What We’re Watching – 11/16/2011
I’ve been trying to expand my horizons a bit more with the latest couple of titles that I’ve been seeing. There’s so much great work from everywhere that it always feels like I’m catching up to everyone else. I made it a point to see more stuff from around the world along with the usual mainstream fare that I enjoy. From a devastating Italian trilogy following World War II to a quietly effective thriller from Canada, and from a chilling character drama involving an escaped cult member to a dying high school teacher trying to make an extra buck for his family, there’s never a shortage of content to fill my unquenchable need to sit in a chair and stare at a screen for hours on end.
Pontypool, directed by Bruce McDonald and written by Tony Burgess, is a small but effective horror/thriller from Canada. Stephen McHattie stars as Grant Mazzy, an early morning radio jocky slightly bored with the mundane routine that his show has fallen into. But what starts as a normal morning in the dead of winter soon becomes extremely nerve-wracking as eyewitness reports and listener calls inform Mazzy and his assistants Sydney (Lisa Houle) and Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) that something terrible has happened. Something involving a deadly outbreak that has sprung just miles from where they are, and is very quickly heading there way. As the camera never leaves the station where they are, Mazzy and his team must figure out what it is that is happening, and somehow inform the outside world of the danger.
The best part about this film is how McDonald and Burgess are able to ramp up the tension while only visually staying within the confines of the office. It’s been said that suggestion and subtlety are far more effective suspense-wise than actually showing the danger on screen, and here it works extremely well. McHattie’s gruff voice almost amplifies the fear we have when we learn more about the viral outbreak and the how it’s spreading right towards them. There were parts where I didn’t think the film worked entirely, though. The way the disease is spread and its probable cure asks a lot from the viewer in terms of suspending belief, and because of that the resolution did not feel all the way complete. There were times where I wasn’t sure exactly what message the filmmakers were trying to get across, and certain moments that stuck out seemed as if they were meant to simply be confusing. But that wasn’t enough to hinder me from enjoying this one; the acting was great all around and the direction of the suspense were on point, but I just didn’t feel quite satisfied once the film was over.
Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy
Roberto Rossellini helped create and define the films of Italian Neo-Realism, and his War Trilogy, consisting of Rome, Open City (1945), Paisan (1946), and Germany, Year Zero (1948) is an emotional but beautiful look into the post war world from the very eyes of those who lived it.
Each film is heartbreaking and sad. From almost every scene we are witness to buildings torn to pieces, families living off of whatever they can find, and death present at all times. Each film is tragic and affecting, and I can’t help but feel moved to tears with the compassion and humanity that Rossellini invokes. His trilogy celebrates life, tells us how special and important each human being is, and how everything must be done to prevent something of the magnitude of WWII from ever happening again. I see it in the eyes of actress Anna Magnani in the role of Pina in Rome, Open City, and how she tries to help her Resistance fighter husband Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), even though she knows that it may very well lead to death. I see it in the relationship between the African-American soldier and the young Italian boy in one of the segments of Paisan, and how the revelation of the boy’s living conditions changes the way the soldiers sees the effects of the Allied campaign. And I see it in the desperation and hopelessness of Edmund (Edmund Moschke) the young boy at the heart of Germany, Year Zero, doing whatever he can to help his family, but his innocence and naïveté pointing him towards tragedy.
It’s one thing to see a film made today depicting the war and its results, but it’s another thing to actually see the environments themselves, and the people who lived in those conditions, being shown on screen. I can’t even imagine the horrors they went through, and this trilogy can only show the tiniest shred of what their lives were like at that time. An incredible amount of courage and willpower can only have made these movies, and I have the highest respect for Rossellini to tackle them even while the wounds were still fresh.