For some reason I thought I had a long list of nominees that I had seen but not blogged about yet. Mostly, I still have a long list of nominees that I haven’t seen (though I have seen most of the big ones. I’m still holding out on Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m not even sure if it’s worth attempting. I’ll probably just have to turn it off in the middle anyway because I am incredibly squeamish.) But I do have 3 to share with you today. (Including one I really think is great.)
First, I’ll admit I didn’t give this movie the attention it deserves. I had it playing on half of the screen, while I took notes on museum studies research for my Capstone. Or at least, I did until the scene where a very brave man yells at the absurdly named Mexican vigilante/probably cartel leader “Papa Smurf” that the people don’t need his protection. That what Mexicans want is peace and to get that that need to have faith in government institutions. It was chilling, and led to a much longer study break than I meant to take.
Even after watching the whole film, I’m not sure how naive that man was. I want to agree with him, because it’s what I want to yell at the American vigilantes also featured here. (Some of whom are just racist fuckheads, others who have a more nuanced, but in my opinion, still wrongheaded take on the situation.) But its so hard to know who is wrong and right when it comes to the criminal/government/drug dealer/addict/innocent bystander clusterfuck that has taken over much of Mexico. The director, Matthew Heineman, to his credit, doesn’t really take sides, but the rampant violence and almost gleeful torture he depicts (mostly non-graphically) left me longing for an unequivocal bad guy to hate. But, a lot of what’s causing the problem (from what I can tell) is the constant drawing of lines between “us” and “them,” “good” and “bad,” when it’s really a bunch of humans caught up in a system larger and more dangerous than they know (and I include the Americans buying the drugs in that too.) A tough watch, but one that puts faces to headlines for me in a really moving way.
I love Weekend, director Andrew Haigh‘s last film (and first film ever reviewed on this blog, back when I didn’t know how to add images). I even like his, less universally praised, HBO show Looking (RIP). So, I was excited to see that he has a movie that was garnering awards buzz. But also worried, because what I love about his work is its scale. It’s small and personal and revealing. And those aren’t words often associated with Hollywood success, but there’s an undeniable power to Charlotte Rampling‘s performance that I’m glad caught the Academy’s attention.
Though this movie is focused on a different sort of person than Haigh’s usual milieu, aging middle class straight people instead of urban gay men, this still feels completely like his film. From the gray cinematography to the subtly brilliant sound design, to the almost respectful distance the camera keeps from the characters.
But, unlike Weekend, which, while powerful, feels almost sweet in the end, 45 Years is a gut punch. It tells the story of a couple grappling with revelations of things that happened before they met, but color everything when they come to light. What’s great is, this could easily have been a straightforward story of betrayal, but instead I could genuinely see both (heartbreaking) perspectives. And that’s down to the astonishingly full performances from Rampling and Tom Courtenay who are both just perfect as two people who are trying so hard to hold onto something. It made me think of Blue Valentine, it wasn’t quite the same level of hope-killing, but it resisted any east answers.
Side Note: Listen to the lyrics of your wedding song people, you don’t want to have to dance to this at your anniversary:
I knew, vaguely, about the protests in the Ukraine a couple of years ago. I don’t have cable so I don’t know exactly how it was portrayed on TV, but I’m sure it was nowhere near as personal as the depiction in this documentary (now on Netflix). It’s both inspiring to see the people all come together to stand up for their rights and heartbreaking to watch what their government did in response.
There’s a lot of really disturbing imagery of police/military brutality here. It was really hard to watch, and I can’t help but echo the words of one of the protesters about soldiers that fired live rounds into the crowd:
“I want to ask you, who gave birth to you? A mother or a wolf?”
Basically, this felt like a magical piece of journalism, the access was remarkable and the narrative unfurls well. It’s essentially the story of how a corrupt government took a protest and made a war. The old chant, “the whole world is watching,” needs to be more true.