Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
This blog is second in a series in which I take a look at four films in our collection which deal with illegal immigration, first and foremost from the perspective of those who undertake the journey, but also from viewpoint of their family, the communities they immigrate to and border patrol officers charged with repelling them from entering the country. Sin Nombre, Which Way Home, Mojados: Through the Night and El Inmigrante are all films that take a look at illegal immigration in greater depth and with a greater diversity of opinions than can be included in the typical media coverage of the debate. If you have a desire to take a closer look at the hows and whys of illegal border crossing, I urge you to check out one or all of these films.
Which Way Home
With Sin Nombre still fresh in mind I was pleased to come across Which Way Home while I was perusing the new releases in the Audio Visual department. This was a documentary about the real-life youths making the journey by train. Even more astounding than witnessing the same dangerous circumstances of riding “el tren,” now with actual lives at stake, was the extremely young age of those who rode it. “La Bestia,” the beast, this is the affectionate and fearful title given to their transport by the main figure, Kevin “El Gordo” or “Fatty.”
Kevin made this journey at the age of 14, making him the eldest among the children featured in the film. In fact, most of the children in this documentary are only around eight or nine years old. What a terrifying thought to think of my own child riding on top of a train all the way across the length of the Mexican territory. Some ran away from home. Some never had a home and some were sent by their families with hope they would arrive in America and be able to send money back home. The children laugh, make jokes and sing just like any other children. It is difficult not imagining a child you know of the same age making the journey.
I was very moved by two travelers in particular, Olga and Freddy, whose youth and innocence seems impossible in those surroundings. They are preoccupied with childish games but also worry about the dangers of their journey and sit awake through the night telling horror stories of what happens to those swept off the roof by a tree branch and between the cars below. When they talk about crossing the desert, as they must when they reach the end of the line, they have an air of bravado. They seem unconcerned with the warnings given by social workers who have volunteered to assist and inform the travelers in their crossings. However, although the situation is pitiful there is a lot of joy in the movie, thanks to the children.
The journey they share ends differently for all of them, and without saying too much, I can assure you that none of those endings is entirely unhappy, but it should be remembered that happy endings are not in store for all those who travel this way, perhaps they are even the exceptions to the rule.
Which Way Home
Recently I took in a series of four films that brought me witness to a 2,000 mile journey undertaken by over 160,000 hopeful men, women and children every year. They departed from El Salvador, Honduras and the far southern Mexican state of Chiapas, traversing hundreds of miles of open country while perilously perched atop a freight train, to the edge of the Rio Bravo/ Rio Grande and across to great expanses of Texan dessert, a portion of the journey which in itself would take four, five, maybe six days to cross. After this odyssey the travelers must be wary of immigration officers, conmen and thieves. Some came to support their families, some to be reunited with them. Perhaps they will find work. Others came to escape, from the law of their homelands, from its criminal elements, perhaps both. It was a fascinating journey as well as an emotional one. Along the way I was given a perspective of the immigration debate that is ignored more often than not. That being the experiences and hopes of the immigrants themselves, the individuals most involved in the debate, but who are heard from the least.
If that is a perspective that you might also be interested in, I urge you to check out these movies. Here’s the first in the series; watch for the rest later this week.
Sin Nombre (Nameless)
Sin Nombre is a fictional film about youths travelling across Mexico by train, illegally. There are many films that describe some of methods and also the dangers of crossing America’s southern border, but it was not until I had seen this film that I considered how a poor traveler, often as not coming from Mexican states that are distant from the border or maybe even they have come from countries further south such as Honduras or Guatemala, how does such a traveler cross the distance of Mexico itself. In this case it is the railway that provides a means of free travel, however for the young people in this movie hopping a train does not mean finding an empty box car and hiding until the iron house begins chugging down the rails. It seems that Mexican authorities have made the cars inaccessible leaving the migrants one option for a free ride, sitting on top of the railroad cars themselves. Without shelter from wind or rain, heat or the freezing nights they sit atop the cars, bouncing down the tracks and watching out for branches, bridges or other low obstacles that would brush a body right off of the train and under the steel wheels. There is constant danger of this. Someone must also stay awake through the night watching for obstacles. They are afraid to fall asleep for fear of falling off the cars or worse, between the cars. For people with no money and a strong desire to get closer to the U.S. border, this is sometimes seen as the only option.
The film itself is excellent. Two teenagers from two very different, yet neighboring homelands meet on the train traveling north. Sayra leaves her home life in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Willy or “El Casper” is from the far southern Mexican state of Chiapas. El Casper is hunted by his former gang members, whom he has offended and now he must keep a wary eye trained for members of Mara Salvatrucha, the gang which he had so recently considered to be his family. El Casper knows the train lines and though recognized by the other passengers as a gang member which keeps them at a careful distance, they also recognize the valuable resource he is in helping them not only in staying on the train without being spotted by bulls, or railroad guards, but also how to survive on top of the train. Sayra comes from Honduras travelling for far northern New Jersey to be reunited with her family. It is clear that Sayra is not a street survivor like El Casper .These differences in origin’s departed from, the relatively stable family life Sayra has left behind and the life threatening circumstances of Willy’s presence on the train illustrate the desperate and varied circumstances that drive someone to make the dangerous journey by train.
In my previous post, I mentioned the film In the Mood for Love because of its lush and stylistic cinematography. Released in 2000 by acclaimed director Wong Kar-wai, the film takes place in Hong Kong in 1962. Two lonely neighbors are brought together over the fact that their spouses are engaged in an affair; and while they're committed to not duplicating the deceit by having their own tryst, a bond between them developes a unique intensity as they find solace in eachother's company. A film that resists cliche at every turn, In the Mood for Love is buttressed with strong acting performances and an amazing musical theme that evokes the anxiety and aching desire between these two characters as they grow closer with every masterfully shot frame. A truely original work of simplicity and beauty!
In the Mood for Love
There are certain films that are beautifully rendered and a joy to watch because of the way in which the cinematographer has chosen to use light or a certain kind of film that produces striking and dynamic images. Here are a few of my favorite films where color, light and shadows are as central to the end product as are the plot, characters or setting.
Days of Heaven
In the Mood for Love
The Man Who Wasn’t There
The Thin Red Line
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Kisses is a small-scale but affecting film that showcases the impressive talents of its two young actors. Emotionally and physically abused tweens Dylan and Kylie, set out on a twenty-four hour adventure in the big city in hopes of escaping their domestic problems. Searching for Dylan’s big brother, who allegedly lives in Dublin, these two tough yet sweet kids from the suburbs discover that the city possesses both a dangerous and exhilerating side to it. Kisses effectively mixes together a romantic tale about childhood innocence with the grim depictions of an unforgiving urban environment.
The tearjerker is a film that transcends one’s predispositions and cuts into those deep and often impenetrable portions of our shared, collective humanity to move us in ways we never dared to admit. Another view, one much less celebratory, reads the tearjerker as the sort of film that eschews realism for romanticized dramatic effect, that idealizes human relations, or that revoltingly rejoices in the most insidious forms of Hollywood sentimentality. Sometimes intellectually or creatively deeper than acknowledged, but still retaining of the elements of the cheesiness factor, are films that balance both of these tensions and contradictions; films that are both at times lurching toward being maudlin and overwrought and yet at other times depict authentic and truthful depth.
Here is a short list of films that will have you racing for the Kleenex.
- The Way We Were (1973)
- Kramer vs Kramer (1979)
- Umberto D (1952)
- Sophie’s Choice (1982)
- Love Story (1972)
- Terms of Endearment (1983)
- Bambi (1942)
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
- Glory (1989)
- An Affair to Remember (1957)
- The English Patient (1996)
- The Elephant Man (1980)
- The Deer Hunter (1978)
- The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
- The Mission (1986)
- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968)
The Way We Were
I had been waiting anxiously to see the film The White Ribbon for some time, due in part because it was directed by Michael Haneke and in part because it nominated for the best foreign film Oscar in 2009. Michael Haneke directed the film Cache, a French thriller that I really enjoyed. I expected The White Ribbon to have the same slow-building suspense and beautiful cinematography as Cache, and I was not disappointed. The movie revolves around the people of a small village in Germany just before the beginning of World War I. As mysterious “accidents” befall members of the community, the villagers (and the audience) are left wondering who could be so brutal to his/her fellow man. The village pastor uses a white ribbon in the movie as a symbol of innocence, but it quickly becomes clear that no one in the village is entirely innocent. As the suspense builds, the World War I backdrop becomes particularly pertinent: it perfectly reflects the growing unease and tumultuousness in the village and reiterates the subject of lost innocence.
The White Ribbon is a fairly long and slow movie, with a subtly creepy feeling that pervades the story. If it’s an action-packed thriller you want, this is not the movie; however I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys intelligent, beautiful film making and a good mystery.
The White Ribbon
Having recently taken over the responsibilities of selecting films for our audiovisual collection, I’m excited to report about some of the new titles that I’ve recently ordered. Some are here in the building and others are on their way. Why these films you ask? Well, these are personal favorites of mine that I would argue with great adoration and zeal that because of their artistic merits warrant their inclusion within our diverse and varied cinema collection. Some are big name classics and others are great films that have either languished in obscurity or have been appreciated only by its ardent fans. Some may have already been part of our collection in years past and now have a second chance at falling into your hands. I hope you enjoy these movie treasures.
- The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
- Ghost World
- Carnal Knowledge
- Coming Home
- Hoop Dreams
- Killing Fields
- Lone Star
- Little Big Man
- My Left Foot
- My Private Idaho
- Il Postino
- My Beautiful Laundrette
- The Professional
- Splendor in the Grass
- Silence of the Lambs
I watch more films than the average person, so while the allure of the Lake Michigan shore often takes priority during these warm, sunny months, I've still managed to find some time to view several exceptional films that are worth checking out.
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Classic political satire from Frank Capra)
- La Vie En Rose (French biopic on singer Edith Piaf with an amazing performance from Marion Cotillard)
- Vivra Sa Vie (Classic from the French New Wave master)
- Avatar (Lot's of CGI without much of a plot, at least not an original one)
- Metropolitan (A cult indie classic from influential director Whit Stillman)
The French film director Jean-Luc Godard was arguably the centerpiece of the La Nouvelle Vague (New Wave). This loosely associated group of French directors and critics were heavily indebted to the contributions of the Italian Neorealism movement (Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini e.g.) and came to prominence in the late nineteen fifties and early sixties, seeking to revitalize French cinema with paradigmatic changes to the classical style of Hollywood movies, their plots and aesthetic approaches to narrative and editing techniques. Godard, who continues to work today, created some of world cinema’s most recognizable and influential films; his most important and conventional, produced between 1960 and 1967. For the beginner, I would recommend delving into Godard’s self conscious tales of cinematic referentiality, satiric deconstruction, and counter cultural politics in chronological order: Breathless (1960), Vivre sa vie (1962), Alphaville (1965), Pierrot le fou (1965) and Weekend (1967). A very stylized director who broke with traditional movie-making norms and cinematographical techniques throughout his long career, Godard's influence can be witnessed throughout contemporary movies as well as in the sort of jump-cut editing found in television commercials and MTV videos.