Impression: I think I saw another Jodorowsky movie, possibly El Topo 7 or 8 years ago and all I can remember is that it was set in a desert and it was very strange. This one is also very strange. It’s a surrealist version of the director’s childhood told through a series of vignettes with a backdrop of politics of 1930s Chile and mixed with some commentary on religion. It’s impossible to extract what real event may have inspired each short story from the fanciful tale that he spins around it, but maybe that’s not the point. The point is maybe how our imagination influences memory and distorts reality. In the film, his mother sings all her lines opera style, and has magical powers. She is able to summon his father back from a quest where he has gotten stuck and lost his memory, by tying a rock to balloons which then track him down in a town far away, drop on his tin roof and return his memories. Unlike his mother with her magic, his father is a stoic atheist, who worships Stalin in an almost religious way. The young Alejandro faces a series of struggles to do things to win approval of his mother and father, but it’s a balance, and usually winning one, means losing another. A number of other visually stunning sequences stand out as well. As a boy. Alejandro likes to throw rocks into the sea. He is told this will kill all the fish, and soon after, a giant tsunami-like wave spits out all the fish onto the beach, the seagulls start eating them, and he is torn between feeling responsible for bringing a demise to all the fish and feeling good about feeding all the birds. What an awesome metaphor for how any action has ambiguous consequences?! People’s motivations are also laid bare. In my favorite sequence, a group of diseased people is quarantined on the beach and given no food or water, and his father wants to use the situation to be a hero. He breaks through the quarantine with his donkey cart full of water, which he passes out. Once they’ve had enough water they turn on his donkeys and kill them for meat. He is flabbergasted and yells out “But how will I bring you more water tomorrow if you kill the donkeys?” to which they reply “But we are hungry today!” It’s one of those movies whose visuals and stories stay with you for days.
Facts: The director recalls through a surrealist lense what it was like growing up in a small town in Chile in the 1930s.
Impression: Icelandic, set in the far north small town during the summer, so there is no night. Icelandic summer means non-stop daylight, and the light with which the film is painted is unlike anything I have seen, everything is sharper, and more stark. All sense of time is lost, and events seem to happen and escalate a lot faster than they would somewhere where action takes place over 12 hour stretches followed by breaks. Somehow, everything is amped up. The plot follows a teenager who unwillingly comes to stay with his dad and grandmother for the summer. The otherworldly Icelandic landscape is captured really well, and is a great background for his coming to terms with adulthood in a series of progressively more heartbreaking episodes. Definitely a candidate for the “shoot your kneecaps off” category of depressing films. Still, very good!
Facts: A teenage boy comes to spend a summer with his estranged father and grandmother in the far north of Iceland.
Impression: I have a soft spot for India and all things Indian. So, the colorful street scenes and full trains, and bustling city life make me smile. But there seems to be something somewhat patronizing about having a poor kid be rescued by rich Australians, only to grow up romanticizing poverty. But it’s hard to criticize, since it’s based on a true experience of one man, and reflects his reality. The plot was compelling and well paced, and kept you rooting for little Saroo to make it through the many obstacles to safety, and then for grownup Saroo to find his family. Myself, having a kid the same age as Saroo in the beginning of the story, possibly made me even more anxious and worried for his safety than the average viewer would have been. At times, it felt almost like a thriller with a tiny protagonist.
Facts: True story of a 5 year old Indian boy who gets lost at a train station, survives amazing adventures in a city where he does not speak the language and eventually gets adopted in 1980s Australia.
Impression: It’s not just the story which is heartbreaking and poignant and timely. The director is a true cinema geek, every little detail from the music to the amount of sweat on actors’ faces has been carefully thought out. He said his favorite director is Claire Denis, and it shows. This film is a film buff’s dream come true (the cinematography, the music, the acting, the casting, everything). It’s as close to a perfect film as I’ve seen, and as close to a European film I’ve seen from an American filmmaker.
Facts: A coming of age story centers on Chrion, a quiet, poor, black kid growing up in a tough neighborhood in Miami, and follows him through to adulthood in a sequence of heartbreaking vignettes.
Extra: I saw this film at the Toronto International Film Festival. I started crying about 1/2 way into the movie and kept at it until after the Q&A ended. The audience stood up and clapped and kept clapping until Barry Jenkins asked them to stop. He took a bunch of questions, all of which he answered with a lot of depth and thought. Finally, a man raised his hand for the last question. Before he answered, Barry Jenkins said “Is that Jonathan Demme?” It was! He said “You, know if you didn’t tell us to stop clapping, we’d still be clapping.”