Saturday, October 15, 2011

Two Quick Reviews: Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) and The Dead (1987)

Rabbit Proof Fence (Phillip Noyce, 2002)
This film is almost unbearable; in part because I can’t say to myself, “It’s only a movie.”  Yes, it is a kind of heroic journey, and the heroes, three little "half-caste" aboriginal Australian girls, one of them particularly smart and determined, gain what they set out to achieve.  But lying wordlessly beneath the one journey based on a true story are the countless untold true stories of those children, ripped from parents’ arms, who do not triumph over the odds.  And much of the horror lies not just in the fact that parents and children are separated, but that the separations are so coolly calculated, calculations bolstered and protected by the government appointed "Chief Protector of Aborigines" and his unwavering belief, “it is for their good.”  

Individual heroism is often turned, in films, into a showcase, and that showcasing lapses inevitably into a blind sentimentality that overshadows a bigger problem that affects a large group.  But this film, while celebrating the achievement of the protagonists, isn’t, at its core, a celebration at all.  It is a generation’s heartbreak.

The Dead (John Huston, 1987)

What an odd film.  Based on James Joyce’s short story, “The Dead” from his short story collection, Dubliners, the movie is, essentially, a Christmas dinner party.  The tagline on imdb, “A vast, merry, and uncommon tale of love,” doesn’t really work at all.  The tagline is far too perky, for one thing – and there is none of the Christmas party atmosphere of  Bergman's Fanny and Alexander; it hasn’t that sort of florid robustness.  This dinner party has a kind of gentle regret, a weariness, or maybe just a quietness, resting over the whole affair, but it is not a chilly party all the same.  If there’s weariness, it is a kind touched by the warm bonds among a group of old friends, companions, family members.  There is a mother, embarrassed of her drunken son (an embarrassment everyone overlooks, the drunkenness overlooked, too); there are the spinster sister hostesses feeling their lengthening years but still beaming with benevolence on their guests and becoming sweetly tearful when they are toasted; there is another old woman – once a singer – who offers a song in her aging voice and receives only kind accolades from the other guests, though everyone knows her voice is not what it was; there is dancing, a love poem recitation, a piano performance; there is a husband and wife who move mostly apart from one another among the other guests while the husband remains conscious of his wife at every moment, puzzling over something about her, we feel.  

Is this film an “uncommon tale of love”?  Perhaps it is more that than it is “vast and merry” though this film’s story cannot be contained by the phrase “a love story” either – it is, perhaps, a story about the remembrances of love stories, of youth gone by, of winter softly settling down on those who are still living warmly but know they soon will die.  Yes, an odd film that is shy about saying straight out what it is thinking.  I think, perhaps, I loved it.

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