip women into this formula have been critical and box-office disasters. Nice girls like Supergirl and vixens like Elektra and Catwoman just come off as dopey. Maybe, deep down, we just don’t think it’s the job of women to protect society.
But a mother whose children are threatened? She doesn’t even need super powers. As in The Orphanage, her pain is her strength.
It’s just a happy coincidence, by the way, that this is being posted on Mother’s Day. Have a good one.