Sunday, February 18, 2018

52 MOVIES FROM 52 COUNTRIES - # 7 SWEDEN

This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 




RUNNING TIME: 142 Minutes.

DIRECTOR: Ruben Östlund

WRITTEN BY: Ruben Östlund

STARING:
Claes Bang
Elisabeth Moss
Dominic West
Christopher Læssø

WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT: I got it on DVD from Netflix. It is also available to rent ($4.99) or buy ($14.99) on Amazon Video.



PLOT: A prestigious Stockholm museum's chief art curator finds himself in both professional and personal crisis as he attempts to set up a controversial new exhibit.

  

MEMORABLE MOMENT: The scene displayed in the most in North American promotional materials (posters/trailers) is the one in which a performance artist (Terry Notary) impersonates an ape during a fancy dinner party, accosting several of the guests.

However, the scene that stuck with me the most is the video promoting the eponymous work of art in which we see a sobbing girl holding a kitten get blown up by a bomb.  Even though this is clearly staged to advertise an art exhibit I actually had to stop the DVD for a moment to pet one of my cats. 


TRIVIA:
  • The scene with Terry Notary (described above and portrayed in the film's poster) was inspired by the Russian artist Oleg Kulik who was invited to the international group exhibition "Interpol" at Färgfabriken, Stockholm. At the opening, Kulik impersonated a dog. He growled, jumped up, rolled and bit one of the guests. He said he acted as a representative of the browbeaten Russian people, who now bite back. 
  • In the beginning of the film, a young woman confronts Christian (Claes Bang) screaming that a man is going to kill her and begging for his help. A man runs up to them, there is a brief altercation and both the man and woman depart. A moment later Christian realizes his wallet and cell phone are missing. This scene was based on a real life incident.  One of the director's friends was robbed a similar way. 

If someone asked me, "What is The Square about?" I would honestly have trouble giving them a two sentence plot summary. In fact the plot I provided above is copied from IMDB (with a few edits to help the flow).

In a way The Square is more of a series of scenes with the same characters following a loose plot thread involving a controversial (but also not controversial enough) art exhibit. There is less of a central plot so much as three or four mini-plots accompanied by several scenes that don't feel entirely related.

These scenes and plot threads share similar themes involving art, class structure and how the wealthy treat the homeless. Nearly all of these scenes are very well acted, directed, filmed and scripted (at least the subtitles were well written). Several scenes would make fantastic short films on their own.

I have nothing against a film abandoning the basic story template. Not every movie needs the three-act structure or all the steps of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. That being said, when the end credits rolled, I was left feeling as though something was missing. The Square is better than countless other films that follow a clearly-defined plot, but at the end of the day the film felt more like a jumble of weird and unfortunate events that happened to occur on the same week.

But why is this a bad thing?

One could argue that I was thrown off because I was raised on movies like Star Wars,  Raiders of the Lost Ark and Die Hard, which all have extremely well-defined plot structures.  Even my favorite "intellectual films" The Bicycle Thieves, 8 1/2 and Dr. Strangelove have a very sharp focus on where the story is headed. Most of these movies have subplots, but these smaller stories all revolve around the central story and the direction our heroes are headed. For the majority of its run-time, The Square doesn't have this. 
  
So one could argue that my sense of something being missing has a cultural base. Perhaps if I had grown up in a society where Die Hard and Star Wars were a jumble of events rather than a focused story, I would have felt different.

But there might be a deeper reason as well. Humans use stories to view the world, even for purposes that don't involve entertainment. If someone is rude to us at the grocery store, we come home and automatically share the experience in the form of a story.  Like the typical movie, we will have a hero, a villain, a plot and possibly even themes ("Why are people jerks?") and subplots ("I never even found the right peanut butter.")

We don't turn life events into stories to create mega-blockbusters or fine art. We do it because we are following a natural pattern that helps us make sense of the world. That may be why I felt something was missing when I got to the end of The Square. The movie has plenty of small story-lines that lead to the character (possibly?) changing, but a central story line is missing.  None of the stories involved rise above the rest to become the single backbone of the movie. There isn't a single goal that brings all the characters and events together.

Once again, I'm not even certain this is necessarily a bad thing, but it did leave me with a sense that the movie was all subplot. To me, The Square was less of a single story and more like a bunch of stuff that happened to the same people. While this makes for a very unusual movie, I suppose one could argue it does create a work that is more similar to real life.  

Sunday, February 11, 2018

52 MOVIES FROM 52 COUNTRIES - #6 SOUTH KOREA

This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 



RUNNING TIME: 156 Minutes (Don't let the length discourage you, this movie is totally worth it.)

 DIRECTOR: Hong-jin Na

 WRITTEN BY: Hong-jin Na

STARING:
Do-won Kwak
Jung-min Hwang
Woo-hee Chun
Hwan-hee Kim




WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT? I watched it on Netflix Instant. It's also available on Amazon Video to rent for $3.99 or to buy for $7.99.

PLOT:  A stranger arrives in a small South Korean village. Soon afterward, a mysterious sickness spreads through the community. The plague begins with a rash, but the infected are soon driven to insanity and commit sickening acts of violence. When a policeman (Do-won Kwak) discovers a rash on his daughter's skin, he turns to a materialistic shaman for help.




MEMORABLE MOMENT: The Shaman's ritual has to take the cake. It involves dancing, animal sacrifice, hammering nails into a totem and spitting blood onto a sword. The sequence is intercut with images of the mysterious stranger performing insidious rituals in his remote cabin.

FROM IMDB:
  • For the exorcism (described above), actor Jung-min Hwang filmed the entire scene in one fifteen minute take.
  • According to director Hong-jin Na, this movie's themes and rituals are based on folk religions from Korea and Nepal, as well as the Catholic faith.  
  • Hwan-hee Kim who played Hyo-jin (Jong-goo's daughter) practiced modern dance for six months to perform scenes of her being possessed. 

Because The Wailing is such a long movie and because I have such a busy schedule (don't we all) I watched the first third of the film and then turned it off for dinner. From what I saw, I'd come to the conclusion I was watching a comedic horror film, something along the lines of Evil Dead 2 or a less self-aware Cabin in the Woods.  Jong-goo (Do-won Kwak) plays a painfully inept overweight cop who panics under the slightest provocation.  Sure there were bloody deaths and an ominous tone of foreboding but I returned to The Wailing expecting more horror/comedy hijinx.

Only to discover that that there is NOTHING funny about that final 2/3's of the movie.

I won't give away any spoilers here (last week was an exception) but let's just say things get dark and then darker and then super dark and then we reach the final half hour of the movie.  The inept police officer is no longer the man he was during the first forty-five minutes. By the climax I didn't feel like I was watching the same film anymore. 

Had this been your typical comedic horror movie the two genres would have played off one another for most of the running time.  The violence and gore would build the tension until the bumbling cop did something ridiculous, giving the audience a temporary comedic release. Then the tension would build again and this pattern would continue until the climax. We enjoy these movies because not only do we "survive" the fear, we get to laugh at it.

But the final hour and forty-five minutes of The Wailing barely has a speck of comedy. All lighter moments are nearly buried under dark elements. So why even give us the over-the-top comedy at all in the beginning? Why not just make Jong-goo a typical police officer? The filmmakers wouldn't have had too change much to make The Wailing a 100% straight horror film.

In a way, I already answered my question. Had Jong-goo been a "typical" police officer he wouldn't have been nearly as memorable.  Many cops in horror films may be corrupt, but they at least know how to act at a crime scene. Jon-goo falls in the mud when attacked by an elderly woman, a moment that sticks with the audience.

Even more importantly, his humble beginnings enhance the character's journey. By the end of the first hour his actions are not the actions of the clumsy goof we started out with. Had we met him as a serious character his dark journey would not have been nearly as significant.    

But there are even deeper reasons for the early comedic moments. The Wailing possesses a strong sense of loss. Not only do several people die but the family and community also come undone (not really a spoiler, this is a horror movie after all). It's not as though Jong-goo's family is straight out of a 1950's sitcom, but the first forty-five minutes has light moments that are dashed away later in the film, amplifying this sense of loss. The audience spends the first portion of the film with the bumbling police officer and his inquisitive daughter only to see them (very close to literally) dragged through hell.  The sense of loss we feel after the laughs end would not have been there had Jong-goo started off as an effective officer of the law.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

52 MOVIES FROM 52 COUNTRIES - #5 GERMANY

This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week.




RUNNING TIME: 121 Minutes

DIRECTOR: Wolfgang Becker

WRITTEN BY:
Bernd Lichtenberg
Wolfgang Becker
Achim von Borries
Henk Handloegten (Hendrik Handleoegten)
Chris Silber (Christoph Silber)

STARING:
Daniel Brühl




WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT: The usual suspects...Netflix DVD. Amazon Video. YouTube. iTunes. 

PLOT: In 1989, Christiane Kerner has lost her husband and is completely devoted to the Socialist East German state. A heart attack leaves her in a coma for eight months. When she awakens, the Berlin Wall has fallen and it's a whole new world.  Christiane's doctors warn her son, Alex, that a shock could kill her. Therefore, he must do everything within his power to prevent her from learning that capitalism has reached East Germany.


  

MEMORABLE MOMENT: Alex goes to tremendous lengths to prevent his mother from learning that the Berlin Wall has fallen. He puts new food in old East German packages and films fake news broadcasts.  Therefore one of the film's funniest moments is when an enormous Coca-Cola advertisement goes up right outside her window.    


    • There is a scene in which Alex's friend, Denis (Florian Lukas), appears to be wearing a Matrix T-shirt. Many audience members assumed this was a goof because the scene was set in 1990 when The Matrix didn't come out until 1999. However, the similarities are just a coincidence. The shirt really was around in the late 80's / early 90's. 


    • One of the film's major themes is Ostalgie, nostalgia for aspects of life in old East Germany. 
    • The film was mostly shot in East Berlin. CGI was used extensively to "de-westernize" the setting. Ads for Western products were removed and the colors of many buildings had to be lightened or darkened. 



    So far I've avoided giving away spoilers on this blog, but Good Bye Lenin!'s ending stuck with me so much I had to write about it. Just be warned MAJOR spoilers ahead.

    If Good Bye Lenin! had been made in Hollywood, Alex's mother would have discovered the truth at the film's climax. She would be upset, but she would be more "disappointed" that her son lied to her. Alex and his friends/family would help her accept the changes, though, and the film would end with everyone sitting around a table at Burger King enjoying a meal.*

    And honestly, that wouldn't have been so horrible.  This movie would have still been a fun dramatic comedy with a quirky premise. However, Good Bye Lenin's! actual ending caught me completely off guard in what it had to say about truth and young people's relationship with their elders.

    Just before the film's climax it is strongly implied that Alex's girlfriend, Lara (Chulpan Khamatova), tell's Alex's mother () the truth, although the audience doesn't know if she believes her. Later, Alex creates yet another fake news broadcast claiming that East Germany has a new leader and he has opened the borders to the west. Alex's mother, Christiane, seems to happily accept this news. However, the audience doesn't know if she really believes it or if she is just playing along. Later, despite Alex's best efforts, Christiane passes away and Alex scatters her ashes thinking she died believing that her beloved socialist state was still a major world power. 

    So two things might be happening here. Both imply that lies might be healthier than the truth. 


     1) Christiane doesn't believe Lara, but she believes the fake news broadcast. In this scenario, Alex managed to share a part of the truth with her. His mother now knows that the West has reached East Germany, but she thinks it's under East Germany's own terms. Therefore in the end, Alex's plan worked. His mother may have passed away but she died believing her world was still a whole.

    I should note we do this sort of thing with the elderly all the time. How many times do we avoid "unpleasant" topics with our elders or change the channel when a distressing news program comes on. In fact, while watching this movie I had to wonder how many families in the United States lied to their dying relatives and told them that Hillary won the 2016 presidential election. I'm certainly not saying that such actions are immoral. The motivation is often out of love. However it is still an obstruction of the truth. What Alex does in Good Bye Lenin! is similar, but blown to a comical proportion.

     2) Christiane believes Lara and knows the broadcast is fake. In this scenario Christiane is weaving her own lies. She knows that East Germany is gone, but plays along because she loves her son and appreciates everything he has done for her. She doesn't want him to worry about her. This is also something that happens in real life. The elderly often lie or hide the truth from their younger relatives, allowing them to believe that they are healthier or happier than they really are.

    Alex clearly hates the socialist state but goes to great lengths to create a miniature version of East Germany for his mother. Perhaps on some level he is really doing this for himself, to hold onto a part of the world he grew up in. Therefore, if Christiane really is just playing along at the end, she is the one protecting her son. Good Bye Lenin!'s ending is open to interpretation but however you read it, a lot is being said about the lies relatives tell one another out of love. One also has to wonder if something is being said about the lies we tell ourselves.


    *I should note that I don't make these comparisons to Hollywood movies to say they're all trash. There are a lot of mega blockbusters I love. However, with a few exceptions, these movies mostly fall into a relatively strict formula.

    Sunday, January 28, 2018

    52 MOVIES FROM 52 COUNTRIES - #4: BRAZIL

    This entry is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 

    Cidade de Deus (City of God) - 2002


    RUNNING TIME: 135 Minutes

    DIRECTORS:
    Fernando Meirelles
    Kátia Lund

    WRITTEN BY:
    Bráulio Mantovani
    Paulo Lins (Novel)

    STARRING
    Alexandre Rodrigues
    Leandro Firmino
    Phellipe Haagensen



    WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT: Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, Vudu, iTunes etc.
    Compared to some of the other movies I've watched for this blog, this film is fairly easy to find.

    PLOT: Rocket, an aspiring photographer, narrates a series of interconnecting stories set in one of Rio de Janeiro's poorest neighborhoods. The events all lead up to a war between two opposing drug gangs. 



     (The actual film is a lot less 90's action movie than the trailer implies.)


    MEMORABLE MOMENT: There are so many to choose from, but the first that comes to mind is the massacre at the Miami Motel. When we realize who perpetrated the killings (and the glee he took in the slaughter) we realize just how unhinged this character is.


    •  The movie is based on a novel inspired by the author's childhood.
    • Because the filmmakers didn't believe actors from middle class neighborhoods would look authentic, much of the film's cast were local kids from poor neighborhoods (many grew up in Cidade De Deus).
    • Help groups were set up to assist the young actors so they wouldn't have to continue living in poverty. The documentary City of God: 10 Years Later follows what has changed in their lives.

    -The film was ranked No. 7 in Empire Magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" and No. 6 in The Guardian's "The 25 Best Action and War Films of All Time."


    One would think that a movie in which the setting is just as significant as the characters would begin with a helicopter shot of Rio de Janeiro's sprawling metropolis. However, the film opens from the point of view of a chicken about to become someone's meal.
    In actuality, the film's first several images are of a knife being sharpened. These start as closeups but pull back enough so the audience sees the legs and feathers of dead chickens in the background. The flurry of images are accompanied by shots of a local band playing and a scared chicken staring onward, as if contemplating its fate.

    What follows is a disorienting storm of images: carrots sliced, a dead chicken's severed head, sandaled feet dancing and more images of the band playing and the knife continuing to be sharpened. This is a place of celebration and death.

    The chicken watches as her sisters are plucked and gutted. The band plays. Drinks are mixed. Kabobs sizzle on the grill. The chicken struggles with the string around her leg until she eventually escapes.

    For the moment the chicken seems safe. Then a man notices her. Later in the film we learn that he is Li'l Zé, the antagonist (Leandro Firmino). Li'l Zé shouts the film's first line, which according to the subtitles is: "Fuck, the chicken's getting away! Go after that chicken, man!"

    At his orders, a stampede of boys with guns chase after the animal as she runs through the back alleys. Only when the chase begins does the audience receive a clear view of the surrounding decrepit building and rubble-filled streets.

    (For you animal lovers out there, the chicken does eventually escape.  In fact - spoiler alert! - she outlives many of the film's characters.)

     I didn't describe the film's opening seconds to turn you into a vegetarian (although if you are, good for you!) or to condemn the kids chasing after our feathered heroine (they have most likely spent much of their lives hungry). I described this scene because it was the perfect way to reveal the film's setting. I've never been to Rio de Janeiro and can't speak for the actual Cidade de Deus district, but the neighborhood portrayed in this film is a place where the characters (like the chicken) are trapped. Being caught up in the violence and poverty and possibly dying at a young age is a very true part of reality. At the same time, the audience also sees the characters playing sports, hanging out with friends, flirting and dancing at night clubs. Poverty and violence is not romanticized but as these opening shots suggest, their lives are filled with celebration and death.

    It is no accident that this scenario opens a film that contains the deaths of dozens of children. Yes, they are children with guns in their hands, but they are caught up in the circumstance of poverty and desperation, the same way the chicken is caught up in the circumstance of becoming someone's meal.

    It is also no accident that the film's antagonist, a local drug lord, is the one who sends the mob of armed boys after the scared animal.

    I don't mean this to be a navel-gazing post on symbolism ("It's like the bird represents the chickens in all of us, man!"). I'm simply saying that the filmmakers effectively used the tools of editing to weave together a series of images and sounds that tells us exactly what this movie is going to be about.

    Sunday, January 21, 2018

    52 MOVIES FROM 52 COUNTRIES - #3: MALI

    This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 

    BRIGHTNESS (YEELEN) - 1987



    RUNNING TIME: 105 Minutes

    DIRECTOR: Souleymane Cisse

    WRITTEN BY: Souleymane Cisse

    STARING:
    Issiaka Kane
    Aoua Sangare
    Niamanto Sanogo






    WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT: Netflix DVD. You can buy the DVD on Amazon but unfortunately it isn't streaming. I borrowed a copy from the Baltimore County Public library. Your library might also own a copy.

    PLOT: Niankoro, a young man hunted by his sorcerer father, journeys to seek refuge with his uncle. On the way, Niankoro practices his own mystical abilities and finds the strength to face his father. 

    MEMORABLE MOMENT: The final  confrontation between Niankoro and his father, Soma. The visuals are more symbolic than action packed. However, that makes the climax all the more dramatic. This scene is unforgettable for its images of utter destruction and eventual rebirth.

    *I should note that the beginning of the film contains graphic images of animals (specifically chickens) being killed. I couldn't confirm that these scenes weren't simulated but they looked pretty real. Part of the purpose of this project is to step outside my comfort zone but people who are unsettled by such images might want to skip this movie or just fast forward through the first three minutes.



    It goes without saying that Yeelen would be very different if it had been made in Hollywood.  While the film follows a hero on a magical quest, it has a slow pace (matching the pace of the character's society) and there are few special effects. The final battle is more like something designed by David Lynch than Peter Jackson.

    Quite possibly the greatest difference between Yeelen and Hollywood films set in Africa is the total lack of Americans. Had this film been made in Hollywood, there would be at least one American and the audience would view the culture through his or her eyes (I am making a general statement, there may be exceptions). Yeelen's story exists to follow Niankoro on his journey and to present his world as it is, not to explain the setting or characters to the audience. In this way the film is unlike anything you would expect to see in American movie theaters. That being said, it is also filled with common symbols and archetypes found in countless myths and Hollywood cinema.

    Yeelen (based on legends told by the Bambara people) is further evidence of how universal the world's stories are. While I am not familiar with Mali or its culture, it wasn't a struggle to pick up on familiar images and themes. For example, there is a magic spring in which our hero bathes and emerges "reborn," similar to a baptism or fountain of youth. There is a blind wise man who gives advice and is connected to the "other world," similar to countless prophets.  

    The most glaring of these familiar archetypes is the conflict between father and son. Niankoro's father, Soma, pursues his son up until the film's climax. Similar generational conflicts can be found in the Arthurian legends, Greek  and Nordic myths as well as countless others. Modern cinema is also filled with similar struggles between heroes and their fathers. Of course one of the most famous of these is Star Wars.

    Yeelen almost perfectly follows Joseph Campbell's outline of the hero's journey with the "Call to Adventure" (Niankoro has a vision of his father's murderous intentions and flees for the safety of his uncle's domain), a meeting with a mystical being/mentor (Niankoro encounters a hyena spirit in the desert who tells him that he is destined for great things), a series of trials/obstacles (our hero survives the wilderness and uses his mystical abilities to save a village), a return to face his enemy (Niankoro leaves the safety of his uncle's sanctuary to face his father) and at last death and rebirth.

    Yeelen is a mystical movie with a tone, setting and culture very different from most found in mainstream American cinema. However, the symbols, archetypes and characters are universal. The film is just further proof that storytellers are still influenced by sources that have existed for countless generations.

    Sunday, January 14, 2018

    52 MOVIES FROM 52 COUNTRIES - #2: THE NETHERLANDS


    This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week.

    THE VANISHING (SPOORLOOS) - 1988


    RUNNING TIME: 107 Minutes

    DIRECTOR: George Sluizer

    WRITTEN BY: Tim Krabbé (Screenplay and Novel)


    STARING:





    WHERE YOU CAN FIND IT: Netflix DVD. Amazon Instant. 
    I borrowed a copy from the Baltimore County Public library.  It's a part of the Criterion collection. 

    PLOT: While on vacation, a young Dutch couple, Rex and Saskia, stop at a service station where Saskia goes missing. Three years later, a man approaches Rex and claims to be her abductor.
     



    MEMORABLE MOMENT: The moment when Rex realizes what happened to Saskia will haunt you for days. I can't bring myself to give it away here, though, not even after a "Spoiler" warning. 

    Instead I'll have to go with the montage in which we see Raymond, a seemingly mild-mannered family man, fail again and again at finding an acceptable victim. The sequence somehow manages to be both comical and horrifying.


    •  The Vanishing was adapted from the novella The Golden Egg by Dutch Journalist and chess champion Tim Krabbé, who also received screenplay credit. Supposedly, he got the idea from an article about a woman who vanished. Fortunately the woman had simply boarded the wrong bus and was reunited with her family.
    • While The Vanishing  is the Dutch entry here, the film was disqualified as the Dutch submission for the Academy Awards because there was too much French dialogue. 
    • According to IMDB, Stanley Kubrick stated that The Vanishing  was the most terrifying film he had ever seen. 
    • In 1993, George Sluizer directed an American remake of his film staring Jeff Bridges, Kiefter Sutherland and Sandra Bullock. It bombed in the box office and was criticized for tacking on a happy ending.



    The Vanishing is a thriller that starts off by telling the audience everything they want to know. There is no mystery regarding who the villain is or how he plans to commit the crime. Early in in the film we learn that Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) is a wealthy family man who owns a remote piece of property where (it is heavily implied) he plans to take his victims. We even see Raymond use chloroform on himself and record how long the affects last. Everything is spelled out except for what happened to Saskia (Johanna ter Steege).

    The film follows Rex (Gene Bervoets), who is searching for his missing lover. I have nothing against Rex as a character (although one has to wonder if he and Saskia would have remained together if she hadn’t been abducted), but he acts more as a guide than a hero, leading the audience down a path at the end of which we discover her fate.

    The most intriguing portions of The Vanishing follow Raymond as he attempts to commit his crime, the way a determined student might attempt to complete a challenging school project.

    Raymond isn’t Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter or Heath Ledger’s Joker. The audience never sees these other villains plan their crimes or struggle with the execution. To us they were born master criminals.

    Imagine if a good portion of Saw was devoted to us watching Jigsaw construct his traps. We’d see him go to Home Depot, buy the chains and power tools, test his razor blades and barbed wire, become frustrated (and embarrassed) when they don’t work, and try again and again and again until everything was perfect. While he would be less god-like, he would appear more human and in a very unsettling way he would be more relatable.

    Unlike Hannibal or the Joker, Raymond doesn’t succeed the first time or the second or even the tenth. Even though his crimes are less elaborate, he has to rehearse and later learn to improvise. It would be as if we saw Freddy Krueger practicing his one-liners in the mirror.

    Raymond reminds me the most of Breaking Bad’s Walter White. Not just because they are both family men with beards and short hair but because they start out as intelligent but inept. The audience spends much of the story watching them struggle. They are both villains who start off out of their depths, but we see them become more effective until they are master criminals.

    Had Raymond’s crimes been as iconic as Lecter’s or as gimmicky as The Joker’s, we might almost like him, the way we "like" other classic villains. However, the atrocities Raymond commits are much more realistic. One could imagine an outwardly peaceful man actually performing these horrors, and that makes him all the more terrifying.

    Next week's country: Mali. 

    Saturday, January 6, 2018

    52 MOVIES FROM 52 COUNTRIES - #1: INDIA


    This is my first entry for a project in which I watch 52 movies from 52 countries in one year.  


    When I got the idea to watch fifty-two movies from fifty-two countries throughout 2018, I knew I'd have to start with India.

    Indian cinema is the world’s largest film industry. According to multiple sources, the country produces over a thousand movies a year (some sites put that average closer to two thousand). 

    So choosing which movie I'd watch was a challenge in upon itself. My choice wasn’t necessarily meant to “represent” the country or sum up its history (try finding a movie that “sums up” America). I simply wanted a fantastic, memorable film.

    In the end I chose...



    BÃHUBALI: THE BEGINNING (2015)


    RUNNING TIME: 159 Minutes

    DIRECTOR: S.S. Rajamouli

    WRITTEN BY: Vijayendra Prasad (Story)
    S.S. Rajomouli (Screenplay)
    C.H. Vijay Kumar (Telugu dialogue)
    Ajay Kumar (Telugu dialogue)

    Madhan Karky (Tamil dialogue - the version I watched)

    Manoj Muntashir (Hindi dialogue)


     STARING: Prabhas

    WHERE YOU CAN FIND IT: Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant.   

    PLOT: An infant found drowning in a river grows up to be Shivudu, a free-spirited boy who spends his days exploring the surrounding mountains. When Shivudu becomes a man, he leaves his home and discovers he is connected to a vast kingdom ruled by a psychotic warlord.



    MEMORABLE MOMENT: An insane musical number in which our hero (Prabhas) climbs an impossibly tall waterfall in pursuit of a woman covered in blue butterflies.


     ABOUT THE MOVIE:
    • The most expensive film ever made in India. 
    • The first of two movies filmed simultaneously. The sequel Bãhubali: The Conclusion was released in 2017.
    •   Has an animated television series which is a part of the franchise.






    Bãhubali (also spelled Baahubali) shares many similarities to blockbusters from around the world. There are familiar mythic archetypes (the baby found in the river, the beautiful female warrior who refuses love until she meets our hero, the protagonist with a violent/mysterious past).           
            

    However it would be impossible to mistake this movie for a Hollywood blockbuster. As one might expect from Indian cinema, Bãhubali has considerably more song and dance numbers than The Lord of the Rings or 300.

     (Although LOTR does have the one)


    Also, despite the epic battle sequence at the film’s climax, Bãhubali’s tone (especially in the first half) feels lighter than many American blockbusters. Granted the most recent Star Wars and Avengers movies are filled with a self-aware tongue-in-cheek humor, but the gaudy musical numbers and the gorgeous settings bring an ethereal tone to much of (although not all of) the film. Overall, the special effects and sets are used to make this movie as beautiful as it is epic.

    Then there is the treatment of animals. Not only does the movie open with a statement that no animals were harmed during the making of the film, but whenever an animal appears to be in danger, the letters “CGI” flash in the lower left-hand corner, assuring viewers that the water buffalo or the horses being killed are just pixels on the screen. Most Hollywood movies are so desperate to look real (even when the computer effects are cruddy) they would never consider such a disclaimer. 

    I chose Bãhubali for its overwhelmingly grand scale both in terms of plot as well as production. Not only was it the most expensive Indian film ever made, it shattered box office records and was met with almost universal critical acclaim.  
     
    Part of me wanted to go for an older, “classic Bollywood” movie. Bãhubali is a beautiful film but it definitely has that recognizable international blockbuster feel to it (just watch the trailer above). Despite the song and dance numbers, there are sections that could almost be mistaken for scenes from Hollywood fantasy films. One could argue that maybe I should have gone for a film unlike anything I’d find in an American Cineplex. (Bãhubali was literally playing in a movie theater ten minutes from my house.) With this in mind, I might write a couple “bonus posts” throughout the year, touching on other Indian films (I'll probably do the same for countries like France, Japan and Korea).

    Feel free to leave suggestions.