Showing posts with label Film Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Film Review. Show all posts

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Book Thief (Film Review)

The Book Thief

Film Review

Sajit M Mathews

“One small fact. You are going to die. Despite every effort, no one lives forever.” Unique perspective of death personified. The Book Thief goes beyond the confines of glamorous rutty Hollywood films and challengingly presents a sweet story in a very different and interesting manner. Set in Hitler’s NAZI Germany, the film imbibes the heat of wartime while preserving the aroma of a young girl’s experience of life in its rawest and roughest forms. What strikes me the most about the film is the way literature is lauded in the mellowest possible manner through the inner struggles of a young girl.

Liesel, the protagonist is introduced to the audience by Death (personified in voice). Liesel appears on screen noticing the death of her young brother. Soon she would lose her communist mother to NAZIs. She reaches her new parents’ home on Heaven Street (a paradox). They adopted her not only because of Hitler’s law, but also for the little allowance that it brought along. They were poor painters and did not have work those years. Her new father Hans Hubermann instantly reveals his lovely nature calling her ‘your majesty’ while her new mother Rosa Hubermann as always hides behind her rough husk and rumbles on. Liesel soon adjusts and begins to live happily at her new home. She learns many things there. She learns that her mother was a Communist and would never see her again. She also learns that Hitler takes communists and Jews away to unknown places.

In the grave dryness of Heaven Street, she finds Rudy Steiner, a friend. They speak, play and learn about each other. For Liesel, Rudy becomes a genuine friend to bank upon in the course of the story. We learn that she is unlettered from the first day at school. Along with Franz Deutscher we also find out that Leizel Meminger is not a sugar doll, but that her fists can deliver powerful punches.

Inside her home she goes back to memories of her mother and brother. She holds on the undertaker’s manual that she found at her brother’s burial. Hans grows very fond of her and helps her to learn to read the undertaker’s manual. He being a painter also makes her tablets on the wall where she could write new words that she learned- a dictionary of her own. Liesel learns new words and widens her inner world even as the world outside rushed into an unequal war under Hitler’s insane egotism. In Liesel we find a ray of sunshine- the promise of a better generation with a humane heart.

Liesel with Max
As the octopus hands of NAZIs reach inside houses for racial cleansing, Max is forced to leave his mother and go in hiding (which he regrets ever after). Later Max will turn up at Hubermann’s house one night seeking refuge. The Hubermann family which is infinitely indebted to Max’s father takes hides him in their basement. For Liesel Max’s presence is her little secret and a great relief at the same time. Max as a wonderful young man who loves everything around him teaches Liesel the art of seeing. He tells her that Jews believe in the secrets of words. Everyday Max would ask Liesel for a weather report. Liesel would give a picturesque description of what she sees. Without her knowledge she becomes a wonderful writer and story teller capable of wooing others with her words. By the time Max leaves the Hubermanns’ home Liesel becomes a brave young woman of character despite her age.

Life as a phenomenon is depicted as a process of meaning making in this film. While enemy planes carpet bomb them, they have a defined enemy. But when their own government sends agents to raid their homes and takes them away to concentration camps, the paradox of rule and anarchy stares at their faces. One who has not experienced the insecurity and cruelties of wars may not be able to understand the lives of those people who lived it. It would have been some challenge to be able to happy during those times. The happiness of Hans Hubermann in this tumult is a wonderful thing thus. He teaches his Liesel to be happy like him.

Probably it is the enthusiasm and joy of Liesel that gave Liesel courage to get into the NAZI commander’s house to steal books. In her own words, she doesn’t steal, but only borrows them. Still the gravity of her act is immensely huge and could lose her life for it. But she continues to ‘borrow’ books from the commander’s house for Max. She liked Max dearly and wanted to keep him alive. The only way she thought she could do so was by reading to him. Max had told her that word is life. After days when Max comes back to normal life, he acknowledges that it was her reading that brought him back to life.

Interestingly the title of the film brings us back to the ‘boy whose hair remained lemon colour’- Rudy Steiner. He is a bright boy chosen for Hitler’s elite training. But for him, life is about simpler things- love, parents, relationships, soccer, etc. It is important to note that the simplicity of life on Heaven street is often interrupted by bombs and ideology- both dangerous. Rudy shared secrets with Liesel. He knew Hubermanns were hiding a Jew. But he kept it a secret because the young boy knew that his relationship with Liesel was more important than anything else. Friendship comes naturally to him- he didn’t have to make extra efforts. He wanted Liesel’s kiss from the very first day they met. He asked for it later too. But death didn’t allow him to flower. After the deathly air raid on Heaven street when he was taken out of the debris, Liesel runs to his side. He begins to say he loves her, but death steals him away from her. Like Hans Hubermann always told Liesel, ‘may be it had to be so’.

She becomes the book thief to save Max’s life. She did so. But she lost everyone else she loved. Parents, step parents, brother, Rudy… The list remains unfilled. The narrator tells us that Liesel lived 90 years happily making others happy. That is what is important. That is what she learned from the Heaven street- that life goes on despite death. That life is hidden in the secret of words.

Director: Brian Percival

Original Novel written by: Markus Zusak

Adaptation: Michael Petroni


Roger Allam: Narrator / Death (voice)

Sophie Nélisse: Liesel Meminger

Geoffrey Rush: Hans Hubermann

Emily Watson: Rosa Hubermann

Nico Liersch: Rudy Steiner

Ben Schnetzer: Max Vandenburg


Monday, February 20, 2012

Cidade de Deus - City of God: Film Review

A film by Fernando Heirlles

                Rio de Janeiro (meaning, River of January) in my mind was a city of god. It was a city of joy, excitement, modernity and plenty. Any search on internet will give one, a perfect picture of a city that is affluent, colourful, joyous and plentiful. But as is the case with any city, there is an underside to this developed face of Rio too. The blue seas and the cool breeze of the city are actually a facade that covers up a bunch of stark truths.
            Rocket’s life is the life of a city dweller. City for him is home. And his home is not in the colourful part of the city. Where Rocket lived, city was coloured grey and sometimes RED with blood. It is the city of god still, because a number of human beings could make a living in the grey part of the city. What makes a city that of god is love towards life. What made the city grey and red was in fact its affinity for life. In Rio’s grey colonies, its crowds and the hoodlums were all trying to make a living.
            Made in a very different style, City of God shows glimpses of real life from the city. The film made me look away from the screen many times. Though violence and sex are part of life as is politics and love, such stark depictions are rare in Indian films. The language used by the hoodlums’ language, constant fear of death, search for adventure and money, etc. come out well in the film. I don’t think I would be able to sit through the film even if I wish to. I will have to train myself to enjoy such film too.
            If I made this film, there would be more of suggestions of violence and death, than actual on screen scenes. The reasons are: either that Indian culture is mild or that Indian culture tries to look away from harsh realities- a kind of escapism!

Sajit M. Mathews

Friday, April 30, 2010

Maria Full of Grace (Film Review)

Directed by: Joshua Marston
HBO Films

            Maria is a 17 year old pretty girl, living in a Columbian village, working in a flower estate, in the packing section. She works to help her family, to make both ends meet. She has grandmother and an unmarried sister who has a child, at home. Maria, though 17 has a sense of responsibility. But she is not satisfied with the inhuman treatment that she receives from her place of work and even home. She has a boyfriend Juan, who is takes every chance to make it with her. At 17, Maria passes from teenage to adulthood. She looks at the world with the eyes of an adult, but she is not taken serious by many- family, workplace and boyfriend.
            She rebels with the unjust society which treats her with contempt. She wants to feel that she is important too, she is a human being too. At work, she had to put up with her boss’ strictness. Finally, she got courage to leave her job. She protested. She told her boss in the face that she is quitting. That was her very first self assertion.
            Later that day, she had to talk hard to her grandma and sister. She protested. In the evening, while partying with her friends, they appreciate her courage. But their appreciation is limited to a toast and a peg of liqueur. Life was staring at her face. She had to find a job. She had to find and define a place in this world. She ventures out to find a self-definition.
            But she was faced with another grave problem. Relationship with Juan presented her with a child in her womb. Juan, another young lad is not mature enough to accept this. They break up. Maria could not accept the stubbornness of Juan. She needed to be sure of whether Juan loved her or her body. Juan failed to gain her confidence. She decides to go on her own.
            She meets Franklin at that party. While looking for a job, Franklin said he could help her. She takes her to a drug smuggler. The job was risky. It was of a mule- smuggling drugs in the stomach, by swallowing pellets. But looking at the remuneration, 8 million Pesos, she decides to give in. Life for her was not as tempting enough as this job. A family that looks to make use of her, a boyfriend who cannot understand her, a world full of selfish people... she could easily said yes to the drug smuggler’s job.
            She meets another mule, named Lucy. They make friends. Lucy was a good girl. Necessity makes all of them do this. Maria gets trained to be a mule, by Lucy. Their first assignment was to smuggle drugs to New York. On the day of the journey, they learn that there are four of them on the same flight. One was her own friend Blanca.
            On arrival at New York, one of them gets caught. Maria escapes the customs check because she was pregnant. It was a close shave. Lucy develops disturbance in the stomach, since one of the pellets broke inside her. She got sick in the hotel. Before she got worse, she gave her sisters New York address to Maria. The drug dealers cut her belly open and took out the pellets and disposed her body off. Terrorised by seeing what happened, she escapes taking the pellets, along with Blanca. They reach Lucy’s sister. They give shelter, but the girls are not able to tell them what happened. With the help of a local grocer, they find out Lucy’s body and tell the family about what happened.
            In the meantime, they returned the pellets and got paid for the job. With the money, Maria arranged to send Lucy’s body back to Columbia. But she was not able to compromise with the world. Everything was set for her return to Columbia. At the airport, she decides not to go. She says goodbye to Blanca and returns to the heart of an unknown world, with the baby in her womb.
            For Maria, life had not been fair and comfortable. Within a few days, she learnt a lot of about a big, unfair world out there. She is not that kind of woman who would say, ‘I surrender.’ She decides to give it a fight. Maria’s spirit is not easily defeatable. She had to fight with the drug dealers to get her payment for doing this job. She had to fight with Lucy’s sister to make her understand that she was innocent. Maria, in her 17 years of life on earth saw more than her age. She still said ‘no’ to the world.
            The film catches the helplessness of a generation of the Latin American youth, at the face of meaninglessness in life. The urge to look away to find meaning and comfort comes from the lack of such opportunities in one’s own homeland. The globalised world leaves no chance for less privileged, to become what they want to be. A strange world indeed! It doesn’t leave enough space for the marginalized to dream big. The space defined for them is one of an accomplice- that of a mule. They are just carriers of others’ illegal goods, making them rich. They have no personal space. They are called mules- just carriers. A personal identity is denied to them. So they have to be within the structure framed for them. A rat-hole.
            Maria’s protest and courage is the ordinary human being’s struggle to get a space in this big, wide world. Ideologies and theories are for the affluent. The ordinary has to fight to find a place. That is what Maria did. She had the fighting spirit, even when she failed to find meaning. Terrified by a merciless world, she sheds a tear or two to gain strength. And she resurrects from ashes to stand up again.
            Let our world bear more Marias. We need them.
Sajit Olickal sj

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Estamira - A film by Marcos Prado

            Blending black and white and colour film with real-time sound track, Estamira comes across to me as a statement of sanity. While the protagonist herself is seen as a lunatic or unstable person, the message conveyed by her to the intelligent and socially receptive viewer is very down to earth truth, told in a language of the heart. To make it short, I have found a prophet and a philosopher in Estamira.
            First, I would like to think about what she spoke about God and faith. She once was a Catholic. Now, she doesn’t believe in the institutional religion which did not care for her. Even though facts are simple as that, the anger with which he scorns God and the so called men of god makes us think ahead. What human beings seek in god is a place to take refuge in times of need. It is a source of consolation and joy. But when life turns sour from alpha to omega, it is difficult to hold on to faith- especially when the experiences are as hot and terrific as that of Estamira. Being a faithful woman, she could not stomach her husband’s harsh treatment, immoral life, the experience of being thrown into the streets with young children, of being raped continuously on the streets and being treated as a mad person by the family. She ridicules a god who abandons rapes and forgets. And all this experiences change her into a free person, devoid of fear of institutions, laws, social ostracism and hate.
            Estamira places before us another pertinent thought about the society. For her, society is a bunch of untruthful cowards lacking in morality and love. The hands that dragged her into the mental asylum were the same as those that denied her help and that raped her. For her, life is to be lived in its full meaning. She picks up whatever she finds good among the dump. She is happy to be what she is, which the ordinary hypocritical social being is not ready for. Therefore, she is not afraid or ashamed to live in the dunghill of the city or to speak whatever she feels is right.
            At this juncture, let me share a feeling I have. It is about sense and non-sense. What is sense? The normal understanding says, it is conforming to social norms. But our experience clearly shows that conforming to generally accepted norms (laws) result in nothing new. Looking at history, we see whoever brought about a change thought differently and acted odd. They were all enemies of the institutions. Aristotle, Copernicus, Jesus, Revolutionaries, etc. are a few such names. They were all called lunatics by their contemporaries. But what time has proved is quite contrary. They were the wise. And those who threw them to the borders of society were the real lunatics. Estamira is a lunatic for you and me who conform to the social norms for the sake of existence and daily bread. Only time will prove the truth.
            The beginning sequence of Estamira in Black and White was a journey from the urban to the rural into the garbage can of the city. It was a journey that people like Estamira only can undertake. Her journey into the dump was a willing journey. She was going ‘home.’ You and I take the reverse route. We try to escape into the city, to hide under its wings of hypocrisy. She is different, because she is truthful to her heart. Camera brings this aspect out using interplay between B/W and colour sequences. This journey of Estamira ends at the seaside where freedom is in the air. Inhaling freedom and liberty Estamira continues to be an Oracle to the world- let those who have ears listen!