sixteen-miles


Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
May 26, 2015, 10:03 am
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Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Directed by: Isao Takahata
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095327/
★★★★★

It is rare to find a film that hurts the heart in as direct a manner as Grave of the Fireflies. There are films that bait emotion. And then there are films that provoke genuine heartbreak. Grave is the latter. It is heartbreaking. I think it is the saddest film I have ever seen. And it is a true story.

Grave of the Fireflies is an animated film that tells the story of two young children. It takes place in Japan at the end of the second world war. After losing their mother to a bombing raid, the two children move in with their Aunt. They stay for a while, but the Aunt fills them with guilt and makes them feel a burden. She sells off the belongings of the children’s mother for rice, but keeps most of it for herself. She berates the children for not contributing to the war effort and begrudges feeding them. So they leave, becoming homeless and living in a hillside bomb shelter.

But there is no illusion of hope for the children. The film opens with the death of the oldest child, Seita. Before the opening credits roll, we see his spirit reunited with his younger sister. We know how it ends before it even starts. Yet the film takes it’s time to wrap around to this ending. It is lingering on moments of true beauty between these two children. And in these slow lingering shots we watch them succumb to hunger and malnutrition.

There is a beautiful scene where the children collect fireflies and use them to light the cave where they sleep. The next morning Seita finds his sister burying the dead flies. “Why must fireflies die so young?” she asks. We ask the same question.

The most painful of all is the feeling that all the while, this tragedy could be prevented. If the people who surrounded the two children were a little more caring, maybe they would have lived. But it becomes about pride and about self preservation. For Seita, he could never return to his Aunt. An apology to her might have saved them. But pride prevented it. Seita tried to carve out a personal heaven in the hillside cave, but it became a tomb instead.

That being said. You can’t begrudge a child their naiveté. But you can begrudge every adult who showed no care for them. To the world, these children are nuisances, thieves, burdens. Even those who show slight compassion do nothing to help. Their inaction condemns these children to death.

Grave of the Fireflies is a war film. But it is not a film about war. It’s not about politics. It’s not even about soldiers or the military. It is about the impact that war has on innocent people. It is a beautiful, painful, emotional masterpiece.



Under the Skin (2013)
May 21, 2015, 10:29 am
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Under the Skin (2013)
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1441395/
★★★★★

It’s finally time to talk about Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. A science-fiction road trip through Scotland. Told from the perspective of an alien in the skin of a human woman. Laura is a predator, driving a white van around the streets of Scotland. She seduces men by showing only the vaguest interest in them. In return they follow her into a dark nightmare.

Science-fiction. But Under the Skin is a film about real people.

It all hinges first on the girl. Laura. Scarlett Johansson. A Hollywood face in disguise, dropped into the realms of Scottish civilisation. Filmed with hidden cameras. Interacting with real people. True reactions.

Even the opening sequence reflects the dual nature of the film. In the context of the story, we hear Laura practicing her dialogue. She makes vowel sounds and practices the way words form in her mouth. But this is actually a recording of Johansson practicing her dialect for the role. It’s a clever idea, reflecting the nature of the film as a form of method acting.

The first half of the film is sparse of exposition. We follow Laura on her road trip, in her interactions, ensnaring men. She lures them back to a derelict house. Inside is only a dark abyss; a haunting abstract plane. The men descend into this darkness. Willing to do so as they are so captivated by this siren. And something invisible in the darkness pulls the meat from under their skin. Leaving only a hollow shell behind.

The film indulges itself in letting this half of the film play out in slow pace. It is slow because we have to witness the length of time that Laura allows humanity to impact upon her. She is not human. This is never more clear than a particular beach scene. It is a gut-wrenching emotional play that she witnesses, and is completely indifferent to. But over time, the effects of humanity do seep in under the skin. There is no galvanising moment of realisation. It is a slow process.

Yet there is a galvanising moment that shifts the focus of the film. We find a narrative in the second half. As Laura finds a twinkling of humanity, the perspective turns. She experiences the world not from the perspective of a predator, but as the prey. She finds herself in an unfamiliar abyss (a deep forest). She experiences the dark, predatory nature of the human in the film’s climax.

Under the Skin is bold. It is clever. It is beautiful. It provokes thought. It pulls the viewer out of their comfort zone. Jonathan Glazer has made a film that realises his cinematic vision. A guerrilla documentary on the nature of people. The cinematography and soundtrack are haunting. And Scarlett Johansson is ethereal as Laura.

Five.


A personal note: While watching the film I was unsure. It took time to fall into it. But when the closing credits rolled, my mouth was agape and I sat for a while in the dark just to catch my breath. The more I think about and talk about this film, the more it becomes one of my favourites. It’s hard to put these kinds of emotions into a review without it becoming too masturbatory. But I wanted to add this short note to say this film had quite a profound effect on me.



Badlands (1973)
May 19, 2015, 2:07 pm
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badlands

Badlands (1973)
Directed by: Terence Malick
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069762/
★★★★★

This begins a Terence Malick love affair that will stretch for decades. Badlands is a film of strange personal morality. A beautiful road movie through the waste of America, following the killing spree of two drifting souls. Holly and Kit are creatures of vague motivation. Bored of the tedium of civilisation they break out into the wilderness in a violent spiral towards death. Framed in the macro-beauty of nature. For Holly it is unclear why she is so willing to follow Kit down this path of self-destruction. This is no Mickey and Mallory relationship. It becomes clear these characters hold no true love for each other. Only an interest (or fascination?). But for Kit it is about forging an element of fame or iconography of himself. He leaves a constant trail of ‘himself’ as they go. A trail of his morality, recording messages to tape for potential child fans who look up to him as an idol. “Listen to your parents and teachers. They got a line on most things, so don’t treat em like enemies.” he says. This whole ordeal is a quest to find importance. To impart a mark on the world. Kit punctuates each action with strange justification and reasoning that Holly accepts. She doesn’t question him, but doesn’t understand him either. The two blaze out into this personal heaven, knowing that it is all temporary. Knowing and preparing for the explosive end. Malick as a director has a way of splashing human brutality onto the frame of nature. A film about killing where the takeaway imagery is an aching, fading sun through grass and leaves. Badlands marks the beginning of Malickian cinematography. Film-makers have imitated and emulated this aesthetic style (but never as well) to an extent where it has become pastiche. But it began here. This is a beautiful film about brutal, disconnected people.