Sunday, 31 October 2010

Africa United

All right, this film does have some serious shortcomings in terms of story and script - but it will leave you with a warm smile on the inside. Some have dubbed it an African Slumdog Millionaire - and this is a fair thing to say - but this one is easier on the eye.

This is a 'road trip' movie - that is, the story is told in part by the journey the characters undertake. It is also a story within a story within a story. It is simply told and the main five characters are all children - from three different countries. This is not a film about football - it begins with Dudu showing us how to make a football out of a condom and yes it ends at ... well I won't spoil it for you.

The condom is present because HIV/AIDS is one of the threads that weaves the story. Another is child sex workers, a third is refugees, a fourth is child soldiers and war, an another gives a wonderful picture of Zimbabwe's economy going down the drain as some of its banknotes head towards Victoria Falls.

The plot is as unlikely as the characters are likeable. That doesn't matter. What does matter is the warmth and ingenuity displayed by the members of 'Team Africa'. This draws the viewer in and is quite simply irresistible.

Some of the threads of the story remain undeveloped whilst others are present throughout. This for me was disappointing. It was almost as though the film-makers lost their nerve. Maybe it was a limitation imposed by working with so many children. However, the ending is bitter-sweet as one of the threads works inexorably towards its horrible conclusion.

Do go and see this - it's immense and will in time become a sleeper hit I'm sure. In five year's time most homes will have this on DVD!

I'll give it 7/10.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


If you had the chance of being brought up as a kid in the Eternal City of Rome, that would seem like a good option - to most people. This documentary explores the contrast between life in Rome and a radical alternative - in reality it only explores the alternative! Jorge of Mayan decent and Italian Roberta were together for three and a half years and while it lasted it was unbelievable. The relationship even spawned Natan - a likeable and innocent boy who has spent most of his life with his mother in Rome. Thankfully the couple parted amicably and arrangements are made for Natan to spend some time with his father - who lives on the jungle coast of Mexico where he, like his father, is a fisherman.

At first the transition from Roman apartment to shack on stilts in the sea and the all-pervasiveness of water overwhelm Natan. But as he accompanies his father and grandfather on fishing trips, his confidence begins to grow and he develops physically into a boy who knows how to play, wrestle and generally be a boy. Jorge is both a good father and a good teacher. Life in the shack is pretty spartan and the diet is okay - as long as you like fish. Interest is provided by the wildlife - Frigate Birds, crocodiles, seagulls, a cattle ibis named Blanquita and of course many many fish.

As the film progresses we are invited to slow down and synchronise our being with the rhythm and pace of life as a fisherman on Mexico's huge Caribbean reef off the Yucatan Peninsula. The relentless pounding over the waves in the boat. The tranquil and vibrant beauty of the reef and it's fish which is shattered when end up on the spear-tips of Jorge and his father. The birds and crocodile feeding on the waste when the fish are gutted on the shack verandah. The Cattle Ibis who helpfully allows herself to be adopted so that she can clean up the cockroaches. A wonderful observation of a complex and sustainable ecosystem.

In some ways this film echoes The Wind Will Carry Us and if you like action chases, the only kind in this film are as the fish try to evade capture. At the end of the day, Natan gains an education no school in Italy could provide. He also learns the importance of the tradition his father maintains. But as with all good things, Natan must return to the Eternal City. Perhaps eternity isn't always everything it's cracked up to be?

The best way to describe this experience is to quote part of review by someone on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) - a review by someone who has not quite mastered the technique of reflection: "I saw this movie with a friend who is a native Mexican. We both were bored stiff! We both kept waiting from something to happen, but nothing did.". If only she had eyes to see!

I caught this as a one-off showing in my local Art-House cinema in Southampton today. Try and check it out if you can - you will be rewarded.

I'll give it 7/10.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Social Network

(Screenshot 'borrowed' from the official site)

I went to see Social Network this morning as a free preview screening at my local art house cinema in Winchester courtesy of Showfilmfirst. Thanks guys.

I must say that I am a reflector - I find spontaneous reaction to things hard and prefer to understand things and mull them over before I respond. This film has got me so buzzing, I'm writing this the same day!

This is the story of the creation of facebook and the disputes that followed as it blossomed into a multi-billion dollar business. Set in Harvard University in Boston in the early noughties, it tells the story of genius Mark Zuckerberg. As is common with many folk who also happen to be a genius, Zuckerberg seems to score on the autism scale in terms of his difficulty in behaving appropriately in his relationships. Whilst the story is about facebook - the social networking site, it is also cleverly about the social networks and their varying degrees of functionality that spawned this behemoth. The Harvard Colleges and exclusive clubs, the have's and the have not's, those in relationship and those longing for one. The way the narrative unfurls demonstrates the very medium that the story is about - Zeitgeist personified!

I was expecting a geeky mutual love-fest with nerds and hard-nosed business types. What I watched was an utterly gripping and compelling portrayal of the messiness of creativity at work. The characterisations are immensely strong - easy to believe and totally convincing. The juxtaposition of Harvard - old-school, back East and the seat of sound ideas - over and against Palo Alto California where anything is possible and to where ideas must migrate if they are to be given life and succeed - is a reflection of the paradigm shift that echoes the demise of quill and ink in the face of the hegemony of WiFi and e-commerce.

Much of the film is set in the context of the two law suits Mark Zuckerberg defended. These are spliced seamlessly with the unravelling story as facebook grows and develops into the ubiquitous force it has become around the world today. Throughout is a painfully engaging portrayal of Zuckerberg as he struggles to hold together the relationships necessary to make the enterprise work. It is as though his abilities in programming and social network conceptualisation in the virtual world are inversely proportionate to his ability to sustain social networks in the real world. This, together with the fact that he is at heart a 'good person' endears him to movie-goers. A genius who is genuinely disinterested in wealth, notoriety and prestige, but who struggles with people. Zuckerberg only had one true friend in the story and even they end up in a legal confrontation.

As a piece of social history, recent history, this is a must-see film. The facebook generation are the ones beginning to run our planet - any insights into what drives them are valuable. As a piece of compelling drama of the highest quality, this is a must-see movie. As a portrayal of genius and the inability to relate appropriately, it is a must-see movie. I think you should go and see it!

I'll give it 9/10 and I'd happily see it again tomorrow! Can't wait for the bluray.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Infidel

The plot is very simple and the potential for it to descend into farce is ever present. The story, written by David Baddiel, is however cleverly carried by Omid Djalili and the supporting cast. To explore the tension between an individual's identity as a Jew or a Muslim and to generate laughter is evidence of striking a good balance in the face of fundamentalist hate that is the more usual polemic for explorations of this taboo topic.

More than exploring what it means to be a Muslim or Jewish, the film is a vehicle for Djalili's character to explore his own sense of identity - a road trip around the mosques and synagogues of East London. Inherent within the story is the tension between a liberal approach to faith and a more fundamentalist position. For those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, the film raises many questions and through them issues an invitation for us to examine our own sense of belonging and self-identity.

One of my early posts on this blog was about the film Notes of a Scandal in which I confessed to having great difficulty in watching films that convey deceit. I find it difficult to stick with them as they make me feel very uncomfortable. I'm not sure why. I simply know that deception and lying are perhaps the things I find hardest to accommodate and to see them as vehicles for a film's story puts me off the film. There is a good deal of deceit in this film - for very understandable reasons, but the tension it created for me meant I had to stop it half way through for a break! Yes I know, I need therapy to get over it. No doubt I suffered badly as a child and this has been imprinted deeply into my psyche. Trouble is, it's buried so deep I can't remember it!

An added bonus of the film is the dimension created by exploring 'Jewishness' and 'Muslimness' in a third culture of East end London. The interplay between the cultures, their motifs and values give a welcome development of what might otherwise be a stodgy and predictable story. It also allows an exploration of how much of a religion's manifestation in any particular place is an expression of the religion itself and how much of it is a function of the culture the religion originated in and also subsequently finds itself in.

I would recommend you give this a try - particularly if a comedic approach to religion is not your usual cup of tea. I'll give it 6.5/10.