Friday, December 21, 2018

Best filmed and live media 2018

Five films, one mini-series, and one live play made a list that, as with my best books list this year, derives from memory, and reflects my heart. All of these productions moved me deeply. 

The Bookshop: I loved this film, which was faithful to the novel  in showing how small-mindedness, parochialism, and "motiveless malignancy" (ie spite) can destroy an outsider. As my husband, who had not read the book noted, the film's ending was surprising. One expects some redemption, some way, ala a Hollywood film, for the protagonist to fight back and win: but the film shows that sometimes, and maybe more often than not, justice is not done. Yet while cheated of her shop in outrageous and unethical ways, Mrs. Green is never defeated or broken. Her life moves onward and outward.  
     The film was criticized for being slow moving--and it was slow-- but that didn't bother me. What unsettled me most was its being shot in Spain and Ireland, away from its supposed East Anglian fens setting. In these days when travel is so accessible and tourism the largest global industry, filmmakers can no longer convincingly substitute settings any more than they can convincingly use Hollywood backlots. I knew instantly the shots of the village were shots of Ireland and spent time puzzling over where. But that detail aside, the overall beautiful filming and many small humane moments, including Mrs. Green's many instances of joy at owning a book shop, make this a radiant and bittersweet rather than a depressing film.

Mrs. Green in front of her shop.

Roma, an amazing  Mexican film set in 1971, though directed by a male, is a woman's film through and through. It focuses on the life of a young maid in an upper middle-class household named Cleo, and while it doubtless idealizes the servant-employer relationship, it also shows the reality of a maid's life in a way a series like Downtown Abbey does not. The focus is entirely on women and the domestic, and women are treated with dignity and respect by the film (if not by the men in the movie). The black and white filming is beautiful, and there is an amazing scene near the end in the ocean. Politics are a backdrop; the domestic day-to-day life is in the foreground. I can't shake the image of Cleo climbing the seemingly endless metal steps to the roof with the laundry basket so she can do the wash by hand--downstairs is always downstairs even when it is upstairs.

 Sorry to Bother You, directed by Boots Riley, is a stunning satire that hits the bull-eye on the reality of our times. It takes place in a slightly alternative-universe  Oakland, taken out only a few degrees from our own culture. The movie is a Swiftian puncturing of our culture's obsession with money, violence, and success. In this film, the lead character "Cash" Green is so desperate for a job that he is glad to get work as a telemarketer. He lives in a garage with his girlfriend Detroit, an artist, and is surrounded by a world of poverty and desperation that makes the Leave No Trace universe look prosperous. People are so desperate that they sign lifetime contracts with a company called Worry Free, which gives them room and board in return for their labor. Worry Free ads show people living stacked in bunk beds, where their meals are brought on trays. Cash's uncle, whose garage Cash rents, thinks about joining Worry Free because his house is about to be foreclosed on. The US Congress, consistently shown in cahoots with big industry, passes legislation that deems Worry Free not slavery, though obviously it is. In addition, people enjoy a reality TV show in which other people are beaten up called "I Got the S**t Kicked Out of Me."To abbreviate the plot, Cash moves up to become a Power Caller because of his "white voice" and ability to telemarket, where one of his clients becomes none other than Worry Free. He is exposed to Worry Free's sociopathic owner, Steve Lift. We see the vast gulf between the haves in the luxury  Power Caller offices upstairs, and the have nots crowded into the bullpen office below. Cash as Power Caller makes enough to pay off his uncle's mortgage, buy a fancy car, and move into a luxury apartment. Meanwhile, a worker name Squeeze organizes the employees downstairs into striking for a living wage, and Cash's humane artist girl friend holds is feet to the fire. I heard people grumbling at this film's end--yes, it cuts uncomfortably close to home.

Sorry to Bother You

I thoroughly enjoyed Won't You Be My Friend, the documentary about Mr. Rogers. Given what we have in the White House and the general level of discourse in this country, it was impossible to get too much of a man who lived his life promoting and enacting gentleness, compassion, and mercy. Mr. Roger's utterly puts to shame our culture of cruelty and triumphalism, and its celebration of a brutalizing masculinity that includes celebrating sociopathic brutal  women as "feminists."  Though the idea would be much ridiculed, a gentler Mr. Rogers world would be one in which we would all thrive. I also enjoyed RBG, the documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, but I couldn't quite put it on my best list: she is a little too comfortably in bed with power and a little too narrowly focused on identity politics. Nevertheless, it came close. 

I found myself riveted, however, by the My Brilliant Friend miniseries that aired recently on HBO. Based on the first of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, it tells the story of best friends Lenu and Lila, both highly intelligent girls, who become close friends in the Neapolitan slums. Lenu, just barely, gets the opportunity to move ahead with her education; Lila, though  more intelligent, is forced to end her education early. The filming, the acting, and the details are all moving done and the evocation of female friendship--and love of learning--is stunning. I have long had the novel on my shelf and long been meaning to read it: it is next on my list. 

An iconic moment as Lenu and Lila read Little Women.

King Lear: I saw the recent Anthony Hopkins King Lear. It is a wonderful production.

A Winter's Tale: I saw a production of this play at the Richmond, Indiana Shakespeare festival. An exceptionally strong Hermione made this well-staged version riveting and moving. I especially appreciated Shakespeare's understanding of how a powerful person's echo chamber can drown out all truth when he has decided that what he believes, true or not, is the Truth--and that demonstrations to the contrary are all the more confirmation of his truth. Shakespeare, as always, condemns the misuse of power.

A powerful Hermione

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