Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Cinephile Lenten Season 2014

Doing movie marathons every Holy Week is a must for me. It takes careful planning and meditation on my part just to compile a list of movies to see for that particular week. Number one consideration there is the copy availability. Picking up the theme is easy but if I lack the resources to make it happen I have to make do with what I have and find creative ways to think of another subject to watch. On my younger years, my movie list were mostly on the traditional side. You know, the bible based stories, family dramas, whatever is wholesome and considered morally educational for everybody to sit down together. But I guess I'm way past that now.

My last year's list consists of story lines concerning survival, loneliness, life and death, movies that are hard to chewed on because they can be quite the bitter pill. This 2014, I'll be watching movies that are: 
  • A. set in the middle east/in Arabic or Hebrew/related to the Arab diaspora, 
  • B. set during war time (but not necessarily in the battlefield) 

The former is a rarity for me, but of the late - I have collected enough titles to do a movie marathon of them, and since it's the Holy Week and there is too much sun I think the theme would blend perfectly with the overall mood of the occasion. For the wartime movies, I have an unspoken love, fondness and obsession for them. As I've said earlier, they don't have to take place in the actual battle grounds, but it's more of the atmosphere and the drama of the times. I collect whatever language they spoke of, after all, in my opinion, movies are meant to break barriers - it is universal. The "whatever works" are movies that do not fit into any of the first two categories but they would be played likewise.
Just to give you a peek (or an idea) here are some of the films that I'll be screening for that week. Hopefully, they could land into your own movie marathon in case you are left to wonder where to begin and what to watch. 

Directed by Marc Forster (2007)
Such a beautiful movie but so difficult to watch all over again due to its horrifying content. In fact, with its very painful subject I never did a multiple viewing of this movie after my initial screening. It felt so real to me to the point that if given a chance to enter the screen, equipped with superpowers and all, I'll choose this one just so I could save a character and prevent horrible things from happening to them. I think it's a natural reaction since we know that things like these are still prevalent in some countries, especially in the Middle East, and no matter how interested we are in putting a stop to such heinous deeds we are completely powerless (and faulty as humans) to prevent such situations. Something to ponder about. 

Directed by Ben Affleck (2012)
Who would have thought that Ben Affleck could churned a cinematic masterpiece? Yes, the same Ben Affleck, the actor, that appeared in movies such as Gigli and Bounce. Although we saw a part of that genius from his screenwriting dues with best buddy, Matt Damon, in Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting, I never did took him seriously after that. But I guess there's always more to Affleck than meets the eye and maybe that side is tucked away - only visible at best when his interest involves behind the camera. It's easy to love Argo, after all, it's a movie tailor made for each and everyone. If you love mainstream, art house, thriller, drama, nonsensical or cerebral, especially if you claim to be a lover of cinema then you have to take a gander on it. I've been picky about the mainstream Hollywood movies I see as of the late but Argo is a movie that I love for two things: it doesn't take itself too seriously (to gain intellectual appeal) and it doesn't dumb itself (for audiences that hates thinking movies), it works both ways; and you have to love a movie that entertains without sacrificing its quality over quantity. 

Directed by Asghar Farhada (2011)
If you haven't had the chance to see any Arabic movies before, or if you did and felt agitated afterwards, then this Academy Award winning film by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi is your best starting point. This wasn't the first Arabic movie I've seen but it's probably one of my favorites. I guess it's because Farhadi has chosen to take on a general "everyday" matter rather than confront the same issues dealt with by his compatriots. Just because it's not about the subject of war, its devastating outcomes and the likes it doesn't make it any less serious or the least bit important. The story is about an Iranian couple's impending marriage dissolution, the struggles and effects that comes along with their "trial separation", and the aftermath of their bad decisions that could be credited to their feelings of pride, fear and anger that has engulfed the both of them due to this separation. 

Directed by Denis Villeneuve (2010)
Just like The Kite Runner, it's a bit surprising that this movie is actually made by a non-Arabic filmmaker, but a Canadian one at that. This has become one of my favorite movies of 2010, with its nuanced storytelling, complex characters and mind-blowing plot twists and ending. It would do you - and the movie - a disservice if I give away spoilers, so go ahead and watch this movie for yourself. 

Directed by Siddiq Barmak (2003)
The first Arabic movie I've seen in my lifetime - way back 2003. If you live in our house or just visiting by, then you know that one of the things I do is make people watch movies that I love, which I mostly do for a cousin or a close friend. Forget borrowing them because I never lend my copies to any one (even if you think we're close or what), although it depends greatly on the title of the movies you're borrowing to begin with. Moving on with the subject, if you're a family or a cousin, then you have probably watched this movie together with me, as I have screened it heavily during 2003 on my miniature cinema. The first time I've seen it I felt I found a treasure's trove and had this aching urge to share it with everybody who's interested. Osama is a movie that would make you feel grateful and thankful about your life, especially if you were born in a country where women are not oppressed and are enjoying equal opportunities privileges, rights and liberties as men. 

Directed by Ziad Doueiri (2012)
The Attack is mostly about the reality that marriage, even familial bonds, doesn't guarantee a person the right to someone's secrets, the way they think, and who they really are. It can take for forever, but surprises can still creep in behind your door, and you'll be surprised that that person is a stranger all along. 

Directed by Steven Spielberg (2005)
For the record, this is the only film by Spielberg that I haven't seen yet, and frankly, I'm as dumbfounded as anyone for not knowing why. It's utterly disgraceful for a cinephile lest for a Steven Spielberg fan. I guess it missed my radar or I was busy minding other things. Whatever it was that will be the end of it. 

These three remains to be seen, so I haven't much to say about them here. They will be screen for my movie marathon week so if I get around to blogging them I'll probably write something.

Dir. Jacques Audiard  (2009)

Dir. Hany Abu-Assad (2013)

Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan (2011)

Directed by Louis Malle (1987)
An autobiographical film by French New Wave director Louis Malle - set in the backdrop of a Catholic boarding school during the Holocaust - is a coming-of-age story of a boy as he witnesses first hand the harsh realities brought by war and antisemitism. Nevertheless, he also sees that in spite the cruelty of the times there are still self-sacrificing people willing to offer kindness in order to bridge the differences between race and religion. 

Directed by Steven Spielberg (1987)
Both Au revoir les enfants and this movie were released on the same year and discusses a common theme of war and coming-of-age. The then 13 year Christian Bale played as the precocious British expatriate Jamie Graham while he became separated from his parents during the turmoil between Japan and China. During his adventures he learns to use his street smart cleverness for the sake of his survival. Witnesses death happened before his eyes. Discovers true friendship and discerns the fake ones along the way.  

Directed by Steven Spielberg (1993)
A harrowing cinematic account of violence during the WW2 based on the novel by Thomas Keneally. Intensely felt by the used of monochromatic black and white cinematography by Janusz Kamiński. Watching this movie is like getting stuck inside the screen, playing a deadly game of cat and mouse in every nook and cranny, except everywhere you go it's either a gun shot or a gas chamber awaiting at the front door. 

Directed by Steven Spielberg (1998)
In my opinion, this movie contains the best sequence of World War 2 combat - fictionalized and captured for the silver screen - and probably my favorite performance from Tom Hanks, although a bit underrated. The grittiness and intense look of this motion picture is all thanks to cinematographer Janusz Kamiński. If I have to make a top 10 list of Spielberg's films Saving Private Ryan would be my shoo-in number one favorite of all time. So many reasons, but what stands definitively are the memories of myself watching this movie with my family. We sat down (in front of the miniature cinema) a bunch of times, for the entire run of the movie, and never got bored, like it was always the first time for us. And you gotta love a movie that brings people closer together. 

Directed by Roman Polanski (2002)
My late friend and I love this movie - and we always find ourselves discussing the details, especially Adrien Brody's performance. The Pianist is a film about survival. There are so many of them now (Gravity, Life of Pi, etc.) but this one is more realistic than all the rest because it was based on the life of a real person and survivor of the WW2. I love how music - his passion and his bread and butter before the war - turns to be his way to withstand his circumstance, how it lead him to the people that would help him live through the horrors of the time, and fundamentally, becoming his saving grace during and after the war. 

Directed by Clint Eastwood (2006)
The first part (out of the two war films) based on the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima. It represents the American viewpoint of the battle, but mostly on the lives of the soldiers involved during the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima and the events after the war. Why soldiers did what they do? Why they stayed in spite the certainty of death. So many war films that came before this but Flags of Our Fathers got all the heart (and not just the action). 

Directed by Clint Eastwood (2006)
The companion piece to the latter entry. Letters From Iwo Jima stands on the viewpoint of the Japanese soldiers. An equalizer to comprehend the humanity of those on the other side of the fence. Rather than demoralize or give contempt for their actions, Eastwood portrayed the Japanese soldiers based on different situations, their conscription may be forced, done due to pressure or out of obligation to their nation. Where Flags of our Fathers got the heart, this film contains compassion. What we get at the end is not only a surprisingly beautiful cinematic work from a formidable Hollywood icon but a better and deeper understanding of the men that died and defended their countries during one of the darkest period of our history. Lesson learned: war only has its losers and no winners.

Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky (2007)
If you're not a fan of any subtitled-foreign-language-films, especially a European one at that, I doubt you have come across this movie. The Counterfeiters is a story about the Jewish prisoners that were forced to work for the Nazi German plan: Operation Bernhard, to avoid the extermination camps. Although this film is just a fictionalized version of the events based on the memoir of the Holocaust survivor and typographer, Adolf Burger, the intensity of its delivery and the desperation of each characters makes it convincingly moving and thrilling. We've been there and done that with war movies, but it seems there's always something new with stories that shows us the lengths of human desperation - here, nothing is off the limits, even working with the people that harmed you is taken for granted all for the sake of survival.

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