Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cinematic Head-Scratchers

Here are two movies that have haunted me since I watched them.

My Blueberry Nights could also have been titled How Not To Direct a Movie. There was a pretty good story with poignant acting, particularly by the star, Norah Jones, in a sweetly understated performance. Jude Law and Natalie Portman were both entertaining but odd choices. There was a breezy, hip soundtrack, an element of a "road trip" picture as this waitress struggles to leave her broken heart behind... and yet this stunk like a month-old mackerel. Every cheesy, "artsy" cinematic ploy -- jerky camera, blurry picture, unseen speakers, is employed ad nauseum, making the movie look more like a high school video project than a "major motion picture." At best, the director was illustrating his terminal hipness; this was just another strange, alienating homage d'ego that divides us into "I Get It" and "I'm Pretending I Get It."

Osama was a grim, heartbreaking story that qualifies as a head-scratcher only because I was left wondering, "What now?" The title does not refer to Osama bin Laden, but to the name taken by a young girl who tries to pass as a boy in order to find work. The Amazon blurb:

The first movie produced by Afghanistan filmmakers after the fall of the Taliban, Osama is a searing portrait of life under the oppressive fundamentalist regime. Because women are not allowed to work, a widow disguises her young daughter (Marina Golbahari) as a boy so they won't starve to death. Simply walking the streets is frightening enough, but when the disguised girl is rounded up with all the boys in the town for religious training, her peril becomes absolutely harrowing. Golbahari's face--beautiful but taut with terror--is riveting. The movie captures both her plight and the miseries of daily life in spare, vivid images.
Said one Amazon reviewer:
The non-professional child actors are superb, their abilities are engaging, probably because they are actually so close to the reality, and are, in truth, performing an act of actual courage. Considering the precariousness of the liberation of Afghanistan, you'd have to say the same thing about everyone else involved in the production, as well. The Taliban and al Qaeda are, after all, still there, roaming, threatening, trying to take over again...
This Golden Globe winner was inspired by a newspaper account read by director Siddiq Barmak. A fascinating interview with him is included in the Bonus Features. The film seemed ploddingly slow at times; I had to remind myself this was not an action/adventure film but more of a cultural saga. It's tempting to be completely dismissive of this heinous regime but this film is a stark reminder of the innocent humans who are trapped, suffering, oppressed and terrorized by it. The ending is frustratingly inconclusive... so is the war.

No comments: