Hawking Up Hairballs

Monday, October 30, 2006

Two Fine Movies

I continue to enjoy my subscription to Netflix, and the only real complaint I have is damaged discs. About one in five or six seems to have a problem. I’ve written an email complaining but, as is to be expected in today’s service-poor economy, I haven’t received a reply.

However, I’m not writing this to comment on Netflix, but to talk about two fine movies that I’ve recently watched. The first is City of God. It takes place in a Brazilian favela or shanty town, and it has a lot in common with the African American ghetto movies like Boyz N the Hood. It's odd how I came to find out about this movie. I was reading an article in the New York Times about the favelas and, in that article, the movie was mentioned. It has evidently been so popular that there are now bus tours of these favelas. That about floored me. Not only do these people have to live in poverty and reduced circumstances, but they have to serve as entertainment for the more well-heeled. I can understand the mindset of those who set up such tours. There are plenty of people who will do anything for money, but I don't understand why anyone would choose to go on one. It would seem to require a complete absence of empathy. None but the narcissistic, I suppose.

I liked this movie better than the ghetto movies that I've seen for two reasons, one artistic and one philosophical. The narrative technique in City of God is superior. It shuttles back and forth between the stories of various individuals in the favela, though it all centers around a young man who wants to rise above his circumstances and become a photographer. This is a technique that has to be handled deftly, and the filmmaker does a wonderful job of it. As for the philosophical angle, I prefer their approach to that of most of the ghetto films, which are all too often in your face. Not for a moment do they seem to want to let you forget that these poor black people are stuck in the circumstances in which they find themselves because of the social system in America. That is undoubtedly true, but this heavy-handedness doesn't make for good art. The filmmaker should be able to get his point across without smearing the viewer's face in it, and the directors of City of God manage it with seeming ease. Though they maintain a certain distance from their subjects, and refrain from any moralizing whatsoever, there's no doubting the oppression of the favela dwellers, nor is there any question as to who is responsible for that oppression. In short, this film is one of the finest examples of social realism that I've ever seen, though not in the crass sense favored by Marxists in the past.

The second movie that I would like to recommend is Broken Flowers by Jim Jarmusch. It stars Bill Murray in a serious role that he played to perfection. In this film, he's an aging man who's made good money in computers. He's always been something of a Don Juan and, at the beginning of the film, he receives an unsigned letter from a woman who informs him that she had a son by him some twenty years earlier. According to the letter, this son has set off to find his father and, though the mother has refused to tell her son who his father was, she thinks that he may find him anyway. The letter leads Murray's character to set off on a journey in which he visits four old girl friends to see if he can figure out if one of them is the woman who sent the letter.

When I visited the Internet Movie Database site to check up on where I'd seen a few of the actors before, I read the review that was posted there. Whoever wrote it really slammed the movie. He compared it to a bad student film in which there was no character development, stock characters, and meaningless, artsy shots. This person missed the point of the movie altogether. It's a deconstruction of the journey of self-discovery, which is precisely what Murray's characer is embarking on. Jarmusch is saying that such journeys are bogus. Those who attempt them don't change much, and they end up traveling through banal settings where the people they encounter are thoroughly unremarkable. That may make it sound like a tedious film, but Jarmusch demonstrates enough of a comic touch to keep it interesting, and I must say that I loved it.


Anonymous kc said...

Not fine but mediocre movies


12:56 AM  

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