Tuesday, May 24, 2011

AJANI [dvd rental]

This award-winning Hebrew-Arabic film [also nominated for the 2010 Academy Awards in the foreign language film category] presents different aspects of the social, religious and political tension between Palestinian-Arabs, Jews and Christians in Ajami, a neighbourhood in Jaffa, Tel Aviv. The predominantly non-professional cast lends weight to the drama of social realities on the shanty streets of Ajami, powerfully portrayed through a 5-part staccato in non-chronological order, with each part bearing out the facts of the other in different ways.

For those not familiar with war-torn poverty-stricken Palestinian-Israeli landscapes, it is hard to find any features that distinguish one community from another without looking closely at the people, their languages and stories that dichotomize power and powerlessness, state of alarm and security. I had to view it twice over to follow the fast pace and intricate twist of plots, plus speed read the English subtitles!

Do catch this 2009 Israeli film directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, who have been reported to differ in their opinions of whether AJAMI is in fact a political or apolitical movie.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean - On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean has always been not just about fantasies, adventures and treasure hunts, but also Johnny Depp; and this time, Penelope Cruz, as well. As Jack Sparrow and Angelica, they are feisty and fabulous equals. Having personas bigger than their great looks help them portray their characters without too much acting.

Other enigmatic pairings are arch enemies Blackbeard [Ian McShane] and Barbossa [the brilliant Geoffrey Rush], as well as the young missionary, Phillip, and the mermaid, Syrena, in the romantic sub-plot.

For me, the storyline is secondary to the uber enjoyment of watching talented actors throw themselves into characters who make the dishevelled look fashionable, and the basic comforts of life like shower, clean clothes and a bed, non-essentials. They move with such ease in cumbersome clothes and messy hair, you have to give it to them. They are in a fantasy world, and who thinks of combing hair or changing clothes in such a world?! Set in contra-reality, Depp, Cruz, Rush and McShane look like they are really enjoying themselves as Jack Sparrow, Blackbeard and his recently-found daughter, and Barbossa. 

To the vexation of my teens, I seriously cared not for the trek to the Fountain of Youth  because just luxuriating in the new couches of Lido 1, and listening to the quick-witted talk and retort of the characters already provided so much pleasure.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Biutiful [Spanish]

This is a powerful drama that depicts the realities of people with no money and no choice whose solutions to life often confound those with the economic means to choose. While it's easy for those in the middle- and upper-class who have power and prestige to talk about human rights, dignity, and justice, these issues of self-respect go over the head of the underdogs in society whose grim agenda each day is mere survival. [I may very well fight for the mistreatment of the lowly worker but to that person holding a low-wage job that feeds his family, his only fear is to lose his job or that my sense of justice might jeopardize his only livelihood.]

Biutiful starts and ends with an after-life dialogue between the protagonist Uxbal [Javier Bardem] and a young man about the sounds of the wind and the ocean. It then moves to precious whispers exchanged in the deep of the night between Uxbal and his preteen daughter, that unknown to them, is their last conversation. Uxbal tells his daughter what his own mother told him about the sound of the ocean.

As an actor, Javier Bardem seems to have an affinity with the big blue sea. In the movie, his bipolar and distraught ex-wife had begged him to live with her with the incentive that he could hear the ocean from her house. In 2004 Bardem played a quadriplegic in 'The Sea Inside' who fought for the right to euthanize himself. He often had flashbacks to the day of a clear blue sky and blue ocean that framed the freak diving mishap that trapped him in a dead body for 29 years.

This movie captures scene upon scene of people in the guts and bowels of society - those we don't really want to know or see. Driven by poverty in their home countries, many flee China and Somali to find 'better lives' as illegal immigrants living in banal conditions and surviving on illegal work. Unfortunately, they are not alone: there are wives and young children in tow.

Living in a decaying segment of society, Uxbal fights his own physical decay through the final stages of prostrate cancer, passing out dark red urine daily. Yet in the grim of his own imminent demise, he upholds the dignity of eating with his children, training them good manners at the table, being around to keep an eye on their homework, and doing his utmost to provide them with a safe home environment. Aren't these universal expressions of a father's love whatever your life situation?   

There are many surprises for me in this movie: that it is set in beautiful Barcelona that I love, that the ocean I love is brilliantly brought into the script like the gentle ebb and flow of waves, that it deals with the grim realities of illegal immigrants in Barcelona's underworld, and finally, that it captures the tenderness of a dying father towards his children and ex-wife. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu brilliantly weaved scenes of debauchery, brutality and human waste with  priceless moments that capture children being loved in ways that cost nothing while living in the throes of poverty. My favourite moments are those that show the dignity of motherly love involving Lili [an illegal worker from Mainland] who babysits and cooks for Uxbal's children after school, and Iq [another illegal immigrant whose husband is deported to Somali for dealing in drugs and counterfeit handbags] who takes care of his children in his final days.

This is a movie with multiple themes and can be very uncomfortable for the ethnocentric - those who are apathetic to people different from them. Apart from Uxbal's sideline as a link to the after-life [he hears the final words of the deceased who have no chance to utter them] and desperate cry for redemption and forgiveness from a psychic, there are graphic scenes of deviant subcultures that can be hard to stomach for those caught unawares - full frontal topless dancing, drunkenness and drugs, sexual scenes, gay intimacy, modern day labour camps, death and murder, multi-cutural existence in the ghetto of a modern city. It shows me a side of Barcelona I have not known before. Maybe there's one in every modern city.