#367- Cairo Station

Quick recap: So, there’s this station, see? And it’s in Cairo. And there are a lot of crazy characters who work there, such as Qinawi the disabled newspaper seller, Hanuma, who illegally sells Pepsi (I think?) and her fiance Abu Siri who is a decent guy, mixed up in all the madness.

This was a gorgeous cast of people

Fun (?) fact: There isn’t much out there about this film, unfortunately. The best fact I could find is that Youssef Chahine is the director as well as the main character, Qinawi.

My thoughts: Proof that I know next to nothing about the world around me, I was shocked by how modern Egypt looked in Cairo Station. There was plenty of traditional clothing but there was also a very Western looked that I wasn’t expecting. It reminded me of the book Persepolis and how modern Iran was before the Islamic Revolution. Granted, this was only a tiny slice of life in the city but I would’ve loved exploring the underground scene and up-and-coming rock and roll acts.

What I wouldn’t have loved back then? A creepy guy like Qinawi hanging around. It’s genius how the director showed Qinawi’s creepiness throughout the entire movie, even in the first couple of scenes, and yet because he was disabled, I overlooked everything. The pinups that decorated his shack? He was lonely and wanted a woman. Spying on Hanuma as she dressed? It was only because he was worried about her. Buying a knife and repeatedly stabbing a woman? Ok, that’s when I started to have suspicions. But really, I found it so progressive to have the main villain as a mousy disabled guy that everyone pities. And that all the women in the film were creeped out by him but their husbands and boyfriends didn’t believe them. Time and time again, these women were told that they must’ve done something to deserve the lascivious stares and were ignored. It wasn’t until the very end of the film, as Qinawi had kidnapped Hanuma that everyone jumped into action.

Although the main plot was interesting and unique, the subplots were difficult to follow at times. There was one about a union forming and another about a young girl being ripped away from her lover. It was hard to figure out what I was supposed to focus on at times, which I guess is the point of filming in a busy train station. I did love the various ‘artsy’ close-up scenes and dramatic music but it all felt too much sometimes.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: Project A II

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#366- Tabu: A Story of the South Pacific

Quick recap: Matahi and Reri are lovers who live in paradise. Everything is perfect, except for the fact that Reri has been chosen as a Forever Virgin as sacrifice to the gods. Oops.

Finally sinking in how messed up this whole thing is

Fun (?) fact: I assumed ‘Tabu’ to either be a lost island in the South Pacific, or some very complicated ritual a select group of natives followed. Turns out, it literally means ‘taboo’, as in, Reri becomes off-limits, or tabu, to other men. What a let down.

look at that………scenery!

 

My thoughts: Do you remember when you first discovered National Geographic magazine? You were probably in 5th grade or maybe middle school and the first time you opened one up you told yourself it was just for the articles since you wanted to be an archeologist, after all. But inevitably there was always, ALWAYS some photo shoot about an Amazonian tribe who had never heard of the concept of clothes and that, unfortunately, would be the exact second your teacher chose to walk by. That, my friends, is how this movie felt to watch. I tried my best to pay attention to the plot as best as I could but like that very first National Geographic photo spread many years ago, the tribe….aesthetic…..was hard to ignore.

Despite this movie being made in 1931, it’s not the worst when it comes to representing an indigenous tribe. Director FW Murnau filmed in the South Pacific and hired mostly locals. The beginning of Tabu is about as stereotypical as you can get with youths running around naked and just enjoying nature. But at the same time, it just didn’t feel exploitative . It surprised me how a silent film about a non-white group of people could come off as so humane. For example, there is a huge feast for Reri before she heads out to be a Forever Virgin (meaning no man can ever look or touch her again) and of course the girl is absolutely devastated. I loved how fed up the elder was that he had to deal with such drama, but it felt realistic. And so did Reri and Matahi’s relationship. They really seemed to care for each other, even though both were super naive when it came to being an adult.

As I went over the basic facts with my nine year old the next morning, as I sometimes do, I realized that this is actually a very tragic film. Almost 90 year old spoiler alert: Matahi and Reri run away to a different island only to be tracked down by the elder rather quickly. He threatens to kill Matahi if the girl doesn’t give in to her fate and she finally agrees because she loves him so much. Matahi refuses to give up however and follows her ship as far as he can until he finally succumbs to exhaustion and drowns. So basically the movies ends on a downer, except for the gods, who finally got their Forever Virgin.

Final review: 3/5. The nudity is pretty good too.

Up next: Cairo Station

#364- Ikiru

Quick recap: A bureaucrat finds out he has terminal cancer and realizes how much of his life he has wasted.

Fun (?) fact: Similar to Amarcord, I assumed the title was the name of the main character. It is not, however. Ikiru is a Japanese word meaning ‘to live’.

My thoughts: Ikiru is such a downer of a movie yet I felt so motivated and inspired by the end of it. Kanji Watanabe, played by Takashi Shimura, is just about the saddest person I have seen in film ever. I felt sorry for him as he sat through his boring desk job but once he got the cancer diagnosis, he just became pitiful.

The best part of the movie for me is that I never knew what direction it would take. There was some humor in the first few scenes that made me wonder if the diagnosis was a mistake and maybe Kanji could just learn a lesson and live for a very long time. And then he meets a man who teaches him how to spend money frivolously as well as a former coworker who shows him how to have a nightlife. At this point I expected Kanji to realize that family was most important or maybe realize that life should be enjoyed daily. But no, nothing of substance ever materializes and I’m left to watch Kanji continue to suffer.

AND THEN KANJI DIES WITH AN HOUR LEFT INTO THE MOVIE

I absolutely wasn’t expecting this. Where was the life lesson? Where was the grieving son who finally reunited with his father? Instead, the wake is attended by a few family members, bureaucrats, and high ranking government officials. Throughout several flashbacks, which I thought were very creatively done, the friends and family members find out that Kanji knew he was dying yet didn’t broadcast it to the world. Instead, he spent his final months helping to transform a sewage dump into a nice little park for kids to play in. As it usually goes, though, his work is mostly ignored until he is dead and everyone is able to come together and realize how good of a person he was.It was such a sweet way to end the movie, knowing that Kanji chose to help however he could and without any expectation of reward. The final scene recounts how he actually died in the park that he helped create. It’s such a beautiful scene to see Kanji swinging on the play set and singing a song about not wasting any moment. The snow is falling all around him, he knows he doesn’t have much time left and he is completely at peace.

Final review: 5/5. I didn’t get into it much but this movie is also beautiful, every single scene.

Up next: Tabu

 

 

#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