Posted by: Naima | April 23, 2009

Movie Nights

Rainy days and chilled nights have inspired me to attend movies. Since they are about half the price in Cape Town as they are in Chicago, I’ve been able to see a handful of movies on those days when I just wanted to curl up and be entertained. South Africa features movies much later than the United States (Milk will be released in theaters on Friday), but I’ve been able to see movies that I had hoped to see at home, before the Oscars. Here’s my short list of some great films that pumped my adrenaline (popcorn in hand) and affected me for hours afterward:

The Reader

This is a movie I didn’t expect much from since it had received such mixed reviews from people all over the internet. The long-running joke that Kate Winslet was only rewarded the Oscar because The Reader is considered a “holocaust film” suggested to me that the movie lacked some substance beyond tragedy. Some critics were upset that Winslet won an award for The Reader and not Revolutionary Road – a movie I saw and overall chillingly enjoyed. All that said, I wanted to make the decision myself.

Interestingly enough, the holocaust is merely a backdrop for a complicated story of love, responsibility, and shame. A woman so afraid to admit her personal struggles ends up aiding atrocities in Germany while a lingering love watches achingly. Yes, this is somewhat corny, but what makes this movie so good are the performances (Oscar-less David Cross, in particular) and the nuances of the story. I showed both empathy and frustration towards Winslet’s character. After the film has wrapped both the audience and the lead characters into a frenzy of sentiment, there is a reality check. We are all reminded of the holocaust, we are painted a picture of systemic murder and the role of six guards in particular. Upon my return from the movie theater, I was exhausted. The film and its soundtrack had taken my hand and whipped me an array of emotional directions. So much so that afterwards, my friend and I just sat in silence as the credits rolled. I continued to think about the evolution of reactions that I had had for 2 hours.

Please Vote For Me

While the I’m not sure that the trailer did the movie much justice, I really enjoyed this one. I was randomly invited to see the film at a free screening featuring the executive producer, Don Edkins. It was showing at The Labia Theater (the artsy-fartsy theater in Cape Town). The movie explores the idea of democracy in China through a social experiment within a Chinese primary school. The election race for Class Monitor has begun and with three candidates selected by the teachers, the children are asked to participate in a democratic election. The students take to the exercise quickly and candidates start buying votes, offering positions in exchange for support, and attacking each other for things other than their policies – just like national democratic elections. The only female candidate is often criticized for being too soft, a crybaby who will be unable to lead the class; the return Class Monitor is accused of being adverse to change and progress, and the third candidate’s pure passion for the job is overshadowed by his sneaky tactics to lessen this credibility of his opponents. Prior to and after the film screening, Edkins spoke on behalf of the filmmakers and told the story of the movie being smuggled out of China after it was heard to have been introducing democracy to young children. Please Vote For Me is both heartwarming to a certain degree and horrifying. To know that a child’s first experience with democracy is parallel to the corruption that plagues many democratic elections around the world is incredibly thought-provoking, but also a bit scary.

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex

If you didn’t notice, the film is in German. Laced with subtitles, this movie is about the Red Army Faction, a militant group of freedom fighters/terrorists of late-1960s/70s Germany. Through bombings, kidnappings, robberies, and ultimately murders, the RAF fought for, among other things, the end of Vietnam occupation. The film explores the different key players in the RAF and the story of their involvement and ultimately their chosen demise. The audience watches as the founders lay in jail while second and third generations of the militant group carry on the policies often engorged with more violence than originally conceived.

I loved this movie. I left the theater excited, heart pounding with fire. I gasped when mistakes were made, when the music changed key and the mood was altered. I got excited when the RAF succeeded, inspired by some of the characters, and then conflicted by the realization that the movie was based on real people and real events. That understanding affected my feelings about the movie and ultimately frightened me and challenged my ideologies. Two thoughts that played tug-of-war in my mind were 1) how many groups there were around the world in the 1970s fighting for similar things in similar ways to the RAF. It kind of explodes the urgency of the period in a way that makes one wonder how activism (or terrorism, however you want to look at it) has changed, whether the urgency has lessened or the platform to fight has been manipulated. And then there’s thought 2) how a woman like Urlike Meinhof, a left-wing journalist turned militant, went from criticizing oppression via typewriter to robbing banks to fund bombs and fake identification. Thus, beginning to use her typewriter to defend the actions of the RAF and list demands. That evolution of social involvement is one that is somewhat frightening but increasingly fascinating. Meinhof’s underground transformation seems like a mixture of accident and intrigue supplemented by obligation. Her ultimate willingness to part ways with her children and lover and ultimately her struggle creates a devastating picture in which Meinhof ends as she starts: alone with her typewriter – where her words find the most strength.

Go see this movie.

Peace and then some,




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