Thursday, February 13, 2014

MOVIE WRITEUPS: Wadjda, Inside Llewyn Davis & Cutie and the Boxer


Director: Haifaa al-Mansour
With: Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, Ahd Kamel, Abdullrahman Algohani

Wadjda is a Saudi Arabian film about an 11-year-old Saudi lass named, guess what? WADJDA. This film has so many firsts. First, it's the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia =o. Second, it's the first feature length film directed by a female Saudi Arabian. Third, Wadjda is their first ever submission at the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film category. I know!!!

Wadjda sort of reminds me of A Separation in a sense that it was able to integrate the country's culture to the film's plot and vice versa. Or it just happened naturally because of the setting. Wadjda is similar except the story is quite simpler. It's about the human spirit. The determination of this young lady Wadjda, who simply aimed to have a bike despite all of the traditions and circumstances that hinders her to have one. Apparently in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to ride bikes in public areas. :/ It's through this story that the director was able to display many Saudi Arabian culture and traditions that almost everything was a revelation. It's kind of fascinating albeit the simple story.

Even then, it does not stop from the culture and traditions as one of this film's heavy theme is also feminism. Yes, we're living in a world where women seem to be the inferior sex in other countries. But who am I to judge? This film sort of reminds me of Thelma & Louise in a way, because of the huge amount of female empowerment and Wadjda is just like a modern but much younger Thelma/Louise. Go girl! Oh and this film also has a Nurse Ratched-like character except that she's a principal. Good characters and actresses.

I must say that as a film, it's really just... okay. But because of its background, this is a film of history and importance. And as a film with so many firsts, it sure opened up a lot of eyes about Saudi Arabia. That makes this film really relevant not only to Saudi Arabia, but to the world of cinema as well.  Here's hoping that they'd create more films for the world to see. I'm actually not aware that this is their first and unsure why but the content of Wadjda sort of explains it all. Not bad for a first either.

Inside Llewyn Davis

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
With: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Stark Sands, Jeanine Serralles, Adam Driver, Ethan Phillips, Alex Karpovsky

Inside Llewyn Davis is about a week in the life of a struggling singer who is determined to enter the New York's folk music scene in 1961. It is perhaps one of the most underacknowledged films of 2013. Not only do I find it pleasant, it's also chock-full of great quality in terms of actors, STYLE which is consistently marvelous, cinematography which is expected in a Coen bros film and of course, their direction. There is nothing thrilling about the story, but it's funny and smart enough to be appealing, somewhat dismal to an extent.

Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis is a revelation. His character alone is interesting to follow. Sarcastic, stubborn and complex. He's basically like the male version of Frances in Frances Ha. Not quite but they have a lot of similarities. Both don't know where to go even though they're trying. Both are in shitty situations but they're doing their best to survive despite their wrong decisions in life. Case in point, both are likable even if they're a mess.

I also like the inclusion of the cat as it sorta became an integral part of the story. It even acted better than Carey Mulligan who I suppose was having a hard time changing her accent. The songs are also beautiful. I love folk songs so I easily enjoyed most of them and I think even if you're not a lover of the genre, it's easy to like them especially the ones sang by Oscar Isaac. Totally listenable. The sincerity and the emotions connected to his songs pierce through his voice, his talent and the sound of his guitar. There's like a moment of silence and relaxation when he starts to sing, strum and act as his poignance glimmers through even in the bleakest corners of the setting.

Musically and visually, Inside Llewyn Davis is a treat and with Oscar Isaac's charismatic self and Coen bros unique and distinct direction, it is highly watchable.

Cutie and the Boxer

Director: Zachary Heinzerling
With: Noriko Shinohara, Ushio Shinohara

First of all, I want to thank the Academy for nominating this wonderful documentary. If it weren't for them, I would not know about this film that I so love and cherish. :3 This documentary is about the story of the 40-year marriage of the avant-garde boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko who was 19 years old when she fell in love with the 41-year-old painter. It also features their original artworks and footage of their moments as a young couple.

Cutie and the Boxer is my favorite 2013 documentary. A huge factor is its cinematography. There's nothing a great cinematography in a documentary film can't please. Most documentaries have shaky footage and blurry scenes as it mirrors rawness and age. The more raw the better, the blurrier the older, so it's such a delight and refreshment when documentarians pick a better way of expressing their story by providing glossy and artistic shots. Let's face it, some documentaries, as important the messages they tell, are boring. And old hideous videos incorporated to them don't help. But Cutie and the Boxer combined these old videos with astoundingly uber artistic, pleasing to the eyes materials and it got me glued. Just like how the past documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi did.

It's just apt that this documentary featured highly creative shots because it revolves around an artistic couple with such a great background to them. Ushio, used to fame and fortune, is now a struggling artist who's having a hard time excelling in the modern world of art. But he is determined to reboost his legacy. Now 80, he hardly can work on his own. Thus, needing the support and assistance of his wife, Noriko. He's also striving to make a living for his family out of his works. His problem with alcoholism also doesn't help. On the other hand, Noriko is now finding her own voice in art that vanished because of her choice to pursue Ushio rather than her ambitions when she was young. She narrates their love story through a series of paintings entitled 'Cutie and the Bullie' and one can tell the emotions and actions associated to her pieces are intense despite her calm nature. Seemingly filled with regrets and frutsrations, she is persistent to improve her stature as a wife to Ushio and a mother to their son. More importantly, as an individual who is now discovering her own creative style and personality which also translates to her own fulfillment.

But despite this, both of their efforts as artists come to a fruition. It wasn't explored whether it was a success or not but what's much important and superior is that through the process of building their work and fulfilling their own purposes, they showed how they truly love each other. That to me is the real success in their journey as a couple. By this time, us viewers have already been touched in the highest power. This documentary shows how strong bonds prevail against the negative aspects of marriage and love. Against the obstacles involved in any relationship. It also makes us understand why there are marriages that stand the test of time however negative they appear to people.

Cutie and the Boxer, unlike other documentaries, may not create a huge impact to mankind as it doesn't tackle world issues. But in its own uniqueness, it explains love and marriage sincerely and substantially. It is a perfect documentary that depicts imperfect and honest love. One can't deny the achievement of this documentary in telling a love story that's so hopeless at first but finds its way to the right direction regardless of hardships and difficulties. Ushio and Noriko's love story is simply amazing and a great example to couples. To top everything, the scenes in the end credits altogether personifies their one-of-a-kind relationship. Definitely made me smile and say that Noriko and Ushio's story is truly a remarkable celebration of love.