Sunday Film Roundup (6/5/2016)


Yes, I’m aware that it’s not yet Sunday.  But so what?  Why wait a day?  Here are some recommendations.

Bethlehem (2013)

Director:  Yuval Adler

This is a fascinating look into the complex and delicate world of human intelligence.  You can tell from the opening frames that this project was put together with great care.  The screenplay was written and re-written by the director and Ali Waked over a three-year period from 2007 to 2010, and incorporated much in the way of real-world events.  The actors chosen for the role were selected after a very lengthy process.  And this kind of attention to detail is what makes the film work.

The basic plot is the relationship between an Israeli Shin Bet intelligence operative and his barely controllable Palestinian informant.  As the movie grinds on, it becomes less clear who is “handling” who; loyalties clash everywhere, no one trusts anyone, and we can sense that it’s all going to come out wrong.  In a word, the modern Middle East, basically.

What makes this a good film is the expertly acted scenes between the characters.  Forget context, location, or time.  This could be a drama in nearly any part of the world where conflict exists, because the story is about human emotions and passions, not politics.  This is the point that many reviewers missed.

A reviewer for Haaretz complained that this was nothing but a “another Israeli propaganda film” where the “Israelis are the good guys, and the Arabs are the bad guys.”  I find this assessment to be grossly unfair.

I tried to see beyond the politics, beyond the headlines, and beyond the emotions.  And if we can do that, we can appreciate this film for how it should be seen:  a human drama of people caught up in events that hurdle them towards destructive destinations.  Sometimes, no matter what we do, and no matter how hard we try, things just don’t come out the way we want them to.  And quite often in life, there aren’t any “good guys” or “bad guys.”  There are just bunches of guys.

The Hunter (2011)

Director:  Daniel Nettheim

This is a very good Australian drama, compellingly told.

A taciturn hunter named Martin David (Willem Dafoe) goes to Tasmania to track down an elusive and extremely rare animal called the Tasmanian tiger.  The animal, once the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world, was believed to have become extinct long ago.  But, luckily for the producers of this movie, there are a few still left.  David’s orders from the biotech company employing him are also to kill the remaining tigers to prevent any competitor from using them.  Demented, but believable.

David heads out to remote areas and stays at the home of a few people who have issues of their own.  The plot thickens with the addition of various other elements, none of which are really that important to relate here.  What makes this film work is the great work of Willem Dafoe, the fantastic scenery, and the surreal scenes shot out in the wild.  This is just one of those films that has a palpable “atmosphere” and every frame drives this point home.  There are life lessons here as well, and yet we never feel put upon or preached to.

No (2012)

Director:  Pablo Larrain

I really wanted to like this interesting Chilean film, but for some reason it never quite “took off” for me.  The plot sounds compelling enough.  The time is 1988, and Chile is 15 years into the authoritarian rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.  To legitimize his government in the eyes of the world, he decides to hold a plebiscite where Chileans can vote either “yes” (approve of the regime and Pinochet stays in power) or “no” (disapprove of the regime, and free elections are to be held the following year).

One would think that this kind of subject would provide great grist to a director’s mill, but for some reason things never quite congeal.  The story is presented in fatuous, facile tones where the “No” people are the heroes and the “Yes” people are government flunkies.  While that may have been true, the point is made so many times that after a while we feel like we’re being treated like schoolchildren.

Of course, the “Yes” crowd uses modern advertising tactics to make their case.  The idea is that each side has about 15 minutes per night for a month to make its case to the people.  It is interesting in some ways, but as I said before, there are no characters in this film whom the viewer can really identify with.  Even Gael Garcia Bernal seems to be sleepwalking through a good number of his scenes.  It all adds up to a lot of blandness.  And this is a shame, because I just get the sense that somewhere in here is a very good film, just wanting to get out.

Green Street Hooligans (2005)

Director:  Lexi Alexander

This independent film is a lot of fun.

A Harvard student named Matt Buckner (Elijah Wood) is expelled close to graduation for allegedly possessing drugs.  Turns out that the drugs aren’t his, and he’s covering for his rich roommate.  For some inexplicable reason (the film’s only weak point), he doesn’t fight the charges, but willingly takes the fall.

Adrift, he moves to London to visit his sister who’s settled there.  Angry and directionless, he falls in with a “firm” of local football toughs who initiate him into their violent world.  It’s exhilarating and fascinating to watch, and all the performances are top-notch.  But the brawler lifestyle has its own dangers and drawbacks, and Matt soon finds out that he may have exchanged one set of problems for even bigger ones.

There are no deep messages here, and not much that will tax the intellect, but none of that really matters.  It looks like the director based the plot on some of her own experiences in dealing with her brother’s “firm.”  That would account for the realistic touches, of which there are many.

This is meant to be a voyeuristic look at a slice of British culture that the average American likely knows nothing about.  Is is accurate?  Who knows?  Who cares?  I had a lot of fun watching this while downing a couple pints of my own.  And sometimes there can be a lot of wisdom in that.  It looks like there was a sequel to this film, which I also plan to see.


Read More:  Sunday Film Roundup (5/29/2016)