Innocence (Mamoru Oshii, 2004). AKA, Ghost in the Shell 2 (not to be confused with Ghost in the Shell 2.0). I’m not exactly the audience for these movies, but I found the look of Innocence impressive. Obviously, it is reminiscent of Blade Runner, and for some reason it didn’t piss me off the way Blade Runner often does. I’m not convinced, though, that this is as good as Battlestar Galactica in the “how human are the robots?” genre. I guess I liked this more than I liked Ghost in the Shell, but to be honest, I barely remember the first one.
An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009). The Wizard of Oz, with Harry Lime as the Wicked Witch. Young girl escapes her drab home life for adventure, gets educated, realizes there’s no place like home, and returns to the fold. Except … she doesn’t quite return home, but rather returns to her family’s idea of escape. Going to Oxford is a conservative choice, but while at the beginning of the film, Jenny’s choice is seemingly made for her, at the end, she’s in charge. The key character in Jenny’s ultimate return to the goal of Oxford is Olivia Williams’ Miss Stubbs … for much of the movie, Jenny sees her teachers as negative, boring role models, but at the end, she goes to Miss Stubbs, whose vinegary demeanor covers a love of scholarship and the place it holds for women in the early 60s. An, as everyone knows by now, Carey Mulligan is a revelation. As for the claims the the movie is anti-Semitic, I admit to being uncertain. I think the scalawag David’s Jewishness establishes him as outside the social norms of the time, and thus is just another thing about him that Jenny finds appealing. The overt exclamations of anti-Semitism come out of the mouths of those who have a great stake in keeping things in their place, and they are shown as worse for having those notions. But I’m not Jewish, and there are some very convincing criticisms from Jewish writers who find the film emotionally and intellectually disturbing, with a reliance on the worst stereotypes. I can’t dismiss their reactions, but I admit I don’t feel them myself.
The Beaches of Agnès (Agnès Varda, 2008). Agnès Varda’s autobiographical documentary is a wonderful puzzle. The film feels almost tossed off, as if Varda gathered together some source material, filmed a few transition pieces, and had a movie. But after it’s over, when you start thinking about what you’ve seen, you realize how detailed is the film’s construction. Varda mixes scenes of herself with friends and family in the present, she creates a few set pieces, she tells some of the stories of her life, she includes scenes from her various movies, she returns to the scenes of those movies, she re-connects with those who helped on the films … I wouldn’t exactly call it seamless, since that’s not what she’s aiming for, but she definitely makes the complex seem simple at first glance. Of course, it helps that she’s had such an eventful life. Her time as a photographer offers special delights, with her pictures of a young Godard and of Castro in the beginning of his reign. Perhaps the best scene, one which shows her playful seriousness, comes when she returns to a place where she once filmed two men pushing a cart down the street. She gets the met to push the cart down the same street, only this time, she puts a screen at the end of the cart, and a movie projector at the front of the cart showing the old movie, so as the men push the cart, they are watching themselves pushing the cart in the past (and we are watching all of this in the present). #222 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century.