Dan George

  • Il Postino (1994) d. Michael Radford

    The Chilean poet and communist agitator Pablo Neruda may never have set foot on the island of Salina in 1950, but writer-actor Mariamo Troisi’s exploration of the idea is probably more interesting than any account of his actual exiles abroad.
    The eponymous postman of the film, Mario, has never taken to the patrilineal profession of fishing in his family. His widower father understands he never will and releases his seemingly simple son from his duties, to choose an occupation more suited to his abilities. In town, the communist postmaster needs a hand with the flurry of fan mail in the wake of Neruda and his wife’s arrival. He greatly admires the Bolivarian bard and has his new postman run reconnaissance and procure signatures from him. Though their early exchanges may be of little significance, the two very different men of letters soon form a bond through a series of exchanges on poetry, love and politics. When Mario first meets barmaid Beatrice Russo over a game of table football, he instantly falls in love. He is inspired by his mentor to write her love poems, many of which he plagiarizes, and soon wins her heart.
    Michael Radford’s surname may seem a little consonant-heavy for a production of this origin but the writer-director’s English eye can only be clearly detected in the humour of the pacey, racy table football scene; which a native or continental director may have shot a little more seductively. It is really Troisi who leaves his indelible print on the film, which would be his last (dying tragically the day after production wrapped). The actor’s physical frailty comes across as his character’s mumbling humility. When beautiful Maria Grazia Cucinotta falls for his charms (or lack thereof), no one would seem more deserving a husband than he, and it is immensely gratifying to see his son Pablito stumble onto screen at the end. Phillipe Noiret also evokes much feeling in the last scene, imagining his friend’s great yet fatal agitation for change, while walking their familiar beach. We get the feeling they may have liberated one another.
    Il Postino is very much a film that flows like poetry. There is no solid structure as prescribed by the script doctors of the time. No stakes and little drama. When our loveable protagonist dies at the end, it is not played for tears of devastation. I felt quiet elation: he had finally found his voice and could speak up for his people at the rally. He asks Neruda earlier in the film a question regarding the writer’s revolutionary ideals, “So what if we break off our chains? What do we do then?” He obviously has an answer to that question by the end, which is satisfaction enough. In another exchange, when Mario’s plagiarism is discovered by Pablo, he counters “Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it; it belongs to those who need it.” This strikes one as quite humorous in the context of the scene but when recalled or read alone it signifies the point at which Mario has cast the chains off his mind. Sadly the distributors do not live by this dictum, and intellectual copyright law prevails online and elsewhere.
    While it may be a fictional account, the film is very much a celebration of the actual effect Neruda’s poetry had on many of the working people of the world. Not so much a tribute to him, but to the millions of postini worldwide who have been delivered and a rallying call for all those who have yet to be.

  • Django Unchained (2012) d. Quentin Tarantino

    As someone who was introduced to the films of Quentin Tarantino in the
    2000s with Kill Bill, I have always been more familiar with the
    indulgent fanboy side of him. For a time during his post-Jackie Brown
    hiatus, many believed his next work would be something even more
    low-key and maybe even profound. But all he has done since is lower
    expectations with increasingly violent homages to cult sub-sub-genres
    of movies he grew up with, even indirectly remaking two of his
    favourites, as part of a Spaghetti Western trilogy: Inglourious
    Basterds and now this, a loose remake/homage to the 1966 Spaghetti
    Western Django starring Franco Nero, who features in a cameo here. It begins with the slave Django being unchained by German-born bounty
    hunter ‘Dr’ King Schultz. A giant tooth wiggles atop Schultz’s carriage
    impertinently throughout the picture, though unusually for a Tarantino
    flic’, he at no point performs any impromptu dentistry on the crackers
    and rednecks he’s gunning for. Schultz promises to free Django from
    slavery upon collecting several bounties across the Deep South and then
    repay him by rescuing Django’s conveniently German-speaking wife
    Brunhilde from Francophile plantation owner Calvin Candie
    (played with devilish menace by Leonardo DiCaprio) of Candyland.Jamie Foxx relishes executing every evil white man, reminiscent of
    every Fred Williamson blaxploitation character while Christoph Waltz
    gets to take off the Nazi uniform from his last QT collaboration and
    play the guilty-ass white man. He is the most interesting and complex
    of all the characters herein (though that may not be saying much) as
    his arc of development reflects that of the European-American. He deals
    with his guilt at not having done enough in the latter half of the
    movie when he witnesses a slave’s tearing apart by dogs and one
    Mandingo warrior gouge out another’s eyes for the pleasure of
    ‘Monsieur’ Candie.As with all Tarantini, revenge is served with bombastic effect. If
    there is anything unconventional in the violence of the movie it is the
    disproportionate meting out of cruelty to the slaveholders and Uncle
    Toms, who only receive gunshots to the heart or unceremonious
    kneecappings while innocent slaves are mauled, gouged of their eyes and
    beaten with hammers or robbed of dignity in the aforementioned Mandingo
    fights and of course, their heritage. Perhaps this is Quentin’s way of
    reminding us his stories take place in unjust worlds not unlike the
    ones we live in.Unlike most blaxploitation pictures set in the era, the slaves of the
    movie are only freed after being bought with money by a white man and
    this is why it could be argued it is a blaxploitation movie for white
    audiences, coming to terms with the history of racial oppression in the
    US and a new era where the ‘minorities’ of yesteryear collectively
    comprise the majority but the white plurality is rapidly becoming
    marginalized politically. Blood splatters white lilies, cotton, and
    snow to remind us how white America got where it is. A black-n-white
    President may symbolize the transitional phase the county is in but the
    transformation has not yet been realised. The debt owed by many
    Americans is not merely a monetary one.Although after pondering these issues, the film proceeds for another
    half-hour wherein any remaining do-badders are riddled with bullets or
    blown apart by dynamite in a fairly unimaginative and convoluted way.
    Watching the weak climax one longs for the return of Sally Menke’s
    guiding hand to guide a pair of scissors over the 2:15 mark and
    graciously snip it loose. QT is definitely missing that woman’s
    touch dearly: those scenes deleted could have sold countless ‘Extended Edition’ DVDs.As a genre film however, it is an excellent meshing of two deeply
    entrenched yet juxtaposed American icons: the cowboy and the slave. The
    former symbolizing America’s unity and freedom after the Civil War
    somehow entwined with one representing America’s division (then between
    North and South; a century later, between largely urban and rural) and
    tyranny. In a movie ending on the eve of the Civil War, the future and
    the past. Hip hop music is played to the desired startling effect over
    images of Django’s horse seemingly strutting him into the Candyland
    plantation but everything else has been seen before in one form or
    another.It must sully the memories of cineastes who were once so electrified by
    the jarring chords of the Miserloo nineteen years ago and the overnight
    globalisation of that treasured American epithet, Motherf*cker, to see
    what little Quentin Tarantino has done to show he’s learnt anything
    since. Postmodernist masturbation may be enough for audiences these
    days who disregard ‘elitist’ critics and their analyses but if this is
    the case our filmmakers should unchain their own minds and emancipate
    viewers worldwide with a cinema of meaning.

  • Taste Of Cherry (1997) d. Abbas Kiarostami

    Mr Badii wants to kill himself. The problem is he doesn’t have anyone
    to bury him. After a few unsuccessful encounters with men who
    misconstrue his unspoken proposition, he picks up a young Kurdish
    soldier in need of a lift. Having offered the young recruit a generous
    sum in return for the work, the boy leaps out of the car and flees
    across the hillside where Badii has already dug his grave. His second
    prospective candidate is an Afghan seminarian, who objects on religious
    grounds, quoting from scripture to dissuade him. The third is an Azeri
    taxidermist who accepts the offer as he needs the money for his sick
    child, but nonetheless tries to deter him from carrying out his plan.
    He confesses that he too once planned to hang himself from a mulberry
    tree, but upon tasting the mulberries, chose life. As darkness falls
    over the city, Badii climbs into his grave and closes his eyes, and
    darkness falls upon us as the clouds open up.Abbas Kiarostami’s minimalist meditation on the circle of life is
    notable for its use of long shots, such as in the closing sequences.
    The film is punctuated throughout by shots of Badii’s car traversing
    the winding hilly roads, usually while he is conversing with a
    passenger. The visual distancing stands in contrast to the sound of the
    dialogue, which always remains in the foreground as though
    non-diegetic. This fusion of distance with proximity, like the frequent
    framing of landscapes through car windows, generates suspense even in the
    most mundane of moments.’Taste of Cherry’ confounded Western audiences accustomed to dramatic
    performances and emotional manipulation with its apparent absence of
    explanation or conclusion. It is never explained why Badii wants to
    commit suicide but he tells the seminarian that Allah wouldn’t want any
    of his children to suffer so much. We never see him take his pills but
    when the rains fall on his open grave we are encouraged to believe that
    he has ‘tasted the cherries’ and re-evaluated life. In his circuitous
    search for meaning, it could be said that the soldier represents the
    state; the seminarian, religion; and Azeri, what can happen but also
    what has gone before. Badii is in turn ignored; told to continue living
    but not given any reason to; and finally, told to experience nature and
    appreciate the little things. The theocracy has little to offer him.The Iran depicted herein is a melting pot, or cultural mosaic, of other
    Muslim world countries. We assume Badii is ethnically Persian, but his
    fellow travellers all hail from foreign lands. Perhaps this signifies
    the finity of the revolutionary state, in that no one has a vested
    stake in it’s perpetuation. All three nations represented were
    embroiled in conflict at this time, and maybe it was three foreign
    perspectives who had known conflict which Badii needed.Much has been
    said of the very final scene which I neglected to mention above as I do
    not myself consider it part of the narrative. It consists of camcorder
    footage of the director and crew shooting scenes of the Army on patrol
    and would seem to me to be a disclaimer for the Iranian censors who I
    imagine would be concerned with the film’s themes (it’s only a movie).
    And it’s inclusion in the Western release would seem to highlight this
    issue for foreign audiences.