Movies You Should See Vol 1

Sunday, April 03, 2011

My taste in movies is..well, exquisite.  I won't lie. I am a movie snob.

More than that? I am a foreign movie snob.  As in 95% of my movie consumption is of the "Not in English" variety.

I know. Subtitles. Wrap your head around that and brush up on your reading skills because if you aren't watching Non-English films, you are seriously missing out some of the best storytelling through the visual medium happening today.

At dinner with some friends recently, I started to gush about a Korean film. Our friend looked at me and said, "Have you written this down anywhere?"

Oh. Well, no. Not really.

Until now. Once a week, I am going to try to write down some of my favorite movies. I watch Asian films, German Films, Finnish Films, You name it. Who knows - maybe some of you out there in Bloggy land will take a chance on a new type of film and discover the amazing nuances of cultural storytelling that exists outside of our typical "western stylized"  fare.

Up First? Old Boy(2003)

A South Korean film which starts a trilogy of films, known as the Vengeance trilogy, this movie stands out in my mind as one of the times I watched a film and was actually blown BACK by the quality of the story telling.

And I mean sitting here with my mouth open and wondering why I had not seen this film before 2009.

I am not a technical critic, but I know what I like.  I can handle violence - if it serves a purpose to the overall story. I am not someone who goes in for the "torture porn" movies of Saw or Hostel ( and  the amazing amount of derivative films ie Centipede). I can handle Sex, explicit or implied. I can handle lots of things, if they serve to move the story forward.

This movie is so pitch perfect that every single thing that happens - and yes, there is a fair amount of violence, and some sex - ultimately serves the arc of the story. And the arc of the story does not reveal until the end of the movie. You don't see it coming. You don't think "Hey, I have seen THIS a million times before and so now XYZ  is going to happen". You simply stare and watch, as if watching a car crash in action...transfixed and frozen.

In short, a man is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years. He has no idea who has taken him, or why.  No one talks to him and he sees no one outside of his room. One day, he is released ( with no explanation) and begins his quest to find out Who stole his life and why.

And the answer, when it comes will blow you away.

The second film I want to talk about is Innocence (2004), which is as about as far away from OldBoy as a film could get.

A French/Belgian film, this one sat in my queue for about a year until we had the great Internet outage of 2010 and I was forced to use up some of the movies saved on my hard drive. It is a slow movie, not much dialog, but a movie of nuance and visual imagery.

One of the markers of a great movie is whether it Stays with me or not. Great movies Stay. They niggle into your consciousness and you struggle to understand them, or at least you become curious about larger ideas around what you watched.  After watching this movie I thought "What the hell was THAT" and "That was a amazing film"...simultaneously.

Ignore the description on IMDB. Offbeat boarding school? Puh-lease. This movie is a metaphor for children growing into adulthood. Girls, notably. And yes, there were moments when I continued to expect to see the great reveal of creepy old men watching the young girls which is why I was in suspense waiting to see my expectation come true.

The movie made me uneasy. Where were the adults? What was the ballet? Why did some girls disappear?  Why did the youngest girls arrive, naked and in coffins?

But, and this came to me later, it is an exquisite look at the life stages of being female and how minute choices that we make can impact our adult selves. The longing to be older, the pure beauty of a new friend, the comfort given to children by children, the line between obedience and curiosity, and the external judging of beauty.

When I stripped away my Western socialization of the expectation of young girls being sexually exploited and watched the movie thinking purely as a female, remembering my very young self and the lack of self consciousness with which I moved in the world, it becomes an amazing and lush story.

That is a problem, you know. We start to anticipate our fears reflected in media.  As a Mother of a young woman on the cusp of her transition into Adult, I am vigilant to stories about over-sexualized imagery, or potential predators. I start to see it everywhere. This movie reminded me that there is a ethereal quality to childhood to which I am an onlooker - but in which I can never participate again. Reminds me that my knowledge makes me wiser - but it also contaminates me and can make me spoil things in which there is no ulterior motive. I see the wolf in the forest, even when he is not there.

So, here are my first two offerings for you. I will try to give you two every week, if for no other reason to write down movies that puzzled me, or startled me, or made me re-think old stories and my place inside a tradition of story tellers that is as old as humankind.

5 Baleful Regards:

Amira said...

YES! If you make this into a series of some sort, I'm SO looking forward to it!

I have a huge crush on Korean culture from kpop to their silly soap dramas (I don't even like soaps from the states), but I've only seen about two movies or so. I'd LOVE suggestions!

I've also been meaning to look into non-Korean foreign films, so again, I'm looking forward to the next installment of this post.

E. said...

Thanks! Great to have some recommendations for the movies I won't already have heard about everywhere I read/listen.

elizabeth jane said...

Lemon Tree
A lonely Palestinian widow tends her family’s West Bank lemon grove. But when the new Israeli Defense Minister and his wife move next door, the government demands that the trees be uprooted.

Hiam Abbass, Doron Tavory, Ali Suliman, Rona Lipaz-Michael
Director: Eran Riklis
Loved this!

Unknown said...

I was introduced to and watched OldBoy for the first time last night. I am still trying to wrap my brain around all that happened in that movie. I love movies that make you think, that move your heart, that cause you to question things in your own life. It made my soul ache. I can't wait to watch more of your suggestions!

Dawn said...

That is a perfect description of OldBoy - Makes your soul ache. But not entirely in a bad way, and not in a Happy Happy Joy Joy way either..Just Ache.

And EJ- Have Lemon Tree downloaded and waiting for the next free space in my Queue.

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