Sunday Film Roundup (5/22/2016)


This was a good week for movies.  Here’s the latest word from the front.

Whitewash (2013)

Director:  Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais

Quebec never looked so cold, and the fate of man never so bleak.  Thomas Haden Church–always a pleasure to watch–plays Bruce, a shiftless semi-alcoholic snowplow operator who accidentally runs over a man with his plow during a snowstorm in rural Quebec.  Tormented by guilt and confusion, he retreats into the wilderness, where his behavior becomes progressively more bizarre.  The fact that the writer and director were willing to make this dark story into a film shows why Quebec is at the forefront of the Canadian film industry.

This is an unflinching examination of guilt, moral corruption, and the capacity of the human mind for self-delusion.  Those who think they have all the answers to moral problems will find this movie an eye-opening experience.  Church manages to pull it all off because he is, in essence, everyman, and in his actions we see uncomfortable reflections of our own impulses.  The great Russian short-story writers (as well as Jack London) would have loved this film.

Suburra (2015)

Director:  Stefano Sollima

This crime drama explores the links between Italian politics and organized crime.  The plot:  some organized crime bosses want to turn Rome’s ancient port of Ostia into a haven for casino gambling.  There are fat profits to be made, but of course everyone wants more than his share.  A corrupt parliamentary politician named Malgradi (played wonderfully by Pierfrancesco Favino) is up to is neck in misdeeds and malfeasance.  Several other characters scramble around, either to get their fingers into the pie, or to try to get them out of the pie.

Shot in the dreamy style of a Michael Mann film, the narrative style feels like something that Steven Soderbergh might have done.  In other words, this is a well-done production.  Some have criticized the MTV-like soundtrack, but thought it added just the right touch of slickness and modernity to the whole.  We all know that the characters in the movie are all doomed, but we can’t resist finding out how it will all play out.  Crabs in a bucket, Roman style.  See this as a dark companion film to 2013’s unforgettable The Great Beauty (La Grande Belleza).

Fish Tank (2009)

Director:  Andrea Arnold

I loved this little British movie.  I saw it when it first came out and had a chance to see it again on Netflix.  Nothing really important happens here, but it’s one of those nice little human dramas that get more poignant with the passage of time.  The plot:  an angry, rebellious fifteen year-old girl named Mia lives in the Essex projects with her shrewish mother Joanne and irritating younger sister.  She’s been tossed out of school and is waiting to get into another one.

Her one interest is dancing.  The only problem is that she’s not that good at it.  Everyone’s angry at everyone else, and a pall of desperation settles on the whole.  But things get even more complicated when Joanne’s boyfriend (played by Michael Fassbender) takes a liking to Mia.

I’m not sure why I liked this movie, but some films just speak to you.  If I had to guess, it would have to be the honesty on display here.  No false moralizing, no preaching, just the stark portrayal of how flawed people deal with problems.  And there is human affection here; it’s not flaunted, but it’s there still.

There are some missteps in the flow of the action, but coming of age movies are not meant to be seamlessly perfect narratives.  One scene stands out for its raw emotional honesty:  a scene where Mia shows up for a “dance audition” that ends up being not exactly what she expected.  You nearly want to crawl under your seat.

The Law (1959)

Director:  Jules Dassin

I’m not normally a huge fan of old movies.  But I thought I’d give this one a try, never having seen Gina Lollobrigida on-screen.  She and Sophia Loren were the two great Italian actresses of their generation, and for that reason alone I had to see what all the fuss was about.  I was not disappointed.

This is not an easy film to classify.  The basic plot:  in a small Italian town, emotions seethe just below the surface.  Every man in town desires Don Cesare’s servant Marietta (Gina Lollobrigida), but she finds them all uninteresting.  The men of the town gather nightly for drinking games and humiliate each other with a show of control they call “The Law.”  Everyone’s looking to gain an advantage over someone else, but the fights are so vicious because the stakes are so small.

What we have here is an allegory on life, told in the style of operetta or the classic stage “comedies” of old Europe.  This may not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s hard to complain too much when you have Gina Lollobrigida to look at.  The lesson we take away from all of this is that–as Clint Eastwood said in The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly--in life there are those with guns, and those who dig.  Make sure you don’t dig too much.

Well worth a watch.


Read More:  Sunday Film Roundup, 5/15/2016