Nostalgia for the Light (2010)
Dir. Patricio Guzmán
Guzmán’s graceful documentary gets more out of its subject by evading the simple comfort of facts and instead probing the meditative and interweaving with the precise. In this way, Nostalgia for the Light makes meaning out of finding overlap in the scientific and the spiritual, something I can’t help myself from musing that it that is the meaning of the metaphor that is the entirety of the cinema. I mention this with the caveat that this films does not specifically examine this point but that it merely provoked the thought. Guzmán uses his childhood history and life long love for astronomy as the jumping off point for a film that investigates his native Chile’s relationship with the past, present, and future. His subjects come from two distinct factions: people using the Atacama desert as a means for studying either astronomy or archaeology and those searching for loved ones executed as political prisoners and buried in the vast landscape. The desert is ideal for both astronomy and archaeology because of its’ clear skies and hot climate, but as Guzmán illustrates, this clarity is not indicative of his country’s consciousness. The mistake of Chile being to always look outward for answers, never inward.
Essential Killing (2010)
Dir. Jerzy Skolimowski
With Essential Killing, Skolimowski strips away the context, political or otherwise, of a struggle to survive, leaving only the humanity and the animal instinct of a man’s attempt to flee those who aim to capture him. The result reveals the universality in any struggle and how human suffering at its core will always evoke empathy, and persistence within an aggressive environment will always prompt admiration. Vincent Gallo is magnificent as a vulnerable, desperate man traversing landscape after landscape. My impression of the film is similar to Daniel Kasman who wrote in The Notebook at MUBI “It’s mysteriousness isn’t exactly one of evocation, despite its silence (Gallo never utters a word) and lack of explanation, psychology, ideology, etc., but, due to its supreme dedication to tracking land and the coverage of it by man, it has a kind of geological mysteriousness to it.” Land in many ways plays the biggest role in the film, and Gallo’s need to adapt to the myriad locations and their unique properties always ensures that no matter how adept this character is, the land is always more versatile, more cunning. Of course, nature has the final word, or, rather, the final image.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Dir. Steven Spielberg
As an exercise in visceral filmmaking, War of the Worlds is a flat-out masterful work of art, in which Spielberg turns America inside out. He seamlessly melds a story and its’ characters with the viewer’s role in the film, making this one of the most involving and authentic successes in the genre of invasion films. This genre, an imperialist phenomenon, always gives the public an enemy to blame and to use as an excuse to unite as people and as a nation. Spielberg’s interest lies more in people’s darker reactions to the situation and places the onus on their shoulders. People turn on each other, fending for themselves and their loved ones. Instead of a film which stands back and judges (ex: Dogville, which is effective in other ways), we are cast in the role along with Tom Cruise, of protecting one’s family at any cost. The peaks of War of the Worlds reach heights of emotion exceeded only by Spielberg’s best film, A.I.