Films seen in July 2012

In July I made my usual trip to the DVD rental store and watched one film in the cinema. Because this post is a few weeks overdue, I forgot one of the films which I rented. The films I remember are:

All the other films were chosen because they were on list of well-received films to watch. That was not the case with the Japanese film Departures. I was walking past the Asian films section and noticed on the cover of this film that it had won an Academy Award, so I thought it must be worth seeing. And indeed it was, this film is a masterpiece and drew us in emotionally. We were so impressed it didn’t escape our thoughts for a few days. What is notable is that the film depicts an occupation traditionally associated with burakumin, even though this is not made obvious in the film for foreign audiences. According to Wikipedia they are like a lower caste in Japan, maybe comparable with dalits in India. In India discrimination against lower castes is still an issue, which does not surprise me because it is still a developing country. But Japan is on the same level of development as the western world. That’s why it surprised me when I read on Wikipedia that 5% of the residents of Tokyo would actively avoid burakumin, according to a 2003 survey.

I had high expectations of Hable con ella after seeing other films made by Almodovar, and after watching I can tell that they were met. While his film Todo sobre mi madre did win an Academy Award and this one didn’t, I feel that this film might have been even more deserving of an Academy Award. The red thread through Almodovar’s work is that he is something of a feminist director. Women and the differences between the sexes are very important subjects for him, which is also a trademark of this film.

Like in my many other martial arts films the story of the film won’t win awards, as is the case in Ip Man. The story is adequate, but not anything more, I’m already satisfied that it didn’t suck. The key ingredient for any martial arts film are spectacular, adrenaline inducing fighting scenes, at which point the film delivers. The actor playing Ip Man, Donnie Yen, is just as cool as more well-known actors such as Jet Li. He has also played in some other interesting films which I want to see, such as SPL: Sha Po Lang and Flash Point. Especially the latter has a spectacular action scene up on YouTube. I’m not sure if I can even find them in my DVD rental store though, because it doesn’t have a big selection of Hong Kong cinema. If necessary I’ll have to use those ‘other’ channels, in the absence of something like Netflix in the Netherlands. In Ip Man we see the martial art wing chun, which is quite fast and impressive, but I wonder why these and other more exotic martial arts are never used in sports like MMA? Does that mean they are not effective in reality?

Before I rented it I already knew that The Social Network had taken way too much license with reality. At first I thought that should be a reason not to watch it, but in the DVD rental store my curiosity got the better of me. Even if it’s not true to reality at all, it still is a well made film I’d recommend.

Then finally the film I watched in the cinema, De rouille et d’os. The film is partially about killer whales and street fights. After doing some research I learned that the risk of being a killer whale trainer as demonstrated by the film are indeed significant, killer whales (they sure have a cool name) shouldn’t be kept in captivity. What I’m missing though is an honest representation of the risks involved in street fighting.

I don’t want to blame this film in particular because the protagonist gets out of many street fights practically unscathed, but I think more serious films (so I don’t mean martial arts films) should give a reliable representation of the risks of street fighting. Using some sources in Dutch, here is an example of a person beaten to death in one blow, here is a second one of a fatality after three blows to the head. Here is an example of a one minute fight between two teenage girls which didn’t look like it did a lot of damage initially, but which led to a fatality several hours later due to brain damage. In real life even one unfortunate blow to the head by a bare hand can be enough to send you to kingdom come. Considering that the punishment you receive in street fighting is much more severe, the fatality rate probably reflects that. The film shouldn’t depict illegal street fights as a ‘noble’ enterprise of men who voluntarily want to test their limits and make money. The protagonist should not receive more respect from his lover because she witnesses him participating in them. They’re irresponsible and illegal for a reason.

Now I’m going to give a few spoilers. Not that it matters, because any sensible person can see it coming, I certainly did. At the end of the film we witness the protagonist skating on the ice with his small son in a remote place. Of course they had to invoke the cliche of the kid breaking through the ice without his father noticing immediately. When the ice breaks the camera focuses on the father so the son is out of view, presumably skating in the distance but not so far away. Later we realize as a viewer that the ice must have broken and the child fell in the water, because the father looks around and notices the hole in the ice. But we didn’t hear the ice breaking, the plunge in the water, or any screaming?

The father quickly runs to the hole and sees his child floating under the ice. Somehow the ice near the hole can’t carry the weight of a small child, but it can carry the weight of a male who is at least 190 cm tall? To get his son out he starts breaking the ice… with his fists. Obviously that is done so the closing lines of the film can be like “the broken bones of my hand won’t recover, which sucks for me if I’m a professional kickboxer”. Any sensible person would use his heels to kick at the ice and break it, or possibly use the elbow which is much tougher than the hand. The father should know that as he is a professional kickboxer, even more so than the average Joe, so don’t tell me it was because he wasn’t thinking straight. Anyway, he frees his child from under the ice. Of course they invoke that other cliche, small children don’t die, even if this child was under the ice for at least a few minutes, did not return to consciousness soon after his father got him out of the water, and first aid was not administered quickly because they were skating in a remote place.

Aside from this criticism, I think it was a good film. It seems as if French filmmakers have an special interest in handicapped people lately. First we had films like Le scaphandre et le papillon in 2007, and this year we have Intouchables and this film. Probably just coincidence, but I noticed that all three recent French films on the subject all were quite successful regarding their reception. I also noted that this film treats sex as comic relief, similar to how that was done in that other famous French film, Amélie. This is an stark contrast to Dutch films, which tend to depict it in a vulgar way. Finally, I wonder how they simulated the amputated limbs in this film?

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