International Film

Sin Nombre, A Film Review

Making a fictional film about a social issue is not easy.

If it’s a dark satire like “Dr Strangelove,” or “Catch 22,” or even “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the viewer always gets the feeling in the pit of their stomach that there is something not right with the world, that some impending dark force is going to place the world in a state of implosion.

In these hard-edged satires, that dark force often exists in the possibility that a nuclear holocaust could be started by a bunch of crazies; that our revered institutions could be run by psychopaths; that maybe we all have the potential for evil. Continue reading

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Teaching History and Culture through Film

When I retired from college teaching many years ago, I had become radicalized by my experiences with teaching International film and culture and African-American Literature.

Both courses led me to my belief that “story” is an essential ingredient in teaching students how to understand another culture. Once a student can identify with a person in a story, once they can follow a fictional narrative of a person’s life and conflicts, they are more apt to “identify”with that person, to humanize them. Continue reading

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“Mademoiselle Chambon” The Isolated Drifter

Male Stereotypes: Fear of Commitment, Wanderlust, Speculator

I grew up in the 50s when the average man was traditionally stereotyped as the guy who was always running away from the gal who wanted to lasso him into the corral of a home, a basement, a lawn, a mortgage, two kids, a picket fence, a garage with an electric garage-door opener.

The “ball-and-chain” metaphor often drove the narrative of male fears that they would be “tied-down” for life, that their “salad days” of wine, women, and song would come to a swift and inevitable end at the marriage altar. (The culture I grew up in just assumed, by the way, that, except for nuns who were the virginal “brides of Christ,”all women wanted to be married; the men, on the other hand, were often seen as the great “procrastinators.”) Continue reading

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Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon

Michael Haneke’s films are never easy to watch. I believe it would be safe to say the Haneke tends to assault his viewers out of their complacencies.

If you like your films to have a soft-edged, feel-good resolution, you should definitely save your ten bucks—twenty-five with popcorn and a beverage– and wait for Hollywood’s romantic-comedy summer fare.

Haneke is not your man.

That said, let me begin by saying that “The White Ribbon,” Haneke’s latest, is a tour de force. It is no wonder that Cannes gave the film its prestigious Palme d’Or award. It was well-deserved Continue reading

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Bliss, Honor Killing, and Turkish Cinema

Demonizing the Enemy, the Old Battle Between East and West

Those of us who are cultural-diversity followers continue to be intrigued by the global verbal battle going on between the conservatives on both sides of the “which-culture-is-superior” topic.

In the West, the Berlusconi followers continue to rant and rave about the superiority of Western Civilization. On the other hand, Islamic fundamentalists and militant jihadists believe that the infidel West is going to hell in a hand basket. Both sides have reduced their enemies to demonized objects. Continue reading

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Friendship, A Transformational Narrative

Sociologists have given us pretty accurate stats about the majority of us marrying or having intimate relationships, endogamously—that is, inside of our class, race, religion, and/or economic status. Exogamy is the exception, not the rule. Even if we know someone from another culture in the workplace, most of us still go home to our homogeneous and segregated communities.

The notion of marrying or living inside one’s own heritage and culture was constantly reinforced when I was growing up in the 1950s, an era that was in denial about how deep the racial and ethnic divides actually were.

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Che Guevara, Hero or Villain?

A biopic, a non-documentary film that dramatizes the life of a real, historical person, presents a challenge not only to film-makers but to audiences as well. Accuracy issues are always at stake when a director decides to do a dramatic narrative about a famous person, particularly about someone who carries a lot of mythological baggage.

If movie audiences have even a faint knowledge of the historical character, they will come armed with predisposed beliefs about how a character should be portrayed. Hagiographers and groupies are going to be particularly difficult to convince if a film’s portrayal violates their own notions of their heroes.

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The Bicycle Thief

Vittoria de Sica’s classic 1947 film, The Bicycle Thief, has probably been written about more than any other film in history. At one time, film audiences considered it to be the best film ever made; unfortunately, it has slipped off the charts in recent times.

I have longed maintained that films consistently use visual and auditory images as stories in and of themselves. They often become complementary social plots replete with cultural values and world-view perceptions. The central story line in many classic films becomes more than just ornamented with these visual and auditory images, it often becomes a kind of call-and-response complement to the less evident images of a film.

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