what i watched
Saturday, May 04, 2019
Snowpiercer (Joon-ho Bong, 2013). When I first saw this in 2015, I was still at the beginning of my fascination with recent Korean film. I've often wanted to share those films with my wife, but at least when we are at home, we're limited by subtitles (she doesn't object to subtitles, but she is usually knitting as we watch, so being able to understand dialogue without looking at the screen matters). Snowpiercer is said to be 80% English (who did the accounting on this factoid?), and beyond that, it's the kind of movie I think my wife would like: futuristic sci-fi action with a recognizable cast led by Chris "Captain America" Evans. As I noted at the time, you wouldn't go to Snowpiercer for an introduction to modern Korean cinema ... it’s more American than Korean. But that makes it a good introduction for someone who is knitting. (She has also seen Boon's Okja, and liked it.) #476 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. For some reason, I buried some of my best thinking about Snowpiercer in a tagged-on paragraph the first time I wrote about it, so I'll cut-and-paste a bit of that here, changing my original focus:
The construction of Snowpiercer is ingenious ... it’s also perfect for a good six-page essay in an honors class for college undergraduates. The class structure presented in the film is clearly delineated, and while you could watch Snowpiercer simply as an entertaining action movie, it is almost impossible to miss the underlying themes about class. That’s why it would make a good topic for an undergraduate essay: there is something to talk about, but it isn’t hard to find. It would also make a good topic for an extended essay that closely broke down the presentation of class, critically analyzing what Bong has done. But I’m not going to write either of these on this blog, not a six-page essay, not a chapter for a book. I’m going to write a paragraph, or two or three. And in the case of Snowpiercer, once I’ve mentioned the basics, I don’t see the point in adding a paragraph to state the obvious: that the cars on the train represent various social classes, that even if the nominal hero manages to take the train away from the nominal villain, nothing concerning classes will have been truly answered, that the two young people who escape the train are the future because they don’t conquer the train, they escape it. I could say all that, but if you watch the movie, you’ll figure it out for yourself. And unless I’m prepared to write 2500 words on the subject, I’m better off just sticking to a paragraph.
The Nerdwriter offers an interesting (spoiler-filled) take on the movie:
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974). Fear Eats the Soul continues my very gradual introduction to the work of Fassbinder. (I watched my first, The Marriage of Maria Braun, in 2009, and my second, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, in 2015.) Still to come is Berlin Alexanderplatz, the 14-part, 15 1/2-hour long TV series which I have had on my By Request list for a very long time ... it has been hard to find, but now it's on the Criterion Channel so I don't have any excuses. I feel like I'm still searching for the common thread in what Fassbinder I've seen. Not that it doesn't exist, but watching three films over the course of ten years is not conducive to the discovering of commonality. I've liked them all. The story of a May-December romance (better described as June-November, I think), Fear Eats the Soul doesn't limit the examination of difference to the ages of the two romantic leads. Brigitte Mira, who plays Emmi, a woman in her 60s, had already had a long career in show business, but it was Ali that made her something of a household name in Germany. (She went on to become a Fassbinder regular and lived another 30 years.) Emmi is a realist who is surprised to find herself in love with Ali, a couple of decades younger than her. Ali is also surprised, but their affection seems genuine. Ali is played by El Hedi ben Salem, who like his character is a Moroccan living in Germany (in real life, Salem had moved to Germany to be in a relationship with Fassbinder). The film takes place a few months after the massacre at the Munich Olympics, and Arabs are the victims of prejudice in part because of that event. Thus, the struggles of the couple are not limited to their age difference. Emmi's family and workmates all disapprove of her marrying an Arab, and as problems arise in the relationship, the reasons are less because they are different ages and more because they come from different cultures. Salem's acting is amateurish, which works well here, emphasizing the awkward state of living outside your culture. And mention should be made of Barbara Valentin, "the German Jayne Mansfield", who underplays her oozing sexuality and serves as a visual and emotional contrast to Emmi. This movie is said to be based on Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, but I think the connection is more that Fassbinder was influenced by Sirk than that the specific movies are tied together (although they do have similar basic plots). #135 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.