Attica! Attica! Top Films of 2009! (Part 3) March 10, 2010Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, European Films, Literature, Noypi.
The idea of putting a number before a film’s title is daunting enough. Ranking is never a game I am good at, especially with the films that I love. But I would be lying if I say I’m not challenged. Surely there’s fun in doing this, writing about these films, weighing why I like this better than the other, telling what makes them worthy to spend time with. That’s the purpose of this list after all: fun and sharing.
And yes, the list is finally running! Here come the warm jets, in 5’s.
(as usual, links are provided when previously reviewed)
30. POLICE, ADJECTIVE (Corneliu Porumboiu)
The European sense of prolongment is different from the Asian’s—not that race is again an issue but no matter how careful we are on race-related remarks, we should also be aware that race matters and race defines difference. Considering the aesthetic, for instance, of Apichatpong and Tsai as opposed to Tarr and Angelopoulous, despite the seeming similarity of these filmmakers’ use of long takes and extended sequences, the disparity is apparent. The distinctness, in fact, is very distinct, and it is something that echoes and stems from their origin and respective culture. (I may of course show my bias on my fellowmen, but that’s because they tend to turn time in their stories into magic, especially Apichatpong, with magic that is really magical and not magic that is beautiful but downright alienating.)
Police, Adjective belongs to that rigid case of prolongment whose control of realism is not open to surprises. The characters are rational, stiff, and defensive. When the protagonist comments on the song being played that irritates him and quips, “Life goes on. Can it go backwards?” one can easily imagine how sullen and humorless the conversation with his sister turns out. And certainly, using that remark, there is really no sense of going back in the film—there is no element of misdirection. He prefers thinking forward, saying that the law will change in the future, prolonging the case he’s handling so as to ease himself and his conscience.
We get a view of the Romanian police force; and it’s unavoidable that we compare them to our own. How their policemen, particularly the main character, are so grumpy and too focused on the case (but isn’t that how policemen should be?), no sweet talk, no foreplay, no other women, almost lifeless interaction, boring stuff. But then this is not TV. It doesn’t end with a blackout, a murder, a shootout, or anything memorable. It ends where glimpses are supposed to end—some place we only see when it happens to us. If only for that dictionary thing near the end, which demonstrates how the characters tend to be obsessively attentive to details, anaphoric to the point of obtuseness and obliterating formality, the film may have to leave me empty-handed. Apart from the gnawings of headache, the film leaves me one question, though: with their films that manage to compete and win in big festivals in the last few years, is it safe to assume that Romania is now being exoticized?
In movies the irony of formula is that it can never be perfected and repeated on a whim. Once or twice possibly, but the others that will follow are just shallow and hollow permutations of the mold being tried to fit into. A poor facsimile bootlegged as what it’s trying to be rather than what it really is, and You Changed My Life almost falls into that. Garcia-Molina is at her pleasing best in You Are the One, but she still manages to pull a rabbit out of the hat in this film, and that rabbit is a supermint gargle of “kilig” rinsed inside our mouth for almost two hours, us uncomplaining, almost cooperating, like some blob form of stockholm syndrome entering our consciousness and taking our medulla as hostage.
The defense of the wise (or the defensively unread): the movie should stand on its own. And the movie did; but it did not only stand, it also ran and flew away after stealing a beat of every one’s heart.
27. THE HURT LOCKER (Kathryn Bigelow)
The critics who praise The Hurt Locker are rather overreacting. Surely there will always be psychology. Even Uwe Boll’s films have psychology. But what Bigelow has done which Uwe Boll has never done and will never do is take the guilt away from the entertainment—humorlessly—leaving us feeling a little intelligent and virtually responsible, almost part of the war ongoing; and for an audience to feel that way, to feel a notch higher than watching Avatar, to feel like a citizen of an angry and revolting world—to be just against any threat to peace—that may be something worthy to talk about, regardless of any concern.
Bigelow knows her America and her Iraq and shoots them in Jordan. What comes off is the USA friendlies’ Paradise Now, telling there will always be a country for soldiers, bombs, and guns as long as there are soldiers, bombs, and guns to produce. The hurt locker has no key and no hole to insert the key, so no unlocking is going to ever take place; implying that going through life or death is like choosing a cereal. Either of the two barely matters.
26. AN EDUCATION (Lone Scherfig)
Lynn Barber’s relationship with an older man in her teens carries both the ups and downs necessary for a two-hour film to move, to depict England in the 60s when such liaisons could easily be the talk of the town, with emphasis on the 60s because it was the height of many political and cultural trends. But what makes An Education work is the pleasant coordination among the writer (Nick Hornby), the director (Lone Scherfig), and the actors (Carey Mulligan, Peter Saarsgard, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, and Alfred Molina).
Hornby does not surprise with the wit he injects to the film (“I don’t want to lose my virginity to a piece of fruit”) and the way they all come together, except for that silly narration in the end that is probably meant to be ironic but turns out unflattering. Seriously—it hurts to say that the ending is the dumbest way to end it. On her part Scherfig does so well hiding her interference, calmly controlling the tension and describing with simplicity the “Emily Post” of 60s England. Her direction is apt and discreet, considering that restraint and proper comportment are very characteristic of the film. As Barber, Carey Mulligan is promising and consistently interesting that even her slightest nuances are delightful to see. She’s clever and pretty; her lust for life is contagious; and her spirit is that of a young woman who, after making herself believe that she’s met the man she’ll spend the rest of her life with, sees the world from end to end. But as with all things that are too good to be true, a sharp lesson is soon to hit her. The way Hornby, Scherfig, and Mulligan combine in the conclusion is commendable. What really stands out is how the narrative is laid out in the beginning and managed to sustain its interest till the end, how it entertains as much it enlightens.
►► Next: 30 Films I Slept With in 2009 (#25-21)