Monday, April 9, 2012

Five movies in two countries in four days

I didn't realize I had Monday off, so I scheduled myself to return from my Toronto mini-vacation on Monday morning in time for a full work day.

When I learned my company granted us the day off, and then I remembered my apartment belongs to my subletters til 6 PM, I knew I'd be going straight to the movie theater from La Guardia following my 9 AM arrival.

In Toronto, during the first free moment I had after work on Friday, I made a beeline for the TIFF Bell Lightbox and saw whatever ended up working OK time-wise, which in fact was GERHARD RICHTER PAINTING, a film about an artist whose name I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't heard of til I saw it on the Film Forum's "coming soon." You might as well know now - I'm neither very intelligent nor cultured. What can I say.

I did however take note of one of his pieces, a small one, at the MoMA last week and then was like yeah I could see that movie.

GERHARD RICHTER PAINTING was not a formal introduction to the painter in any way. Were I inclined to learn more about his influence on art, his upbringing, anything of the sort, Wikipedia would teach me a great deal even after watching an hour and a half movie all about him. I can tell you in great detail, though, how he paints. And it is definitely a credit to the filmmakers that I was totally entranced while watching. I'm not sure if you can spoil a documentary like this, so I feel okay mentioning that there were some truly frustrating/heartbreaking parts of his process where as a viewer I'd become fairly attached to the painting we'd watched him painstakingly create, only to stand by while he white-washed it, unsatisfied with the final product. This surprised me. My reaction, that is.

Also in Toronto I went to the former TIFF venue the Cumberland to see FOOTNOTE. This has been on my list for some time since it's rare to see an Israeli film that is anything but delightful and engaging. I would use those both of those words to describe this quirky family dramedy about competing father/son scholars. Having seen the trailer no less than five thousand times I was pretty sure I had this movie pegged, but it still managed to surprise me with both its ending and a few of the devices used to tell the story. Charming, but certainly the weakest of the four (of five) Best Foreign Film nominees I've seen from the 2011 Oscars.

Back in NYC as I said I made today a nonstop film assault at my three favorite downtown theaters. The IFC center was first on my list (and in my heart) for WE HAVE A POPE which I missed at TIFF and again at its sneak preview a few weeks earlier, which I ditched to hang out with friends in town. Sometimes there must be more to life than movies. They say. Anyhow - fine movie, not going to change my life. Actually more eh than anything. The only thing I've seen of the director's work was his Palm D'Or winning THE SONS ROOM which packed a much deeper emotional punch than this lightish fare.

Next I popped over to the Film Forum to check out THE ISLAND PRESIDENT which has been receiving glowing recommendations, most recently from my dear friend @janisgilman whose opinion I trust when she says she loves something (but not when she hates something).

THE ISLAND PRESIDENT was my favorite of the day and worked really well as an underdog story (both of a man, a political party, a nation, maybe the world). This is one of the climate change movies that made the strongest case for "NO REALLY, DO SOMETHING RIGHT FUCKING NOW PEOPLE" out of the many looming nightmare "humanity is fucked" documentaries that have been made. And it was also the one that, for me, focused more on what someone is actually doing to solve the problem than on proving that there's a problem in the first place. I find that a much more compelling tale than spending 88 minutes of a 92 minute movie describing in detail the downward path we're on, and then spending four of the final minutes on a tacked-on epilogue with a hopefully score playing over a couple of plucky folks coming up with some very "duh" ideas to fix things.

This movie worked on so many levels - as a portrait of someone persevering against immense adversity, as a plea for help from a beautiful place suffering in ways most people far away could never imagine, and as a wake up call for those ignoring problems that will surely land in their backyards sooner rather than later. Charming, inspiring, entertaining. Educational without being preachy or condescending. Just about everything I hope for in a non-fiction film. See it if you haven't yet.

My last film of the day (that I know of, it's not even 7 PM) was THE BULLY PROJECT. Or is it just called BULLY? At any rate, I've been wanting to see this since it was the toast of Tribeca nearly one year ago. I should have seen it back then, before I was tainted by all the praise, before I was influenced by the annoying as hell, sanctimonious publicity around the MPAA ratings debacle. Not that I don't hate the MPAA with a flaming passion. But. Anyway.

I donno about this movie, guys. I'm a human being, so there were absolutely some moving parts. I mean, most of it was moving. You can't be a living breathing person and not feel something very strong for these families and these kids who have suffered so much. But, I had some problems with the film if I am evaluating it objectively, or trying.

First of all, I get it. I get it. I get it. Bullying is bad. I feel like I was asked to watch four or five hours of raw footage of kids and families just dealing with the effects of it, before the film even started offering any slant or commentary besides "this is happening." And maybe that only bothered me because it's been so well covered in the past year since this was made - and I know, I know, I know. It's happening. Maybe most people seeing this in bumfuck Kansas or Florida or whatever won't be able to make the connections I feel like most people could have made in 30 minutes of "bullying is happening and it is bad" type of footage. You know what I'd like? I'd like the entirety of BULLY to be condensed into 30 minutes, and then I'd like another hour and a half of actually exploring the incredibly complex issue. Not just saying "it's entirely complex" or putting people in corners, in very black or white "these are the good guys and these are the bad guys" distinctions. Because I feel like that's how we'll start to actually maybe make some headway on solving the problem. And maybe it's a different movie - but I would have liked the film to speak with some experts - ANY experts - on the topic. Way too many personal stories; way too much footage of the CLEARLY well-intentioned administrators being made out to look ineffective. I am not a teacher and I know hardly any teachers but I think they're a fairly easy target and I can't imagine they're anywhere near the root of the problem.

This subject deserves more, I guess, is what I am saying. That's not to say anything about the intentions of the film - because without a doubt, awareness is a solid step in the right direction. The last 10 minutes were strong and they took way too long to arrive.

Also I could write a paper on how the movie completely glossed over the fact that so many of these families owned guns, advocated hunting, and at least one child talked about violence against animals. I digress - that gets a bit too political for this here viewing blog.

I'm glad I saw it, and I will not begrudge the film any of its praise. I was incredibly moved by the story of the gay high school girl - both her own strength and that of her family. I think there was something very interesting to learn about a comment her dad made about how his entire world view changed the day his daughter came out. It's a cliche to say it, but if the attention the film is getting means it's shown to any families in a similar situation who can take anything valuable from that father's tale, then it has been a success. I just think it is too loaded of an issue for this to be considered in any way shape or form the definitive documentary on the topic. I hope very much that it opens up a dialogue for richer, more nuanced, less personal and more objective takes on the issue.

1 comment:

  1. As you know, I love Bully (which I apparently don't do often). I think it is unfair to say that a film has to explore an issue fully (since most docs, especially environmental docs, do not). Normally I do like a more balanced piece, but in this instance, I was not looking for a definitive piece on bullying. This was a film to tell people's stories. Compassion for them would be the first step to a solution to the problem. (Maybe too much for your former bully self - just kidding). Plus, the educators were not meant to be demonized. They saw the footage, but allowed it.