Thursday, February 18, 2010

Some New Auteur Films

The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)
* (Has redeeming facets)

Dave Kehr writes about Michael Haneke as being a “finger-wagging sensationalist” and Richard Combs calls him the “pious admonisher”. These labels sum up my feelings towards Haneke and his misanthropy and distaste for humanity, specifically in his latest Palme d’Or winning film The White Ribbon. In it Haneke presents people: a priest; who can not fathom the cruelty in his own community even though he violently disciplines his own children, a father; who condescends and insults his non-marital lover and has pedophilic relations with his daughter, and children; who devastate their community by torturing their neighbors rich and the mentally disabled offspring. Haneke hypocritically looks down on these people, as if saying: look at you people (i.e., the characters, viewers, and humanity), you make me sick! This unearned air of superiority consistently leaves a sense of distaste, the viewing experience felt unnecessarily masochistic.

(Bytowne Cinema, 324 Rideau Street, 19/02 - 28/02)


Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)
* (Has redeeming facets)

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, can be seen as being some-what inspired by Jacques Tourneur The Cat People (1942). I see it, as an alternative path Oliver Reed and Irena Dubrovna could have gone. Shutter Island also has the Tourneur-like quality of abstaining from violence while maximizing frights. It is interesting to see Mr. Scorsese finally make a film that addresses the Holocaust since he was originally supposed to direct Schindler’s list (1993) before trading projects with Steven Spielberg for Cape Fear (1991). And whatever happened to Martin Scorsese’s past collaborator Paul Schrader’s film Adam Resurrected (2008)? That seemed like another good film, also set in a post-WWII mental institute, which got lost finding distribution.

One of my criticisms is that one of the inspirations for the Teddy Daniels character was supposedly Dana Andrews from Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944). I do not really see any acting comparisons since Preminger’s long takes accentuated attention to gestures and small details, while Scorsese’s camera work and fast editing do not. All in all, Shutter Island leaves a lot to be desired but at times it is enjoyable.

(World Exchange Plaza, Empire 7 Cinema, 111 Albert Street, Opening 19/02)


Invictus (Clint Eastwood, 2009)
*** (A Must-See)

Clint Eastwood’s 32nd film Invictus (2009) is a stimulating political drama about the true story of the president of the Republic of South Africa Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (Morgan Freeman) uniting the post-apartheid country for the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The title of the film derives from a Wiliam Ernest Henly poem from 1888, Nelson Mandela used the poem for inspiration during his 27 year jail sentence as a political prisoner.

Clint Eastwood latest output has been historical revisionism. Invictus, Changeling (2008), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), and Flags of Our Fathers (2006) are all about moments in time grounded in a precise place and where the events and communities surpass any one individual and the focus is that of social movements and political change. Invictus is about the blacks and whites of South Africa coming together - overcoming prejudices – for an international sport event, which becomes a catalyst for peace and unison.

Invictus obfuscates social realities and it does not address issues such as racisms, poverty, and the necessary political challenges Nelson Mandela had to overcome in achieving what he did for the country. Everything appears to be really simple for the president except for when he faints from being overworked and when he talks about being detached from his immediate family. And some scenes seem easy and unsubstantial including when the rugby coach Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) “generously” gives a world cup final match ticket to his family's black house keeper or when the black and white presidential security officers make amends in the empty stadium. These are just a few minor squabbles in a story about an exceptional man that is well worth being told.

One reoccurring Eastwoodian theme is that of revenge. Clint Eastwood has been in the revenge business since early in his career with the Man with No Name and the Dirty Harrys’ onwards to Josey Wales and the Walt Kowalskis’. There has been a shift from his youthful vigilante justice to a more mature peaceful vocation. Nelson Mandela prevents the sports council decision of revamping the South African Springboks - a symbol of white power for the Afrikaans- rugby team early on in the film, as he believes it would cause more strife between ethnicities. Nelson Mandela as his new hero brings peace and understanding while promoting nationalism.

Drama is created out of the ordinary (i.e. a fast approaching van creates uneasy suspense), computer generated imagery fills a stadium to the rafters, and aerial views of Cape Town are breathless. All of these qualities and many others are proof that the 80-year-old director is a serious and artful chronicler and that his vast talent and energy has yet to be depleted. As Invictus shows, his best has yet to come.-David Davidson

(The Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank Street, 19/02 - 21/02, 24/02 & 25/02.)

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