Movies You Should See Vol 2

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One of the things I love about films from other countries is the mythology and fairy tales on which other societies are built.

We tell the same stories over and over, you see. The cultures in which we are raised imprint deeply with the images and whispers of the fairy tales that echo throughout our memories. This reflects in the movies that each culture produces. If we, raised with Grimm Fairy Tale tradition, see a girl in a red hood, we bring to bear a whole plethora of  things we KNOW.  We know the story, we know the implied danger and warnings. The filmmaker/ storyteller does not need to do extraneous explanation because the audience is "in the know" about the story he/she is attempting to convey.

When entering the story tradition of other cultures, I know I am already at a disadvantage. Having not been steeped in the mythology of other cultures, I have to work harder to understand why the story is being told the way it is being told.  And I Like that. I like the cognitive work I have to do to understand.

Ergo, I present Night Watch (2004) - a superb Russian film wrapped up in a mythology of Light and Dark Others.

Yes, there are vampires. Yes there are other "supernaturals"  and that theme is So Done right now, but this remains as one of my favorite movies that I watched without understanding what the hell was going on, and then I went back to watch it again. It is one of the few movies that I burned to CD so I COULD watch it again.

In theory, it was supposed to be one of three movies. In reality, only the first two got made. There is a second, Day Watch which is easier to watch, if only because you have the first movie under your belt.

One of the things people often cite is that this movie, extremely expensive for Russian films, has "western style special effects" and that is kind of true.  There are some kick ass special effects. But that isn't why I love this movie.

I love the characters. The schlubby, grubby main actor who is clueless and grimy, while still being cast as both the hero and love interest. The landscape of Russian cities that combine both Soviet era block housing and post soviet commercialism. I love the characters who do their assigned jobs, despite being members of the "Others" - Vampires who are butchers, as worn down and bedraggled as everyone else, policed by rules, and the Watch, designed to keep them in line.  And the Gloom. Well, you just have the watch that to understand.

I should add that these movies are based on books by Sergei Lukyanenko...which I have, but haven't yet read.

Next, I turn to a Spanish movie - The UnCertain Guest (2004).

This is a slow movie. Actually, my experiences with much Spanish cinema is that the story telling style is a great deal more nuanced. Not tons of talking. Not a ton of music in the scenes. It actually reminds you of how Loud we are in North America. We want music and talking and movement, constantly.

Give it time. Let it unfold.  The story is first told through the eyes of the main character....and then through the eyes of the others in the story. Those views are definitely not the same.

In the imdb description, the plot is described as "You let a man into your house to make a call and wait in the kitchen and he disappears..., but does he?". The main character, Felix, is a rather fussy obsessive architect going through a break up with his girlfriend. He becomes convinced that he has a squatter living inside the house after he lets the man use his phone, and turns his obsession to figuring out where the man is hiding.

There is a deeper message in this film, however. What we know about our neighbors, what we show to the external world versus what is going on behind our eyes. Who watches us? Why?

I think I read somewhere that this is being remade by Hollywood. Ugh. I seriously HATE remakes.  When a film is dome well, there is no need to re-do it. I think the classic example of this would be Let the Right One In -, a film of such perfection that no remake was needed. But Hollywood did anyway, and changed really important things about the story. Which I won't tell you because it is important for you to see the film, or at the very least read the book.  The book TERRIFIED me.  Fucking Terrified me.  I passed it on to my friend Maija, and it terrified her. She passed it to her partner Chris, a rather jaded film director, and she wrote to me that she walked by the bedroom to see Chris, eyes wide, transfixed by the book...Also Terrified.

I didn't intend to review Lat der ratte komma in , but I will say this. Aside from the vampire thing, this is at heart, a story about childhood. About exploitation of children. About invisibility of children, about the brutality of childhood as well as the beauty. And being trapped in all of it. Against endless winter.

The last film for today is Unmistaken Child (2008), a documentary about finding the reincarnation of a master monk.

This film follows a disciple, Tenzin,  in his four year search for his masters reincarnation. This is a story about faith. And devotion. And love. Yes, it is a film about some basic tenets of Buddhism - but if you have ever wondered How the next Dalai Lama, or any Lama may be found, then this is a film you won't want to miss.

I once heard an interview with the Dalai Lama where the interviewer asked him about being a Child who was also being raised as the head of a religious order. For many of us, I think, that must be a strange duality. Here you have a normal boy, you must want to engage in normal boy things...but who is also believed to be the reincarnation of a specific soul.  The Dalai Lama laughed in the interview and said "I was just a normal kid. I played soccer, I got in trouble for playing pranks. I had a very ordinary childhood".

It was not until I had watched this film that I could conceptualize How that statement could be true.


2 Baleful Regards:

Dawn said...

When I wrote this last week, I hadn't started the Lukyanenko books, but I started Night Watch last night....and am 242 pages deep.

It took me a bit to get my footing in the story, but I am in now, and it is excellent.

miss selene said...

i'm eager to find these movies and watch them myself.

you are right about us LOUD north americans, when watching anime in japanese, i notice long periods of silence as the story progresses. watching the same anime in english dub, the long silences are covered up with internal monologue voiced over.

also reminds me of blade runner... they did the same thing to that movie. i prefer the edition without the internal monologue.

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