The Help

Overly simplified.  The “bad” white woman and “good” white woman characters are almost more stereotyped than the black women.  The starting framing of Skeeter and Hilly looked like it had far more potential; what do you do when your whole society, your best friend, your whole structure is racist.  In the end, it just ended up being a dumb portrayal of “only morally deficit people are racist”, which makes for a simpler, cleaner storytelling path but not much about racism and class/economic slavery linked to race persisting in the US.

Shadowy male figures in the background casually perpetuating violence upon women of all races.  Unchallenged through the course of the film; white women trying to please casually racist men become more violently racist than the men.  Black women trying to keep their families alive and find better futures for their kids, locked into domestic slavery under white women by the demands and general uselessness of alcoholic black men stereotypes.

Overall, the simplification was just as depressing as the content.  There were glimmers of interest in a few statements/connections.  “My momma was a maid.  My Grandmother was a house slave.”  And we are shown how Aibileen’s generation’s children become university students, lawyers, doctors, presidents.

For a movie about such a teetering cusp era in US history, the story and storytelling felt like it was still locked in the 50s.

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Schindler’s List

I can’t believe I hadn’t seen this yet.  I vaguely recall getting it confused with Shawshank Redemption (Schindler’s Redemption…the Shawshank List…) and accidentally renting Shawshank Redemption twice instead of Schindler’s List.

The overall sense I’ve been left with is more about the filmmaking than the story.  The first 1/3 of the film had excellent film making.  It stood back and let the viewer make up their own mind about what they were seeing.  I kept thinking of the best of Quentin Tarantino – the unreal charismatic character, the near farcical exchanges.  By the time the storytelling hit the middle, it was so heavy handed in trying to force an emotion I switched off.  I could even tag the switch from ‘stand-back-storytelling’ to ‘movie-maker-manipulating’ to this one moment when some bathos-ridden musical theme started to play to further tug at the heartstrings.  By contrast, the first 1/3 I couldn’t recall any music except that which was integral to the scene (like party music being played at a party).

If ever there was a story which didn’t need all this film fruit on top to actually evoke an emotion, it’s this story.

 

Last Cab to Darwin

This was hard to watch.  There is something horrendously pathetic and painful about depictions of old Australian men.

The film does the usual Australian thing of too much overt schmaltz and bathos, which suddenly swings back to a very subtle empathy and pathos.  It’s a weird tactic which makes me always doubt how these films make me feel.  It uses cultural cliche after cliche, but then somehow sets up some scenes such that I remember the reason why these things are cliche is because we actually do this.  I find a lot of Australian films difficult to watch, because they really throw our cultural ridiculousness back into our faces sometimes entirely without meaning to.  This film feels like it does this consciously – but not for laughs – which is refreshing.

I appreciated the way this film was about a person, and didn’t become a euthanasia debate film. The tension between the doctor (who needed this story to become a euthanasia debate) and the lead (who owned the story) was quite key in maintaining a sense of story towards the end.

Those Happy Years / Anni Felici

This was a captivating view into Italian patriarchy and the horrendous shame struggle it perpetuates between men and women.  Towards the end I kept laughing – OMG this is exactly what Italian men are like, why do Italian men do this, look at her blackmailing away, I could not STAND to live in a relationship based on mutual disrespect, distrust and constant manipulation but apparently it is accepted as normal???, etc.

I started watching without much hope, because it looked like the film was going to follow the usual path of focusing on the dude’s struggles and tribulations without much meaning.  To my surprise, the film totally balanced itself between the father and mother’s story — or more appropriately, the husband and wife’s story, as the children are practically invisible to their lives until they either assert themselves, or become pawns in this endless power/emotional/blackmail style struggle by either the male or the female members of the family in trying to inflict shame on the opposite gender.  Even the grandparents get into it.  The whole framework results in this strange overreactive auto-defence mechanism on the part of the dad/husband where a compliment to his son is interpreted as a slight to him – an intensely defensive style of narcissism which feels enculturated rather than psychological.

The twist is the era – the 1970s – with feminism making movements into Italy, and the wife’s realisation of her own right to personhood.  The consequences of this does not necessarily make for a happier marriage, but it makes for happier individuals, and the eldest child (the narrator) acknowledges this with his verbal postscript.  It’s such a different take on the usual Italian farcial romances, I really enjoyed this.