Friday, May 07, 2004

Films of the far

We are only in May but already I have a top ten list of films.

Rather than just list the films I've decided to pair them up and make thematic and topical comparisons because – you know – it's a little more challenging; not to mention fun.

[I've purposely chosen to leave out the names of the characters/actors and the names of the directors/writers to save space and just deal with the primary theme connections of each of the films].

- Dogville and Kill Bill V2 – The main characters in both of these films are women who are trying to escape their destiny (or fate) as women gangsters who have been under the auspices of older men (a father and a father figure, respectively). Both women reach the end of their journey and confront their father (figures) and the reality of their situation and are faced with having to decide who they are and who they will choose to be in the future. Dogville – a Danish film – is psychologically violent and the more pessimistic film. Kill Bill (both Vol 1 and 2) is more physically violent (albeit in a tongue-in-cheek way) but it has a more optimistic outlook. Both films too are well over two-hours in length and deal with an element of artificiality to point out larger themes about reality.

- Blind Shaft and Crimson Gold – Both of these films deal with the consequences of crimes among the working class. Blind Shaft is a Chinese film about two grifter miners who kill other miners and then collect under-the-table compensation money from the mine owners using blackmail methods. Crimson Gold is an Iranian film about a working-class delivery man who is driven to murder an upper-class jewelry salesman who refused to do business with him. Both films have a portentous quality that can only end badly. With Blind Shaft there is a layer of ironic humor, which shows us the illegal activity will be carried on by a new generation. While Crimson Gold is a much darker film primarily because it shows us in the opening scene what will happen - then it flashes back to show us everything that leads to the opening. Both films have the quality of gritty realism to make their point. Both films have also been made under repressive regimes and have had trouble playing in their home countries.

- Distant and Springtime in a Small Town – Both of these films deal with a character who travels a long way to visit a relative or an old friend and while there they encounter problems. Both films also deal with the concept of both physical and psychological 'distance' between characters. Distant is a Turkish film about a poor country cousin who comes to visit his rich city cousin with the intention of finding work. Over the course of a few days tension grows between them with respect to the wife; who seems willing to leave her husband for her older lover. Springtime in a Small Town is a Chinese film about a city man who comes to visit an old sick friend who lives in the country. The city man had once been in love with his friend's wife and now the sick friend's relationship is falling apart. A tension grows between them. Both films deal with the loss (or at least change) of friendship and love over time. Both films also blend cinematic form and thematic content quite well. Distant has a good many shots from a distance and Springtime uses a decaying home as a metaphor.

- The Same River Twice and Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring... - Both of these films deal with both physical and spiritual matters and the lessons we learn as we grow older. The Same River Twice is a documentary about 40-somethings who recall their Grand Canyon river trip together twenty years before when they were young, healthy and living the romantic life. Now they are growing older, they are not as healthy and tey have a different perspective on their lives. Spring, Summer... is a Korean film that follows the journey of an old monk and a young boy who lives with him on a floating monastary. The old man is wise but troubled when he fails to train the young boy to be a good monk. The young man grows older and gets into a lot of trouble, which in time fortifies his understanding of life. In both films the people involved are able to reflect a bit on their lives with the knowledge that they cannot change the past; but life goes on. Both films also deal with the role of nature – in this case the Colorado River (Same River) and a placid mountain lake (Spring) - as both a reality and a metaphor for their lives.

- Secret Things and Touching the Void – These are the most difficult two films to pair up because they are almost completely different films; but here goes. Both of these films are primarily about survival against great odds. Secret Things is a trashy, sexy French film about a woman stripper who becomes obsessed with a narcissistic, rich guy who has a reputation for abusing women; many of whom kill themselves after he is done using and sexually demoralizing them. Touching the Void is a re-created documentary about a harrowing story of a man's survival on a mountain in the Peruvian Andes. Two men climb the mountain and on the decent are swept away into a storm. One falls into a large crevasse and is left for dead by the other man. Over the course of a few days the man - who is presumed dead - preservers against everything; the mountain, the weather and his own broken leg can throw at him. In Secret Things and in Touching the Void both characters face their demons, both are at deaths door but both find a way to overcome their limitations and survive.

There are so many films to be released throughout the rest of this year that this top ten will undoubtably change. And in fact there are some other films such as The Return and The Five Obstructions that could make this list later.

Hmmm what do The Return and The Five Obstructions have in common...?