*Pleasant Surprises*

I recommend doing this every once in a while: go to the theaters and see something that you haven’t heard of or at least haven’t seen the trailer for yet. Maybe a foreign or independent with a movie poster that tickles your curiosity. A risk? Yes. Worth it? In my experience, definitely yes. This is how I saw Drive and The Artist (I happened to see them right after they were released and before everyone was raving about them) and the film I saw last week:

(I realize my writing about this kind of defeats the purpose of going to see this film spontaneously like that, but if you’ve already heard about this, or don’t care to experience a random theater experience anytime soon, then read on!)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) dir. Benh Zeitlin 

During the first few minutes, I was assuming that it would just be a fantastical kid’s movie (cliche assumption for a film with the main character as a child), but it’s really not a cutesy, soft-edged, comfortable-for-children kind of film. As a story about a young girl who lives with her dad in ‘The Bathtub’, the southernmost part of Louisiana, trying to survive a storm that hits their little piece-of-heaven-village and trying to find her mother, the plot is certainly not predictable and takes you into a semi-foreign setting where, although the hints at southern Louisiana culture is familiar (and elevated to a utopia of sorts), several fantastical creatures and events enter the story along with a futuristic pre-water-world-esque time setting.

Not everything is explained or presented as fact, but, rather, the elements of fantasy and mystery are left to linger as the boundaries of reality become blurred and irrelevant in depicting how the girl, Hushpuppy, overcomes the terrible ‘thing’ that awaits her. And that is what I really liked.

The cinematography. I loved it. There are parts where it captures the sense of nostalgia and feels dream-like and very wandering, but I liked most that it follows Hushpuppy’s movements and gaze really well in the scenes where she is alone or exploring so that the viewer gets a feel for the rawness of the swampy outdoors and the playful, messy energy of a young girl. There’s a lot of deep focus and unstable camera POV’s, which adds to the sense of being in the scene, amidst the nature and props, and the feeling of being a child. Quvenzhane Wallis plays Hushpuppy and does it very convincingly; ‘cute’ would be such an understatement and reduction of her presence in the film.

The possible metaphor(s) and symbols of the film’s major happenings aren’t all THAT mysterious, so I’ll let you have the fun of noticing them yourselves LOL But I really liked how the film antagonizes the State and its actions in ‘protecting’ the swamp-people (it only leads to their demise)…so yay, anti-hospitals, anti-government and pro-living-in-the-natural-country folk! :p

It’s a magical, rough-and-tough journey film and a great first film for newcomer Benh Zeitlin. 🙂

…Short Post about Shorts…

Since one of my potential research interests lies in Romanian cinema and I’m just proudly in love with my homeland’s films from the past 20 years, I might be plugging Romanian films quite often in the future. I am also going there next month for 3 weeks, yay!

For now, I present:

TALES FROM THE GOLDEN AGE (2009) dir. Cristian Mungiu (& others) 

“Romanian Urban Myths of the 80s” is the tagline, and its a film comprised on 6 short (15-20 min.) stories that poke fun at these urban legends of Romanian culture and society during the ‘Golden Age’ of the last 15 years of Communism in Romania (the term was coined by the propaganda newspaper at that time).

In a way, all of the short films are like expanded jokes about stereotypes like the ‘greedy police officer’ or ‘zealous young activist’ that made life in Romania just that much more difficult and annoying and hellish. The cinematography suggests the humor, just in case you don’t immediately catch it with the spot-on acting by a lot of familiar faces (if you’ve seen other Ro films). The awkwardness and tension between the characters is hinted at ‘just so’, and the
humor is all about people getting screwed over…in ways that would only happen in Communist Romania.

This series of short films was certainly not as dark and dry as most other Ro films I’ve seen, especially considering that Mungiu directed “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”, but its a nice little piece of nostalgia for those who actually experienced those times (my parents, your parents…) and a lighter, funnier way to see and learn about those ‘urban legends’ and Ro society in the 1980’s. If you’ve ever wondered why the older Romanians that you may know act or speak or think in the ways that they do (this is where I assume that you all know a Romanian or two…), its interesting to see the kinds of communities they may have grown up in or the common attitudes on life they were taught or even the absurdity and ridicule of the government in those past societies.
*Ah, the beauty of exploring foreign cinemas!*

P.S. It’s online on Netflix!

La revedere!