#363- The Killing Fields

Quick recap: As I may have mentioned one or two times before, war is hell. Journalist Sydney Schanberg is momentarily stuck in Cambodia during the mass murder cleansing campaign ‘Year Zero’ along with his friend and translator, Dith Pran. While Schanberg is eventually rescued, Pran, a native Cambodian, is left to fend for himself in a country now hostile to its citizens. OH! AND THIS IS A STORY BASED ON TRUE EVENTS.

I made the mistake of Googling ‘The Killing Fields’ . Don’t do that.

Fun (?) fact: Haing S. Ngor, the actor who played Dith Pran has a tragic story that almost rivals the one told in the movie. His wife died during childbirth during the Cambodian cleansing campaign because even though her husband was a doctor, seeking his help would mean the Khmer Rouge finding out about him and murdering him. Ngor eventually escaped to America and was chosen to play Pran. He was later murdered in what many people believe to be a revenge killing for speaking out against the Cambodian atrocities.

My thoughts: Time to let my American ignorance shine through as I admit to knowing next to nothing about Cambodia’s history before this movie. I had heard of Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge but I had no idea how evil it all was. The killing Fields is a tough movie to stomach for several reasons, but for me there is a lot of guilt and anger that this piece of history was never discussed or mentioned in school. As evidenced from this movie, though, Americans alive while this happened weren’t aware of the atrocity either. The final scene of the movie explains that as of 1984, the film’s release, Cambodia was still recovering. Even today, there are remains that have yet to be identified.

History lesson aside, This movie was just as powerful as I expected it to be. The Killing Fields is told in two parts: the first part is about Sydney Schanberg and his crew trying to make it out of Cambodia and the second part focuses on Dith Pran’s struggle to survive as he is left behind. As much as I liked Schanberg, the performance felt a little heavy handed at times. It never crossed over into him being the victim, thankfully, but it got close several times. Pran’s part of the film had my full attention. The real Pran coined the term ‘Killing Fields’ when he stumbled into a body of water lined with thousands of bodies, people murdered from the regime. That scene has stuck with me several days later.

What I appreciate most about this movie is that it never feels sanctimonious or preachy about the plight of the Cambodians. The story focuses on these two friends and how they navigated such a terrible time in our world’s history. Looking at the suffering close up really drives home how horrible it all was and I was better able to grasp the atrocities. The conflict reminds me a lot of Syria and the images shown daily of the refugees and dead children. Will we hear of stories like this in 10 years and feel the same shame and regret that we didn’t pay attention sooner? Time will tell.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Ikiru

 

 

Advertisements

#362- Anatomy of a Murder

Quick recap: Lt. ‘Manny’ Manion is accused of murdering his wife’s rapist and it’s up to James Stewart to prove his innocence.

That’s some good lawyering right there

Fun (?) fact: James Stewart’s father HATED this movie so much he took out a full page ad in a newspaper urging people not to go see it.

I wonder why…

My thoughts: Here are a few words I never expected and/or want to hear from James Stewart again:

  • jiggle
  • sexual climax
  • sperm

And the absolute worst:

PANTIES

As you can ascertain, this movie was scandalous for its time (1959). Much of the plot revolves around a woman who has been assaulted and raped, who may or may not be telling the truth. And honestly, I still have no idea what to make of the ending. Lt. Manion was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity but there really is no way to know for certain whether he did it. The bigger point is what the movie is attempting to say. Both scenarios are troubling but also both speak to the times in a way that mirrors what is currently debated in our country.

Scenario #1- Laura was really raped and her husband killed the accuser in a fit of rage

So if this is what ended up happening, then this movie is one of the most fiercely feminist out there. Every single piece of evidence points to Laura coming on to her accuser and this having been a consensual affair. At no time does Manion’s attorney, Biegler, imply anything other than Laura telling the truth. There are several moments of him losing it during the trial when anything else is suggested, which is surprising because the idea about a woman ‘inviting rape’ is still a prevalent one in today’s society. What the verdict says is that it doesn’t matter what a woman wears or how she moves or hips or if she gets into a stranger’s car- she doesn’t deserve rape.

 

Scenario #2- Laura had an affair and her husband is insanely jealous and probably abusive

This is the scenario with the most evidence. And if this is the truth, then James Stewart is actually the villain of the film not the hero he usually is. He is just a lawyer looking to win with tricks rather than finding out the truth. In this perspective, the entire court case is one big circus act. It says a lot about our broken criminal system and how it comes down to who can argue best, not what the actual evidence is.

 

The end of the film finds Biegler visiting Manion and his wife, only to learn they have skipped town. The caretaker observes that Laura was upset and crying and the whole place is a mess. Manion has left a note which makes a joke about his insanity defense. Everyone laughs and happy music plays as the scene fades to black. This is either a happy ending where everything worked out because the criminal justice system works or it’s an incredibly bleak one where everything is broken and a murderer is loose. What a dilemma.

Final review: 4/5. Interesting concept but everything is so muddled, I don’t know what to make of it all.

Up next: The Killing Fields

#361- Trouble in Paradise

Quick recap: Gaston is one of the best con artists out there. He falls in love with Lily, who is just as cunning as he is. When they join forces to rob a rich woman, however, the plan goes off the rails.

two women in love with the same man? That’s trouble in paradise for sure!

Fun (?) fact: Trouble in Paradise was banned from public viewing once the Hayes Code took effect in 1935. It wouldn’t be until 1958 when people were allowed to watch it again.

So saucy to show a woman’s garter!

My thoughts: Is it possible to name your child Gaston and he not grow up to be a huge jerk? I feel like that name just seals his future somehow. Anyway, This was a fun movie to watch, especially since it was made in the pre-code era. Obviously there have been monumental films made during the Hayes Code but there is something about watching a director have fun with the story and not worry about getting in trouble. I think it also helped Trouble in Paradise feel much more natural than if it had been made just a few years later.

I think I was most surprised by how funny much of this movie was. Many times I’ll watch something and be able to tell that something is meant as a joke but it never makes me laugh. This movie definitely did, many times. My favorite scene is in the beginning when Lily and Gaston have dinner together. At one point she announces to him that she knows he is really a con artist, and he announces that he also knows she is one. They then take turns giving back various objects stolen from one another when the other wasn’t looking. It’s funny but it’s also ridiculously cute to watch these two criminals fall in love. I really liked their chemistry and when Gaston started falling for Mariette, the rich woman he wanted to rob, it made me angry that he picked the wrong woman.

As is also the stereotype in these early films, everything works out in the end. The solution was complicated and I’m still not sure who conned who,  but Lily and Gaston ended back together so that’s what matters. Apparently, director Ernst Lubitsch had what was called the ‘Lubitsch Touch’ which meant adding sophistication and wit to his movies. It’s very clear that Mariette and Gaston just want to have sex with each other but the audience has to read through the lines to figure out what is really said. In a time when raunchiness was starting to show through in many films (and the reason why the Hayes Code was created), it was nice to have a director trust his audience to really get what was going on without having to spell it out.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Anatomy of a Murder

#360- The Young and the Damned

Quick recap: A group of boys from the slums of Mexico City resort to crime in order to survive.

Jaibo’s ill-fitting overalls are all you need to know he is up to no good

Fun (?) fact: The movie was very poorly received when it first came out but after people had a chance to calm down, they realized that it held a lot of truth. The Young and the Damned is now considered one of the greatest Mexican films of all time.

My thoughts: I’ve seemingly been caught in a ‘wayward youths’ movie vortex as of late and it’s hard to tell whether I can escape any time soon. I’ve lucked out up until now because almost all of the films have a glimmer of hope attached, even though most of the movie is very grim. (I’m looking at you, City of God)

The Young and the Damned, as I should’ve gleaned from the title, is a different beast altogether. It lured me in at first, making me think this was just a cute cautionary tale about bad boys who drink and smoke but who are just little scamps in the big picture of things. And actually, that part might be true until the Ultimate Wayward Youth, Jaibo, shows up, after breaking out of reform school. The boys immediately take to him as he shows them how to rob a blind man of his money. It’s a cruel scene, but nothing I haven’t seen before. They take it to a new level however when they chase the man and throw stones at him. That’s when I realized no one was playing around. Every actor in the film is believable as a corrupted youth. I was blown away with how complicated they showed their characters to be. As mean as some of the boys are (including a scene where Jaibo straight up murders a kid), it’s very obvious that the director fully believed poverty was to be blamed for all this hard lives.

Pedro, the main character, is about as real a kid as you can get. He tags along with the gang but never really does the bad stuff. He befriends a lost boy and gets him food to eat and he does his best to listen to his mother, even though they both know she can’t really take care of him. He gets caught up with Jaibo, however, and thus starts his downward spiral that ultimately ends in his tragic death. His murder really broke me in a way that is hard to convey because I wasn’t expecting that kind of ending at all. I kept thinking something good would eventually turn up but it didn’t. The final scene of the farmer throwing his body down a hill is so sickening but really hit home the point that Mexico City was in a crisis with poverty at the time. And it’s a reminder that we haven’t moved forward as much as we think we have.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Trouble in Paradise