Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Opening with the voice of Hester (Rachel Weisz) reading a suicide note addressed to her lover, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), Terence Davies' (Distant Voices, Still Lives) adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play The Deep Blue Sea is saturated with a deep and convincing melancholy from the get-go.  It also begins quite inscrutably at first, favoring a thick atmosphere that steals one's breath, before eventually allowing the viewer to enter into a conscious understanding of what's driving this seductive, trance-inducing well of sorrow.

Set against the backdrop of 1950s London, the story revolves around Hester's decision to kill herself; the present time of the film occurs across a single day, though much of the story is based in events of the past, remembrances of what's brought her to this point.  Her sexless marriage to a much older man, William (Simon Russell Beale), has been compromised by the affair with Freddie.  And, now, the glow of the new relationship has dimmed, leaving her passion somewhat mangled and misdirected due to Freddie's inability to love her with an intensity equal to her affection for him.

Freddie's newly acquired coldness is located in lingering issues surrounding his service in World War II.  Hester sadly comments, "his life stopped in 1940.  He loved 1940.  He's never really been the same since the war."  As for her own situation, she tells William that, "zero minus zero is still zero," roundly rejecting any notion that the happiness of the past can be reclaimed by her or any of the lovers in the story.

This is a gorgeously shot film, nearly every frame is lit from within by a sumptuous orange/yellow glow that perfectly accentuates the mood of the piece.  Each performance hits its mark quite magnificently but Weisz is exceptional, possibly the best she's ever been.  The Deep Blue Sea demands a small amount of patience at first, but, if one invests the effort, the film rewards the viewer with a hypnotic and perfectly pitched glimpse of the not too distant past; a time and place where despair, divorce and pressures of social convention were no less stressful than they are now.

The Deep Blue Sea starts its run at Cinema 21 on Friday, April 27th.  More info here.

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I don't think I've seen a more affecting documentary this year than Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi's 5 Broken Cameras, winner of the directing award in the documentary category at this year's Sundance Film Festival.  Cobbled out of Burnat's footage of his Palestinian hometown of Bi'lin as it protests against an encroaching illegal Israeli settlement, the film is an incredibly layered work of resistance cinema, acknowledging what's been lost while simultaneously turning its head to a future just beyond the horizon.

Burnat, who also narrates the piece, admits early on that he never intended to become a filmmaker.  His first camera was acquired shortly after the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel, with the sole purpose of filming his family's day-to-day lives.  But, coinciding with the arrival of his son, a powerful, non-violent activist movement emerges on the streets and surrounding countryside of Bi'lin.

It inspires Emad to participate through documentation of the town's crusade against the illegal barriers and settlements that threaten and displace the residents of his village.  The film's title acknowledges the series of cameras passing through Burnat's hands, each one in need of replacement after being destroyed during demonstrations ending in violent reaction by the Israeli military.

As the movement grows, so does Gibreel who, like the other children of the village, must come to grips with the chaotic environment in which he has been born.  Emad worries aloud for his son's generation, wondering how long non-violent resistance will last, given all the children have witnessed.  It's a question worth asking, even as Bi'lin's struggle garners support from activists around the globe.  Burnat's cameras watch as the increased numbers continue to yield limited results.  Meanwhile, the losses become more personal by the day.

I've never seen any act of direct journalism as powerful as 5 Broken Cameras.  In creating a visual journal of a protest movement, from their nascent birth as a cluster of the oppressed to a swarming throng motivated by righteous indignation, Burnat has captured the very essence of what it is to push back against the seemingly immovable object, all while highlighting a very specific struggle in a non-didactic manner.  These are the memories that his cameras recorded, truth viewed through the eyepiece of five tools of resistance.

Five Broken Cameras screens as a part of the 20th Jewish Film Festival at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Thursday, April 26th at 7pm.  More info about the festival available here.

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"Jazz is dead," according to one of the men interviewed in Robert Greene's Fake It So RealThus, it's disqualified from being considered the great American art form.  His suggestion as to its successor?  Why, wrestling, of course.

If sincerity and commitment are the markers of success, the subjects of the new documentary Fake It So Real, members of the independently run MWF (Millennium Wrestling Federation, naturally), are about as successful as they come.  But, despite the film culminating in a billing advertised as the MWF World Championship, these men are most certainly at the lower end of the food chain in the wrestling world; the league is based entirely in Lincolnton, North Carolina, where ALL of their wrestling events (including the "world championship") play out in front of tiny hometown crowds.

It's an affectionate look at a particularly American strain of small town ambition, capturing an overzealous adherence to the foggy notion that time and effort in the ring will bear out results.  You could easily label it hoping against hope but most of these men can't even acknowledge how difficult of a path they've chosen.  The majority of the wrestlers featured here still believe in their dreams of big time wrestling circuit success, although a few are content with just doing what they love; one guy, singled out as the most "normal" of the pack by a peer, calls it his "hobby."

All of this is filtered through a series of characters, ranging from a "rookie" paying his dues as he undergoes constant fraternal hazing to the league's manager whose emerging health issues cause him to miss his first match in ten years.  Greene practices a warts and all approach to documenting his subjects; the hazing mentioned above includes a hefty amount of homophobic rhetoric (present elsewhere in the film, too) and his camera bears witness to more than a few misguided racial stereotypes exhibited in and out of the ring.  It'd be easy to react against the film for containing these moments, but I'm inclined to praise Greene for choosing to not filter out the harsher aspects of the southern reality encountered here.

Bottom line, Fake It So Real entertains because hopes and dreams still power most people's conception of the American experience.  Who cares if the ones on display in the film are more than a bit outlandish?  It's almost impossible to resist cheering this band of brothers as they ply their chosen trade, willfully ignoring the odds against them.

Fake It So Real plays one-night-only at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, April 27th.  More info available here.

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