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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:


These Movies Matter:
DVD Reviews November 2006

by Angela Pressburger

Our Pick for Christmas: Christmas in the Clouds

Foreign Drama: Machuca Milarepa, Mongolian Ping Pong

Documentaries worth watching: Billy Wilder Speaks

Christmas in the Clouds
2001, USA, 96 min.
Director: Kate Montgomery

"Christmas In The Clouds is my new favorite movie!"
— John Trudell, Native American Poet & Activist

The story of Ray-Clouds-on-Fire, the handsome and well educated manager of an up-scale but struggling tribal ski resort, who dreams of sold out suites and 4-star reviews. An exclusive travel guide has just announced a surprise visit and he is eager to get it just right. However, Tina Pisati, the attractive woman he picks out as the reviewer, eventually turns out to be his father’s online “pen pal” — and she’s not Italian either, but Native. Since none of them have met before and they all have certain expectations, mistaken identity plays a big part in the gentle humour of what unfolds.

Look for native actor Graham Greene’s exquisite performance as the resort’s vegetarian chef who refers to the animal dishes on the menu with sorrowful loving kindness as a way to discourage meat-eaters.

Enjoy the film’s delightful brand of American Indian humor as the plot unfolds, Ray and Tina fall in love, and the real critic questions not only the resort’s quality, but also his own sanity.

Why It Matters: We liked this movie so much that we’ve been watching for the DVD release for five years.

Machuca
2004, Chile, 120 min., subtitles (US only)
November/December 2006

Director: Andrés Wood

Recognitions: Most Popular Film, Vancouver, 2004; Audience Award, Philadelphia, 2005; Best Latin American Feature, Mexico City, 2005; First Prize, Lima, 2005; and many more

A sensitive and touching account of the tragic events of Chile's 1973 coup as seen through the eyes of two eleven-year-old boys growing up in Santiago: Gonzalo Infante, a shy but bright child from a well-to-do suburban family – loosely based on the director’s own childhood – and Pedro Machuca a smart, fearless child from an illegal shantytown which has grown up just a few blocks away. The director presents the political and emotional tension of the children’s awakening as a parallel to the growing repression of the state. Chile’s volatility is presented as a backdrop via television programs playing in the background, graffiti the boys pass on their bicycles and adult conversations they overhear.

Why It Matters: As viewers, we’re always aware that the military coup against Allende’s government is lurking on the horizon and that the two children are growing up in the shadow of anxiety and dread. But, at the same time, we get to taste the freshness and wonders of childhood. The film’s achievement is the way it presents the single bittersweet taste of those apparent divisions, showing how affection and decency can overcome personal arbitrary differences while, at the same time, rubbing up against a sense of community impotence.

Milarepa
2006, India/Bhutan, 90 min., subtitles (released on
November 30, 2006)
Director: Neten Chökling

The first part of the story of Milarepa, who became one of Tibetan Buddhism's most famous yogis, adapted for the screen by a contemporary lama. The film concentrates on the causes and conditions that led him to search first for mastery of traditional magic in the name of revenge. Shot near Bir, in Northern India, in the mountains just above the director’s monastery, which was also the setting for Khyentse Norbu’s delightful film The Cup, the film presents absolutely stunning scenery as a backdrop to the story.

Why It Matters: As for many human beings, youthful curiosity and impetuousness combine in seeking answers to life's deepest questions. In this case, that search leads eventually to the realization that there might be something more important than the personal whims and desires of our own ego. Magic wrongly used for personal gain is Part I of the story; we can't wait to see how the director handles dharmic education and enlightenment in Part 2.

Mongolian Ping Pong
2004, China, (Mongolian) 102 min., subtitles,
Director: Ning Hao

One day, Bilike, a young Mongolian nomad, finds a mysterious white object floating down a stream. His imagination is immediately engaged with figuring out what it can possibly be. He and his two best friends, Ergotov and Dawa, follow various false leads and even consult the monks at the local monastery, but it’s not until someone in their clan wins a TV and they learn about ping-pong, that they begin to grasp that their "treasure" may be the “national ball of China.” Thinking they’d better return something so important, they set off for Beijing….

Why It Matters: An engaging account of the moment when a young boy’s mind suddenly opens to a world beyond the one he knows, presented in the form of a love-letter to Mongolia. The story focuses on how the smallest details can spark us to question the world around us, while the answers reveal something much bigger than we had at first imagined.

Billy Wilder Speaks
2006, USA, 71 min., some subtitles, documentary
Directors: Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) and Gisela Grischow

Editorial Note: My father worked with Billy Wilder when they were both young screenwriters at the famous UFA Studios, in Berlin, before the First World War. Wilder wrote the prologue to my father’s biography, Emeric Pressburger: the Life and Death of a Screenwriter (Faber & Faber), so I was eager to see this film by the brilliant German director, Volker Schlöndorff. Wilder was well-known for his feisty remarks and this is the best part of the film. If you have an interest in film history, this is one you shouldn’t miss.

Born in 1906, in a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which became Poland after the first world war, young Billy originally studied to become a lawyer, but quickly found he was much more excited by journalism. As he tells it in the film, he wangled his way to Berlin — then the centre of European cultural activity — as a publicist for a big American jazz band. He subsequently worked for the city's largest tabloid until he broke into films as a screenwriter in 1929. By the time Hitler came to power in 1933, Wilder had made quite a name for himself in Germany, but he was quick to realize that his Jewish ancestry would not be welcome in the Third Reich and lost no time in fleeing to Paris, and later America. Although he spoke no English when he arrived in the US, he quickly made friends who recognized his talent and was able to break into the Hollywood studios.

He subsequently won a staggering number of awards and honors, including six Oscar wins (The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard and The Lost Weekend) and 13 Oscar nominations. His most famous films also include Some Like It Hot, Sabrina, Stalag 17, and A Foreign Affair — all still good choices for watching on DVD.

The film presents a series of interviews with Wilder talking to German film director Volker Schlöndorff. There was only one restriction: the interviews could not be shown until after Wilder’s death, which occurred in 2002, at the age of 96. (Apparently, Wilder quipped: “after I’m gone, who cares?”). It’s fascinating to hear Wilder reminisce about his interactions with Humphrey Bogart, Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe, and hear his descriptions of Jack Lemmon's work ethic and Shirley MacLaine's doubts that The Apartment will be a
success ….

Why It Matters: Good interviews are so hard to find and here we are treated to some really natural interactions with one of the 20th century's most entertaining men. The entertaining part is hearing Wilder tell all those hilarious tales with his trade-mark wicked grin — but you’ll have to see the movie to find out!

 

Part II of Angela's Holiday DVD Reviews in December


Angela Pressburger grew up in the film industry (father Emeric Pressburger made The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus and Stairway to Heaven). She has been been an international program consultant at the Vancouver International Film Festival for the past ten years, and has spoken about film and sat on festival juries in both Europe and North America.  She has recently written Show It in Public! — a grassroots guide to showing film in public (www.showamovie.ca) and keeps busy writing reviews for her home video for discerning viewers website, www.moonrisemovies.com

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© 2006 Angela Pressburger for SeniorWomenWeb
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