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Category Archives: Oscar Nominated

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club film posterSynopsis

Set in 1985, Ron Woodruff (Mathew McConaughey) is an electrician and rodeo rider who likes sex and drugs.  He learns he has AIDS and has a few weeks to live.  He is furious at contracting a disease he attributes to gay activity.  He battles with official medicine which blocks retroviral drugs.  He gets useful medication illegally after travelling to Mexico.  He helps other sufferers and works with a business partner, the transgender Rayon (Jared Leto).  Woodruff becomes friendly with a doctor (Jennifer Garner).  He proves the medical establishment wrong by a few years…

Review

McConaughey deserved his Oscar for this performance.  In the 1980’s US being gay was pretty dangerous (still can be) among the rednecks and cowboys.  Woodruff shares his former friends’ contempt for them.  He is Marlborough Man, an oilfield electrician who lives in a trailer.  Before his diagnosis he was a rodeo rider on bucking bulls which symbolise the frontier values that he must surrender to the uneasy ambiguities of cosmopolitan identity as represented by gays.  In keeping with the self help ethos of the Capraesque little guy against the big corporations routine, he does his own homework on medication.  As a successful businessman he maintains his links with traditional American values, the enemy is medical bureaucracy, that other punchbag for feisty American individualism.  McConaughey usually plays a tanned sex god, in this he is all weight-loss ravaged, his moustache and cowboy hat making him (ironically) look like one of the pop group Village People.  He is of course ostracised by his former workmates.  His identity crisis seems to be as traumatising as his impending early death. Jared Leto plays the transgender woman’s weary patience well.  She is streetwise and sassy in her drag like any strong heroine in a 70’s road movie.  The friendship between these two and the imminent death make this quite poignant. Woodruff’s relationship with Jennifer Garner is non-sexual of course, there can be no sex except with another sufferer.  Woodruff defends his business partner against the predictable persecutions.

The relationship between Rayon and Woodruff is the riveting centre of this film, like an electrifying performance art that slices through the well worn binaries: freedom and bureaucracy, self help against corporate corruption, feisty didacticism against legal obstruction.  Superb.

 

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The Artist

The Artist posterSynopsis

A silent film in black and white about a silent movie star.  It’s 1927 and George Valentin is a big star and so is his pet dog.  Peppy Miller is a young hopeful who gets his attention and he mentors her to stardom.  She gets roles in the new ‘talkies’ and by 1927 she has become a star and he has become a ‘has been’.  He gets depressed and Peppy helps him but at first he’s too proud.  She gets him a role in one of her films and they are a dancing partnership…

Criticism

A marvellous film about the silent movies, the end of the silent movies and the transition to talkies.  It’s all done in black and white and in what we now call subtitles but were then more like very compressed written summaries, it all works so that it makes us realise the gains and losses in technologically determined film fashions.  The black and whites actually seem denser to me than colour, I get a sense of boundaries and textures of things better than I do in colour.  I think it must be the shade changes, and I can guess the colour anyway.  Then there’s the absence of heard dialogue with only a musical background, this is initially quite funny as if it’s just a gimmick but it made me wonder about the seemingly baffling phenomenon of reluctance enthusiastically to adopt sound in 1929.  Peppy Miller, in her climb to stardom, cruelly dismisses the silent movies as actors mugging before the camera, but when there is no heard dialogue then obviously body language becomes really important.  Perhaps there was a feeling in 1920s cinema audiences that body language and interaction with scene details were more fascinating than listening to somebody who might sound like your bank manager or anything else banal from everyday conversation.  You read the dialogue notes and filled in the rest with your unaided imagination, you could guess at the tones and textures in the dialogue.  After all, up to the talkies cinema audiences had been used used to reading novels in silence and they provided their own sound of a voice.  D. W. Griffiths himself said that he made films like Dickens made novels, perhaps the fact that he was a master of silent movies gave added emphasis to this observation.  Not hearing actors might endow them with more mystique than real life could give them.  Silence in the talking movies is all about interval or absence, whereas in the silent films it’s a deepening of visual mood and a constant opportunity for viewers to listen to their own minds.  This reminds me of that scene in Singing in the Rain (the 1952 musical set in the transition to the talkies) where a Jean Harlow type star is exposed as having a ludicrously inappropriate whining voice, this being effectively a career killer.  This brings us to the other film references in The Artist: Peppy (like Garbo) says she wants to be alone, the name Valentin is of course an obvious allusion to the silent star Rudolph Valentino, Miller is discovered like Fay Ray in “King Kong, Valentin and his dog are like something from Charlie Chaplin, there is the shadow independent of its maker like that mirror scene in the Marx Brothers, there’s the scene where Peppy is feeling and smelling Valentin’s jacket and she puts her arm in his jacket and mimes an embrace.  This made me think of All about Eve where Anne Baxter is the wannabe film star who goes through Bette Davis’ wardrobe.  Another film is Sunset Boulevard where silent star Gloria Swanson spookily re-enacts her glory days in that 1951 film.  The Keystone type cop rescues Valentin from his attempted suicide (something which silent stars had recourse to).  There are reminders of the 1920s with references to the Depression, the optimism and vitality of the 20’s leading to the gloom of the 30’s.  We briefly see a Cagney gangster movie so we think of Capone and the bootleggers..

We want Peppy to save Valentin and we want him to thrive in the new era.   He looks like a cross between Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks, even grimacing like they do, with that ridiculous pencil moustache.  It’s a magnificently cheering and inventive film.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews, Oscar Nominated

 

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Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now posterSynopsis

Set in Vietnam in the late 60s.  Martin Sheen plays Willard sent on a mission to kill Kurtz (Marlon Brando), an American officer who has turned into a mad mass murderer in the jungle.  Willard is in a patrol boat with a surfer, a pilot, a young soldier, and a would be chef.  On the way they meet Robert Duvall directing gunships onto suspected Vietcong positions but it looks like a massacre of defenceless peasants.  They come onto a concert in the middle of the jungle and they murder Vietnamese on a trading boat, thinking they’ve got weaponry.  Willard reaches Kurtz and meets Dennis Hopper as a photographer who worships Kurtz.

Criticism

This is based on Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness set in the Congo looted by Belgian colonialists.  It has since become a cliche, the dark heart of colonialists in Africa.  Coppola transposes this into the US degradations in Vietnam.  In the 60s and 70s there were plenty of anti-war films and this seems to be anti-war but there are some interesting ambivalences.  Robert Duvall with his helicopter gunships looks like a clownish war criminal but the film lingers over these exploits and sails into a choreography of Wagner’s music and the insane delight in destruction and carnage.  There’s a creepy feeling that though the viewer of course must be repelled by this savagery, still there is some sort of mysticism here which goes beyond our cosy categories.  Why don’t we feel any reservations about violence in thrillers and westerns?

Martin Sheen plays Willard as a cynical commentator who appears to be corrupted by his work.  He is happy to murder a wounded Vietnamese woman and this act undermines his bragging rights in anti-war cynicism, he is surely a part of the militarist evil that he so casually despises.  Willard spends a lot of time speaking in tones of breathy portentousness, rolling his eyes sideways in unconvincing paranoid edginess.  This is supposed to be a dramatic response to the surrounding evil but Sheen’s acting looks like a substitute for real thought, we are meant to think the film engages with great issues of evil but I think it’s into a sort of Nazified chic.

Brando plays Kurt as a mumbling psycho presiding over his jungle killing fields.  He quotes from T.S. Eliot about the Hollow Men.  This is probably a reference to Conrad’s depiction of Kurtz as a human void lacking the psychic wholeness that would enable him to avoid evil.  This is the caricature of the Nietzschean ‘hero’ who is beyond Christian decadence, like Harry Lime in The Third Man.  Apocalypse Now is fascinated with the evil it should deplore.

Dennis Hopper plays that figure we have come to loath – the excitable guy who talks lots of hero worshipping blather, usually to someone who’s just come off a plane or a boat.  It’s the sort of hectic self promotion that allows no response or criticism.  They look like they’re off their heads.  Hopper does this in a film which is set in a killing field in Cambodia, the film was made in 1979.  The truth about Pol Pot’s killing fields was just being made known to the world.  There is a big debate about this but turning massive suffering into any kind of artistry is at best controversial.

The boat crew become increasingly demented, we’re meant to think they succumb to the horrors of war but they become automatons of killing.  Nothing is accountable in Apocalypse and this seems to include Coppola who opts out of judgements.  Willard tells us the would-be chef is not only too tightly wound up for Vietnam but for New Orleans, where he comes from.   There is a surfer who does a bit of surfing (to show the surreal theatricality of war I suppose) then gets into body painting, maybe he’s just read Lord of the Flies.

There is product placement which pioneered the visual stereotyping of Vietnam films:  the brandy, cigarettes, and the music by the Doors.  The film takes us from an Ernst Jung fascination for war (his book Storm Of Steel praised war) rather than All Quiet on the Western Front, and its protest against war, to a jungle-swarmed tourist kitsch depravity.

Visually impressive but some sort of accountable mentality is difficult to find in this film.  A sort of hip appreciation of war.  Probably went down well with backpackers in Bangkok and all places ‘exotic’.

 
 

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True Grit

True Grit posterSynopsis

A Coen brothers film based on the novel rather than the 1969 film starring John Wayne.  Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfield) is the daughter of a murdered employer of Tom Cheney, so she wants him hanged.  She hires the reluctant Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) whom she meets in the courthouse where he battles with the lawyer trying to get at the truth about a shooting.  She heads out with him into Indian territory (this is 1878) with Leboeuf, a Texas Ranger, played by Matt Damon.  They track down the gang Cheney is with and he is killed.  Mattie loses her arm from a snakebite, Cogburn tries to save her arm, getting her back to civilization as quickly as possible.  We see Mattie at the end of the film finding out about what happened to Cogburn.

Criticism

What’s puzzled me about this film is why some critics have wondered at the point of making it.  It’s a story and films are about stories.  Jeff Bridges is a different Cogburn from Wayne, he drawls inarticulately and seems shrewdly ambivalent later in accompanying Mattie out to the wilderness.  The search and pursue party is a constant of westerns, it’s all about the searchers finding out about themselves through the ordeal of the wilderness.  The setting itself is a harsh snowy landscape, all sepulchrally bare trees and various shades of dust brown, this is not Remington’s more opulent vision of nature that are in his paintings.  The trees bear swaying corpses and the backdrop is visually bizarre, like the rider in a bearskin who looks like a bear riding a horse.  This I think is a nod towards Jeremiah Johnston a reminder that even in the 1870’s the west was still a vast wilderness for whites.  Nature is a mirage which is skirted with ambush and violence.  There is no real claim to visual originality, more an untameable quirkiness which resists moral expectations.  Violence is a sudden bitter flourish in gesture and face.  A man’s fingers are chopped off, Laboeuf nearly bites his own tongue off, a snakebite blackens an arm, night camps are protected by ropes which keep the snakes away, brutality will do what it can when the chance arises, there is a hanging in the town of Fort Smith at the beginning of the film.

All this is in contrast to the peculiarly florid and biblical language that the protagonists (especially Mattie) use.  It’s as if the harshness and brutality can be endured by a florid turn of phrase like engraving a chrysanthemum on a samurai sword.  There is deftness about phrase making and argument, Mattie does business easily and persuades tough men to ride with her.  She will not be dismissed, her precocity excites their resentment and erotic insolence:  Laboeuf administers a spanking.  She does not have to resort to the familiar tactics of sentiment, she forces these hardbitten frontiersmen to act on her terms and in doing so sets up a macho contest between Labeouf and Cogburn.  Each probes the other’s weaknesses, though Cogburn is better at concealing his, finally forcing Labeouf into an initially reluctant mentoring role for Mattie.  Civilization of course is thrown into very dubious relief.  In general, western films are resentful of the spread of urban life even as they thrive on the cut throat individualism of its capitalist dynamism.  There is a real, uneasy sort of fascist eulogizing of wildness which usually needs a narrative of resentment to give it coherence otherwise it would just be a National Geographic look at the Iron Man.  The resentment appears when an idiosyncratically cultivated mysticism is violated by capitalist servility, the spread of civilized mores, or ugly industrialism.  These come out in the Coens’ film.  I detest the Coens’ fascination with violence and physical oddity, but in this film they have found their true calling, they out Peckinpah Sam Peckinpah.

This is a reminder of those 1970’s westerns which showed the west from a worm’s eye view: the alkali dust, the longueurs of rural life, the shear life-corroding harshness of the frontier, the moronic thuggishness of the formerly romanticized villains.  The sepia tinted myths were getting a makeover.  The Coens have not exactly rejected the sepias and there is still the unrealistic silliness of the their gunfights, but it could be the Coens are factoring in their own cinematic mythmaking into this story.  Now westerns have to be comments about the western as they try to recreate life in the wild frontier.  In that respect this is a somewhat old fashioned western, although there are acknowledgements of 1970’s attempts at realism, there is mainly a direct line to the westerns of the 30’s to the 60’s where the bad guys wear black hats and the good guys wear white hats and there is no probing into what makes a guy good or bad.

 
 

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Biutiful

Biutiful posterSynopsis

Javier Barden plays Uxbal, who gets jobs for immigrants for a fee.  At the start of the film we see Uxbal talking to his Dad in a snowy forest.  He’s talking about owls spitting out fur balls.  Then he talks with his daughter about a ring.  Uxbal is diagonised with a terminal illness, he has only a few months to live. Uxbal is also involved in illegal activities among immigrants, we see the police rounding up some African immigrants.  He provides bad heating for the Chinese immigrants and they die from the cheap gas.  Uxbal is also a psychic who sees the dead and is paid to tell grieving relatives what the deceased is saying.  He has a wife who is an alcoholic and suffers from depression, he takes his two kids from her.  He and his brother exhume their father’s corpse and have it cremated, they need the money from his plot.  Uxbal seeks advice from a fellow psychic and prepares for death.  At the end of the film we are back at the snowy forest and the dead owl.

Criticism 

Maybe it’s me being horribly cynical, but this film gets up my nose and then gives me a pain in the neck.  Recently there was an article on arthouse films and one journalist jokingly said that any film in Spanish is considered arty, especially when it’s got Penelope Cruz in it, or in this case Javier Bardem.  Sitting through this film felt like being in a UN workshop: ‘here’s a film about me helping out the poor in Barcelona’.  Inarritu, who directed this film is the guy who did 21 Grams, as you would expect, he’s hairy and wears a leather jacket. He is the thinking person’s Danny Boyle, without the hectic split screen or rock music, but he does have soulful shots of the Barcelona skyline (with the Sagrada Familia cathedral in tasteful silhouette), the mandatory guitar solos, the soulful piano music.  We also get shots of the chattering classes’ favourite martyrs: the immigrants living in poverty, overcrowded Chinese. I half expected a Pablo Nerudo poem to make us sob.  This is coffee table poverty for the smart set, the sort who get to know the Vickys and Christinas of this world in Barcelona.  This is poverty-ridden Barcelona for those who visit the tourist bits so they can wallow in their arty concern for the downtrodden.  I bet the actors and film company sat in an arty studio around a barbed wire coffee table swapping solemnities and concerns for the poor.  No doubt somebody had a Miro on the wall.  The film waves its camera under the nose of poverty in the most self congratulatory manner.  It gave us overhead shots of the slummy areas of Barcelona, how very arty, darling.

Uxbal ‘helps’ and exploits immigrants from China and Senegal but when his negligence leads to the deaths by asphyxiation of some 30 Chinese immigrants he seeks absolution from his psychic chum instead of turning himself in on a manslaughter charge.  Well, he’s dying anyway so we get terminal illness chic to add to the poverty, so he’s a good egg anyway, isn’t he?  No he isn’t, he’s a petty criminal making easy money from a desperate underclass.. We get a scene where Chinese immigrants are washed up dead on a beach, that’ll make a good poster won’t it?

Uxbal’s wife is called Maransra and naturally she’s dysfunctional, she thinks she’s interestingly tasty.  She thinks she’s a gypsy, she boozes, she takes drugs and she glories in being a feckless mother.  She has sullen arguments with Uxbal and chucks her wedding ring at him, naturally, she’s one of Hollywood’s favourite house pets: the passionate Mediterranean woman.  She is also bi-polar of course, what self respecting member of the coffee table slums wouldn’t own up to a colourful mental disorder?  She flounces around, proud in her human wreckage status.  She acts like a baby woman, not even bothering with the hygienic essentials in a poverty ridden house.  This woman has obviously been to the ‘Penelope Cruz Academy for trashing Javier Bardem’s oil paintings in arty films’.  Maramsra is obviously frustrated that Uxbal is a mere psychic rather than a painter whose works she can sell or trash.

There are some vivid scenes in this film which no doubt the broadsheet critics will call “poetic” and “elegiac”.  No director who wants to be considered arty can possibly avoid succumbing to the stereotypes of metaphor.  Here we get the wintry landscape where Uxbal meets his dad and we get arty stuff about dead owls and he makes onomatopoeic noises of the sea and wind.  Ooh-er, pass me the poetry book.

Uxbal is too much the orthodox beloved of contemporary values:  he’s fiercely protective of his family and will kill his brother if the said brother gets near his kids.  Perhaps this is the film giving Uxbal absolution.  It will appeal to the arty liberal mentality from which pluralist monoculturalism has grown:  don’t judge, just try to look and understand.  I think there could be a good dissertation on the infantilization of cinema since the Second World War.  We seem to be steeped in a narcosis of adolescent posturing in films like this.  Unlike Haneke,  Innarritu seems unfazed by our easy vicarious enjoyment of shameful social reality, he opportunistically feeds it while we gratify ourselves on the patience of our intelligent perception.  The very alienness of poverty to the affluent makes it colourful of course, we can surf it like sociologists.

The scene at the cemetery when they take out their father’s corpse is quite weirdly vivid, it looks like a ghostly vision all stark blue and white and makes me forget the general crassness.  It’s quite a riveting scene.

The title of the film is cute and coy, it comes from Uxbal’s daughters’ misspelling of the word ‘beautiful’ and gave me a clue what to expect; well heeled artists tripping through art studio poverty.

 

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The King’s Speech

Synopsis

About ‘Bertie’, The Duke of York, who became George VI after the abdication of his older brother who was Edward VIII.  Bertie is played by Colin Firth as the stammering, vulnerable son of the insensitive George V, played by Michael Gambon.  Mrs Bertie is Elizabeth (later known to Spitting Image fans as the Beryl Reid-voiced termagent) who subsequently became the Queen Mother, is played by Helena Bonham Carter.  She gets Bertie to visit a  speech therapist, played by Geoffrey Rush, known as Logue who is Australian with thespian aspirations and is a likeable no nonsense professional.  He has kids who read Shakespeare.  Bertie attends Logue’s sessions until he considers that Logue gets above himself by giving advice about the possible abdication of Edward VIII, who resigns, and Bertie prepares to be King, cold shouldering the petitionary Logue.  Eventually Bertie gets back to lessons with Logue and as George VI he makes a great Logue-directed speech to boost war morale.

Criticism

This is yet another film which is quite flattering about monarchs and the charms of constitutional monarchy.  One thinks of Frear’s Elizabeth and the recent Young Victoria.  There is no doubt that Firth gives a powerful performance as a vulnerable victim of Victorian emotional crassness, his struggle to assert his decency and humanity are quite touching.  Firth in this role shows that same interesting good man frailty you get from Ian Holm, the repressed decencies through frail sensitivity.  His sessions with the equally superb Geoffrey Rush are gripping, they resemble the best of psychological sparring matches.  For a supposedly inarticulate bumbler, Bertie is given some pretty sharp ripostes, as is Logue.  The Australian seems to be his own man, insisting the sessions are on his terms.  Inevitably, he probes Bertie’s emotional frailties and his cure is a way to overcome this, symmptomized by his stammer.  Logue uses Bertie’s anger when he takes the mickey out of coronation silliness, the would-be King is angered by disrespect but the horrible bit comes earlier when Bertie thinks Logue has overstepped the limits of propriety.  He rebuffs Logue by sulkily ignoring him and accusing him of near treason when Logue wants to discuss Bertie’s options over Edward VIII’s behaviour.  Now this is the part of the film where it’s deference gets suffocating:  we are expected to applaud Bertie for slumming it with a ‘commoner’ (why do we not find this word amusing?).  He does this like Prince Hal in Henry IV but he ultimately remembers the gulf that divides them, the chumminess is meant simply to emphasise royalist mystique.  The audience dutifully laughed at H.  Bonham Carter’s cheerful informalities.  Insofar as the film uses this gulf, it seems to endorse the very alienation that later might be overcome, but whose legitimacy is not questioned.  Bertie shows his decency by apologising for his aloofness, quite commendable, but any relationship is on his terms because he is the monarch.

This film shares with other films about monarchs a fashionable contempt for politicians as such knowing that it would resonate with audiences prepared to despise politicians over expenses scandals.  The monarch is flatteringly shown to be disinterestedly superior to the self seeking politicians concerned only to dissimulate in their desire to manipulate.  Said monarch uses mystical twaddle about “my people” and the stoutness of the “common man”, such archaisms are meant in all seriousness.  This I suppose should be no surprise in this age of celebrity cultism.

Edward VIII is played by Guy Pearce and, as usual, is shown as self-centred.  I often suspect that he abdicated not because of his relationship with Simpson but because he had sympathies with the Nazi regime, so he cut and ran.  He merely emphasises George VI’s reliability.

The film is perceptive about this period:  the grey tackiness never far away from the rococo pomp and the fawning silliness over all the Puritarian liturgy.  This sort of film has been made possible by Richard Curtis and his tourist industry makeover of a deferential Britain of mum and dad, Arthur Mee, and Ovaltine commercials.  It skilfully uses nostalgia for 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s deference in the service of a monarchy in the same way that Disraeli used populist philistinism to revive the monarchy in the 1870’s.  Firth and co try the same, with all their superb acting.  The film aims to be emotionally manipulative and it works to a degree.

Michael Gambon’s George V is the given the shrewd observation that the 1930’s is the first time that monarchs are required to be actors reaching into everyone’s home; precisely.  The soap opera potential of the institution was to be exploited to the full, usually to its benefit.  This film polishes the enchanted glass (a book was once written about monarchy, called The Enchanted Glass) and is happy to leave it so.

 
 

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The Mission

The Mission poster

Synopsis

Made in 1986 about the Utopian state made by Jesuits for the Guarani people of Paraguay in the 18th century.  Robert de Niro plays a slave catcher who works for the slaveocracy.  In the jungle he warns Jeremy Irons, the Jesuit leader, that he will get more slaves.  This after a Jesuit priest was martyred by the Guarani, prompting Irons to go to the jungle to convert them.  De Niro learns that his brother has been canoodling with his fiancee, Cherie Lunghi, and in a jealous rage kills him.  Irons then rescues de Niro from remorse and sets him on a penitential path to to the Indians he formerly enslaved.  The planters want the Guarani as slaves and they appeal to the relevant authorities to get rid of the Jesuit state.  Ray McAnnally is their envoy and is impressed with the missions but still orders the state’s dismantling after hearing from both sides.  War breaks out….

Review

Robert Joffe’s film is about the same events dealt with in Fritz Hochwalder’s play The Strong are Lonely.  Compared to Hochwalder, Robert Bolt’s script for Joffe’s film is sentimental opportunism because it exploits the 1980s fashionable concern for the Amazon forest.  Joffe meretriciously conflates the plight of the present day natives of the Amazon with the Guarani Indians of 1750s (but it should be 1760s) Paraguay.  In the film the Indians live in a tropical forest whereas the Guarani’s Paraguay ecology was different.  Hochwalder’s play was concerned with the argument between Jesuitical utopianism and the self serving interests of the Spanish settler opponents.  Hochwalder ultimately argued that both sides were in the wrong:  the Jesuit state was founded on the false  premise of the supposed mutual supportiveness of material and spiritual values undermining  the real mission of spiritual salvation.  That such criticism could originate from self serving and materially interested forces does not undermine the criticism itself    The Guarani could confuse benevolent paternalism with Jesuitical Christianity and the opposing point is that spirituality should be disinterested viv a vis worldliness.  In the film the paternalist authoritarianism of the Jesuits is falsely mixed with ecological political correctness, this anachronism merely distracts from the spiritual criticism of Utopia.  The enemies of Utopia in this film are vicious slaveowners and duplicitous politicians which endows Jesuitical Utopianism with a false anachronistic case.

The Mission follows on from The Emerald Forest as it argues for the superior virtues of a forest way of life against other interests which are automatically demonised.  Joffe’s film insultingly infantilises the native Amazonians, making them look like noble savages to be paternalistically protected from white colonialism. The film admits at the end that it would have been better for the Indians if no white people had contacted them, and that goes for well intentioned but patronising film makers also.

The pseudo debate over the Jesuit state is merely a preamble to the military conflict.  De Niro is obviously ill at ease as conscience-stricken, he is happier as a sword wielder.  Julian Barnes  wrote an hilarious story about Matt, a film star clearly modelled on de Niro in The Mission.  Barnes ridicules the prima donna inanities of stars filming in jungle locations, megalomanical and buddy buddy homoerotic with Jeremy Irons.  Joffe gives Irons the intellectual leadership, explaining to his literal minded Jesuit brethren that they are an order and not a democracy, as if they wouldn’t have understood that at the outset.  In Hochwalder’s play they stick to their vow of obedience to the point of self sacrifice, that would be asking too much of these mainstream cinema priests.  In this film the Jesuits are obedient when it suits them in their self appointed role as benevolent authoritarians and yet they react with predictable pride vis a vis the Spanish court authorities.  The inconsistency in this abrupt change is glossed over by the film in its anxiety to moralise simple mindedly the Jesuits’ stance.  Irons relationship with the Papal envoy Ray McAnnally are initially diplomatically suave but ultimately lachrymose and Kum-ba-ya creepy, his pacifism simply an embellishment of useless martyrdom.  Similarly the Papal envoy. Ray McAnnally, is obviously emotionally won over by the paradisal simplicity of the Jesuit states, yet he decides for their dismantling with no sign of inner turmoil.  This is lazy acting.  He simply says he will do what his conscience dictates and swings into opposition to the Jesuits.

The planters are simply avaricious and cruel devils in tropically run down and mildewed Rococo outlandishness, though Ronald Pickup is given a more thoughtful role as the politician from Europe.

This film is opportunist in that it doesn’t tackle concerns over the Amazon forest but uses the forest as escapist spectacle which conceals the non argument at the heart of this production. The Mission is good to look at, one of the spectacular 1980s cinematic visits to the Amazon along with Fitzcarraldo and Emerald Forest.  Fitzcarraldo is about about a boat dragged laboriously through the forest, Mission is about simple sentiments dragged laboriously through the forest.

 
 

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