THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Corsair, 2015)
Vietnam was a war that was technically won by the Viet Cong but which American are reluctant to concede to having lost. The unnamed Vietnamese Army Captain narrating this tale has sympathies with both sides but this only serves to place him between a rock and a hard place.
As a reluctant revolutionary he pleads guilty to the charge of being westernized, admitting: “If longing for riches made me a Occidentalist, I confess to it”. As a uncomitted communist he sees no attraction in the authentic “rustic realities” of village life in Saigon.
While not being blind to the faults of the US, he recognizes that there is more freedom of speech than in his homeland. This, together with air conditioning, an efficient traffic system and the modernist novel are among the other things that he admires. On the down side, he reviles the American knack for putting a positive spin on defeat and for hyping up the benefits of individualism. Continue reading
THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD directed by Michael Curtiz (USA, 1938)
Fired by the success of Disney’s Snow White, Warner Brothers plunged $2m into this colorful fantasy feature at a time when the standard budget was a quarter of this.
Bizarrely, James Cagney was slated to play the lead but fortunately they opted for the dash and glamor of Errol Flynn instead. Continue reading
I have been highly impressed by Mark Cousins’ ambitious 15 part documentary The Story Of Film – An Odyssey currently being shown on Channel 4. Unfortunately, I missed the first half dozen episodes, but have been glued to the second half.
Cousin’s delivery is slow and deliberate; the unusual rising cadence of his strong Northern Irish accent sounds like a comic reigning in the punch lines.
It sounds strange at first but quickly becomes quite seductive as, always off camera, he picks out precise details without being elitist or patronising.
His voiceover intro to the series justifiably boasts of its epic scale in that it covers 12 decades, 6 continents and over a thousand films. The fact that such a wide-ranging documentary got to be financed in these penny pinching times is little short of miraculous. It is undoubtedly money well spent with selective use of interviews which, refreshingly, are not dominated by glitzy stars and the usual talking heads.
Rather than focus on Hollywood films, Cousins takes a truly global perspective highlighting innovative movies from around the world and celebrating those filmmakers who dare to be different.
In the era of Thatcher and Reagan, for example, he singles out movies from China, Africa, America, Poland and Britain who were “saying truth to power”. For the epic movies of the 1970s Hong Kong, Bollywood and the Middle East take precedence over American blockbusters like Jaws, The Exorcist and Star Wars.
It’s all too easy to regard cinema solely as escapist corporate-led entertainment. Cousins brings passion and a fresh eye to the film history. His documentary, based on the book of the same title, is a timely reminder that the best movies respond to and reflect social change.
Just seen and liked John Carney’s movie ‘Once’ whose plaudits include Steven Spielberg and Nanni Moretti despite being shot on a shoestring budget of under £100,000 with a working script that ran to just 60 pages.
If this had been a Hollywood production the guy and the girl would have fallen into each others arms at the end in the middle of a heavy rainstorm or surrounded by a group of applauding strangers. Instead the relationship between the busking Irishman and the Czech woman remains a brief platonic encounter.
He plays songs and fixes vacuum cleaners. She likes his music and has a broken vacuum cleaner. A friendship is formed and they make music together. This deliberately uncomplicated story works because it is told with honesty, warmth and wit.
The fact that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won the Oscar for best song (‘Falling Softly’) is the icing on the cake. The award presentation was a genuinely feel good moment, all the more so as Hansard admits he felt like “a plumber at a flower show” in front of all these celebrities.
Watch for yourself and I dare you not to be moved: