Timbuktu: a French-Mauritanian drama. The year is 2012. Islamist extremists have taken over the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu. The director and co-writer Abderrahmane Sissako does an excellent job of showing the day to day life of people trying to survive when Shariah law is imposed on them by outsiders. Sissako tells his story primarily through a married herdsman, Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed), who has a young daughter (11) and a wife whose opinion he seeks even though he doesn’t always follow it. Ahmed’s blissful, simple life goes very bad. Ahmed’s performance is remarkable. During the opening sequence, there are scenes of jihadists who cannot successfully shoot an animal running for its life. There are also men entering a mosque toting guns and, when asked what they are doing, state that they are carrying out jihad. The resident Imam has to tell them the obvious - that is not what one does in a mosque. There are a series of scenes showing the town crier announcing various prohibitions: music is not allowed; adultery is particularly bad during Ramadan. There are brief scenes of a woman receiving 40 lashes for singing and a couple, accused of adultery, buried to their necks in sand then stoned to death. Even the leaders of the extremist group are unable to live up to the absurd standards dictated by Shariah law. The movie shows that faith is not the problem but rather people who believe they are God’s messenger acting in the name of God. The city’s traditional Imam tries to explain the local customs and common courtesies to the jihadists. The jihadists’ response is that everything is done in the name of Allah. The reality is that the jihadists have the gun and the gun controls all. Although Timbuktu was under the jihadists’ control for a relatively short time, much damage occurred. The film is subtitled as the characters speak in their native tongues. I think 6 different languages are spoken including a few words in English, however, there is not a lot of dialogue. The city and its surrounding geography are part of the story. This is a remarkable film.
Saturday, March 7, 2015
Leviathan: a Russian movie with subtitles. The film is 141 minutes long and feels even longer. It is not a good sign when you are displeased with certain scenes because you know they will only prolong the film. Liviathan was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign film and received the 2014 Cannes Best Screenplay award. Clearly, some people have a different view of this movie. Perhaps something was lost in the translation. The film is set in the present and takes place in the Northern Russian coastal town of Pribrezhny. It focuses on an individual who is losing his home in an eminent domain battle. In addition to the injustice of losing his property by force, life with his family, which consists of a second wife and a teenage son from a prior marriage, is not good. The mayor of Pribrezhny, the main character and virtually everyone else in the film spends an inordinate amount of time drinking vodka. The film’s title is interesting; during the middle ages, leviathan was a Christian symbol for Satan and in the Satanic Bible, it represents water. The film opens and closes with water. Near the end, there is a long scene in a Russian Orthodox church and there are two major scenes with the mayor, who is clearly evil, and a priest. There are also references to Job. Considering that Liviathan portrays a corrupt political society, I found it interesting that it received the financial sponsorship of the Russian government. The bleakness of the society is portrayed along with the corruption. But it is a long film.
McFarland, USA: a Kevin Costner film. This feel good story is based on real events that occurred in McFarland, California, a town in the Central Valley, which is a farming community with a predominantly Mexican-American population. The events take place in 1987. Kevin Costner plays Jim White, a high school football coach who has had issues with his temper. He is hired as a physical education teacher and an assistant football coach. In the opening scenes, White, his wife and two daughters, are moving to McFarland. After he starts teaching, White notices he has the talent pool for a cross-country team. White had never taught cross-country. As the team develops, White and his family become involved with the community. The seven runners who comprise the team are presented as individuals and certain of their family members are integral to the story. This movie works because it goes beyond stereotypes. The screenwriters, Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Gilois and Grant Thompson, are to be praised as the story could have become quite condescending but never does. The director is Niki Caro, a New Zealander, who brings a fresh approach to what could have been just another Hoosiers tale. This is more than just a sports story and Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography during the cross country races are excellent. After watching this 128 minute movie, I left the theater feeling real good. Part of the reason was Costner’s excellent performance. Also, the writers allow you to see a community working well together in spite the poverty and difficult environment. I could see this film a second time.