Once Were Warriors -- The Insidiousness of Domestic Violence


                                      Maoris is one of the Polynesian Island tribe, who traveled to New Zealand some thousand years ago. They later defended themselves from the British invaders. The once fierce warriors lost their lives to many of the long standing wars and now constitute around 12-15 percent of the New Zealand population. Most of the Maoris are reduced to live on the margins of society, ghettoized inside the economic war zones. Lee Tamohari’s 1994 debut feature film “Once Were Warriors” (based on the novel by Alan Duff) was a courageous portrait of these indigenous people, who have lost touch with their tribal past and staggering in the modern world. The tough, muscular looking men of this tribe are still primed for fighting. But, the opponent they have chosen is their own indefensible wife. As in many of the warrior-race or old cultures, equality between men and women is always frowned upon.


                                  Domestic violence is a timeless and universal topic. In “Once were Warriors” there is a lot of background details that might be understood only by a New Zealender, but the subtext will not be lost to outside viewers – the cycle of violence, nurtured by the denial within a family. The film takes place in an urbanized ghetto, situated in South Auckland. The ghetto is filled with barbed wires, noisy traffic, graffiti and bars. The story concentrates on the Heke family, which is held together only by its women, Beth (Rena Owen). Her husband Jake (Temuera Morrison) is a fiery man, an alcoholic and sexually explosive brute. They live in a small house -- allotted by the government – with the four of their five children. The eldest Nig (Julian Arahanga) was initiated into a local gang and has moved out. He hates his father. Boogie, the next one (Taungaroa Emile) runs into trouble with the law and is considered by his father as ‘soft.’




                               Grace (Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell), thirteen-year old daughter of Heke’s is a fanciful story teller. She wants to escape all these abuses. She has the clearest knowledge about her father and hates her mother, for her inability to break loose from him. The other two children – one boy and girl – are aged around 10. At the start of the film, we see Jake Heke getting laid off from the job and spends his day drinking beer with his macho buddies. At first, the couples (Jake and Beth) seem like enjoying a tranquil relationship with moments of genuine affection. But, soon, we encounter the intoxicated personality of Jake. He bashes her head and kicks her at the stomach. The next day, Beth’s face is swollen and she couldn’t make the trip to courthouse with her son. The welfare officers, looking at the situation at the home, places Boogie in a boys’ house. In the reform school, Boogie learns Maori crafts, dances and most importantly, discipline. However, Grace is not lucky like her brother and becomes the victim of Jake’s negligence.




                            Riwia Brown’s adaptation of the Alan Duff’s novel is said to be more optimistic than the novel. The adapted script has mostly emphasized on the toll taken by Beth and Grace. The script also doesn’t flinch away from the ugliness of the Hekes' home life. There is an observation about the Maori’s ritualized life style, where the women are meant to stand by admiringly and talk only about their men's prowess, while the guys brawl heartily and sing together as if they were gathered around a campfire. However, one could easily observe that there is no subtlety in the narrative. Every point is delivered as an explicit sermon and also the gritty urban details, fails to rise above the melodramatic element.



                           Director Tamahori has filmed the domestic violence scenes in a powerfully raw manner, which is painful to look at. He also focuses on the clash between Maoris: Beth speaks of marrying Jake -- by taking up with a lower- caste Maori guy, she has shocked her upper-caste Maori family. She later realizes that she has deprived her children of the pride of cultural identity. The camerawork makes use of dreary and drab colors to emphasize that everyone is trapped one way or another. The only serene image in the film is the opening image – a pastoral setting – which later turns out to be a billboard – an illusion.




                         The film wouldn’t have had the excellent rhythm, if not for the magnetic performances of the lead players. Rena Owen world-weary face and eyes perfectly conveys the ‘I’ve seen it all’ look. She doesn’t portray Beth simply as a victim; she radiates a quality, which confirms that, despite Jake’s cruelty, Beth has fallen for his swagger. However, when her nurturing qualities take control of her, she becomes this grandstanding woman. Mr. Morrison as Jake wildly brings out the machismo of the Maori. He explores the rootlessness of his character and in the end Jake comes off as a defeated warrior – the one who couldn’t even identify his enemies.



                        “Once Were Warriors” (98 minutes) is not just a harrowing portrait of wife-beaters, but also an optimistic tale of a woman, struggling to claim her own courage. The misery felt here is universal, not a part of this rootless global subculture. 

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Rated R for pervasive language and strong depiction of domestic abuse, including sexual violence

The Wicker Man -- The Things Humans do in the Name of Religion


                                   The British film industry was the repressed lot of the European cinema. The 1903’s “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” caused a stir and so a new H certificate was introduced. Later, in the 50’s to 70’s, exploitation or horror movies centered on adolescent viewers were slapped with X rating and in the 80’s Margaret Thatcher continued to wage war on horror movies. But, the British have still managed to make some cult horror classics. “Peeping Tom”, “The Devils”, “and "A Clockwork Orange” were some of the movies that conjured up enough rancor to attain the cult status. These horror films didn’t rely on ghosts or monsters to make its viewers jump. It was rather interested in the horrific elements lurking inside the human conscious and so delivered more psychologically troubling horror. Robin Hardy’s genre-bending movie “The Wicker Man” (1973) is an essential part of these horror classics, although it was critically neglected upon its release.


                                  The events that unfolded in the making of “The Wicker Man” is just as compelling as the movie’s on-screen story. Producer Snell made this film under the British Lion Film Corporation. Few changes in the production’s house management led to Snell’s removal and the new organization decided that “The Wicker Man” was unlikely to bring in much money at the box office. It was cast into virtual oblivion. Later, the 100 minute version was trimmed by 12 minutes for the theatrical release and as a further addition to the troubles, the master negative was lost. But, thanks to actor Christopher Lee and Roger Corman’s persistence, the film has survived and since then developed a cult following to appear on BFI's list of the 100 Best British Film list. The film has also spawned three documentaries and two books.




                                 Writer Anthony Schaffer was influenced by the 1967 novel Ritual to write this movie’s script. He wanted to create a horror movie that was devoid of the blood and gore -- the characterized notions of the genre. Folk music fills our ears in the title sequence, where a small plane flies over the desolated Scottish Isles. Sgt. Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) is the man, who had traveled in this small plane and he has come from the Scottish main land to investigate about the disappearance of a child. The remote island is named summer isle. Neil Howie is an uptight policeman and a devout, straight Christian. He has the photo of the missing girl – named Rowan Morrison. Surprisingly, everyone he meets denies the existence of such a girl. Even May Morrison – the girl’s alleged mother – doesn’t remember Rowan. Howie, feeling exhausted, decides to stay the night. He rents a room on top of the bar. The pub is crowded and everyone seems to be dancing and singing. Later that night, what he sees shocks him.




                                The lubricious barmaid, Willow (Brit Ekland) cavorts around her bedroom stark naked and outside of the pub, couples copulate openly. In the morning, he goes to the school to continue his investigation. There, Howie finds children dancing around maypole. He encounters a teacher (Diane Cliento) instructing her adolescent female students about the phallic symbolism. Outraged by this, Howie waltzes inside the classroom and finds a register, where Rowan Morrison’s name is entered and there is an empty desk. Howie’s persistent questions make the teacher to report that the girl –Rowan – is dead and has been buried in churchyard. Immensely troubled by the lack of Christianity and the townspeople nature, he finally decides to meet the much talked about Lord of Summer isle (Christopher Lee). On his way to meet the Lord, Howie is appalled to see the sight of young girls dancing naked around the fire. Howie confronts the civilized-looking Lord about all these sinister religious practices. The Lord explains how this island community reborn based on the pagan worship (“God had his chance – and in modern parlance – he blew it” Says the Lord). As Howie gradually uncovers the mystery about the missing girl, he also stumbles upon the possibility of a terrifying ritual.    




                                Script writer Schaffer brings out the druidic and Celtic folklore, and at the same time makes it an evenhanded dialectical allegory of the culture war between free love and establishmentarianism. Schaffer plots a religion based upon fertility and sensuality against the repression of Christianity. He also warns us about the outcomes of religious zeal. At first, we see Howie as an uncompromising member of his faith and gradually we also come to realize the zeal of the residents of summer isle, who in an attempt to appease their gods are ready to do anything. If you are watching it for the first time, you might catch many moments, providing unintentional laughs: Shocks seen in the face of Howie, the merry singing of Old men and villagers, skipping around in animal costumes may create smirks, but the ending makes us realize that nothing was a laughing matter.



                               Director Robin Hardy, without any sensationalism, emphasizes upon the surreal nature of the whole situation. He aptly chooses, at times, to move the story along through song rather than dialogue. The songs are perfectly not the humming kind, but are a little eerie to fit the film’s atmosphere. Edward Woodward and Christopher give an acting of a high caliber. All the viewers ought to feel safe in taking the side of Howie, even though we could foresee that his dogged persistence is going to be his curse. Edward’s broken cries and hysterical appeals make the last scene more unsettling. Lee (Saruman in “Lord of the Rings”) is perfect as the Lord, since his easy smile and baritone voice makes us remember a person that we don’t entirely trust. His presentation of religious dogma with Howie is the movie’s excellent sequence.

 


                           
                          Director Neil LaBute made an American remake with Nicolas Cage in 2006. It was a perfect example that portrayed Hollywood studio’s ability to ruin a classic (recently they also ruined “Straw Dogs”). The PG-13 rated remake had all the theatrical and cheap tricks, the original tried to avoid.



                           The uneasy and weird tone of “The Wicker Man” (1973) doesn’t look dated. It ponders over the undeniable nature of humans, who are not willing to see the world from another perspective.


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The Dish -- A Comedy with a Feel-Good Spirit


                               The images of man setting foot on moon infiltrated the world’s consciousness and set off many conspiracy theories that are still persisted today. The significance of Apollo 11 images is considered as one of the greatest achievement of mankind. We might have heard about names like Neil Armstrong and those others, who gained the spotlight during this historical moment. However, we don’t know much about unseen people doing their jobs in the background that help these land mark moments triumphant. The semi-factual, Australian feel-good movie “The Dish” (2000) takes a look at the part played by a small town in Australia during the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. It has a simple story, good-natured characters, which for an exception, sees the moon landing from a different vantage point.

                              It is the third week of July, in 1969, as the world’s eyes are set on our nearest celestial neighbor. While Armstrong and his crew are getting ready for their journey, a small crew in the Australian town of Parkes is also getting ready to get into the action. The midsized town, Parkes has the Southern Hemisphere’s largest radio telescope – 1,000 ton, a football-field-wide and situated amidst sheep paddocks. The whole town gets exuberant, when they learn that their dish is the backup to NASA's primary space-signal receiver in Goldstone, California. The moon walking footage are expected to be handled primarily by the Goldstone.


                             The dish is operated by quietly reflective scientist Cliff Buxton (Sam Neil). He is a very knowledgeable man and has lost his wife recently. His two assistants are the smart-aleck technician, Mitch (Kevin Harrington) and the brainy, nerdy Glenn (Tom Long). Mitch is troubled and expresses contempt over the attitude of know-it-all NASA consultant Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton). Nonetheless, Al acquaints himself well with the group and exhibits firm hand in the proceedings. Mayor McIntyre (Roy Billing), responsible for setting up the dish, is a bit overwhelmed by all this fuss. His VIP visitors include media-loving Australian Prime Minister (Bille Brown) and genteel U.S. ambassador (John McMartin). We know nothing goes wrong with the mission, but various mishaps and tensions show us that the crew has walked over a tightrope. Eventually and most importantly, the Aussies were only able to transmit mankind’s first steps on the moon to global TV audiences.


                             Director/co-writer Rob Stitch (“The Castle”) does an incredible job brings exhilaration f the moon landing to life. Relying on charm, he draws most of the film’s energy from the cultural conflict between an intrusive NASA and the Underlings. Like in an effective fictionalized based on a true story drama, Stitch has chosen to focus on the characters rather than on the great moment. At time, the story gets sluggish, especially, when it gets nostalgic – often citing the heyday of the Space Age and the innocence of the era. Towards the end, the film struck a Hollywoodized note, blatantly trying to get everyone teary-eyed. Apart from these few notable flaws, for the most part, “The Dish” generates good-hearted humor from the warm inter-play between the main characters.  The characters are dangerously close to become caricatures, however, the well-rounded cast never lapse into mere stereotypes. The unforced, subtle performance of Sam Neil tops the production. Cliff’ is also the fully realized character that shows a hint of sadness, but never dwells on it for a melodramatic moment.

                           “The Dish” (101 minutes) is not a comedy classic. It is a feel-good movie that perfectly re-creates a place and time with gentle humor and will leave all but the most cynical of viewers quivering with delight. 

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True Detective -- Bold and Challening Hard-Boiled Fiction


                                    In the recent years, every time when I browse through Facebook or IMDb, someone is insisting that I really should be watching this new must-see television series: “Homeland”, “Walking Dead”, American Horror Story”, the list goes on. Yet, there’s three TV series, above all, that keeps on springing up in my mind, when I think about American TV series: “The Wire”, “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” (still haven’t watched “OZ” and “Sopranos”)  All sorts of people are confessing that they are or were addicted to these series. Well, if you ask what’s the secret behind this huge success? I have to say that they are breaking most fundamental rules of Television. For example, “Game of Thrones” maturely explores the political power, and the horrible things people do in pursuit of it; Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” embarked on a larger-than-life journey, tracing an arc, which was previously reserved only for iconic characters of literature and cinema; “The Wire” showed us that cop/justice/politics system   were too robust to be brought down by few angry citizens. Most importantly, all these TV series have largely avoided spoon-fed-black-and-white characters. Well, now, we have yet another ground-breaking TV show titled “True Detective” (2014 -- ) -- created by novelist Nic Pizzolatto – which is taking the procedural dramas to another level.

                                 “Bones”, “CSI”, “Criminal Minds” were some of the successful police procedural TV shows. Each episode has a self-contained narrative with a beginning and end, satiating the viewers’ needs for whodunit mysteries. Even last year we had “Hannibal”, which made us think that the murder mysteries are going to exhaust the viewers. However, “True Detective” has set broader themes and goals that are so innovative than most others. FX’s “American Horror Story” took the direct anthology approach: each season of the show has a fresh start with new setting. Now, “True Detective” has taken this same approach to a step further.  American Horror Story used the same cast members to portray the different characters in each season, whereas True Detective only has plans to use its actors for the eight episode airing. Another brave attempt is that “True Detective” has only one writer (Pizzolatto) and one director (Cary Fukunaga). Usually, in a TV series, writing is done by a group of talented guys and directors are never tied to the identity of a show. This TV series has also attracted high profile Hollywood actors: Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. These excellent character artists, with their strong artistic focus are slowly changing the perception that the ‘TV actors’ belong to a lower circle than movie actors.


                                This eight-episode anthology also moves like a big movie: it is filmed on excellent locations and the imagery is haunting as well as beautiful. Recently, the season’s 4th episode created lot of buzz on the internet: it is said to have used single six minute track shot – traversing over fences and gunshots – to create a first-person experience for the viewer. When was the last time we have seen such experiments in a TV series? Before exploring the shows’ themes, let me explain the story briefly. The series begins in Louisana, simultaneously, in 1995 and 2012. In 2012, the detectives Marty Hart (Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (McConaughey) are separately interviewed by the officers regarding a murder case they both work together in 95.

                              The story flashes back to the past, in 95, where a young girl slashed, drugged, tortured was placed in a field, wearing a crown of antlers. Rust is a burned-out former undercover narcotics cop. He is a mystical figure, carrying some harrowing memories. To Hart’s dismay, Rust often spouts some existential philosophy. Hart is the typical macho cop, a family man (with two kids) and has a sex life outside marriage. The case, which looks like an occult crime, gets more and more complicated as do the relationship between these two men.


                             “True Detective” is definitely not fun entertainment (lacks the black comedic notes of, say, “Breaking Bad”). A chilling darkness lurks around each corner of the narrative and McConaughey’s character embraces the pessimism. He says, “I think human consciousness is a misstep in evolution. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, programmed with total assurance that we are somebody, when in fact we are nobody.” He also holds many ideas that are bleak and hard to swallow, but at the same time, most of his rambling are thought-provoking and has been uncharted territory in popular TV shows. The show has a unique approach to religion. One scene takes place inside a tent revival meeting and Rust belittles the IQ of everyone assembled there. The debate with Marty leads to a point asking, whether religion controls bad behavior. Rust coolly says, “If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then brother that person is a piece of shit and I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible.” Another persisting theme is the interrogation. Rust is famous for his interrogation technique. When the two detectives, in 2012, ask him about his methods, he gives back a rattling response, “Everybody knows there’s something wrong with them. They just don’t know what it is.”


                              Each frame is filled with paranoia and anxiety, but it is never quite depressing, taking into account the nature of the story. It is an enlivening experience to watch these detectives searching for the truth: maybe it’s the details or the performances or the perfect realization of the mystery genre. Whatever is the reason, “True Detective” perfectly incorporates big ideas within a whodunit tale. I have watched the relayed five episodes and think that the show will get more complicated, since our narrators unreliable, divulging far from the real events (Five hours with these characters, you will also feel that they more mysterious than ever). Whoever turns out to be the killer or whatever is the reason, “True Detective” will definitely be one of the best  psychologically scary drama. 

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Nebraska -- A Poignant and a Mordantly Comic Road Trip


                                        Alexander Payne makes small movies, in terms of budget. However, his movies are the richly textured ones and judging by the metrics of the heart, his movies are as big as it is beautiful. He is a film-maker, who has only six features under his belt, but with each movie, he is slowly evolving into an American auteur. His last three movies – “About Schmidt”, “Sideways”, and “The Descendants” explored the road-movie genre with a longing melancholy and humor. He was fascinated to show up the dynamic relationships of individuals during the unconventional road trips. They were all moving, enlightening, nuanced, without being overly sentimental. Not sentimental means that it doesn’t have those heartwarming inter-generational discussions. Now, he is back with yet another hazy optimistic road-movie, titled “Nebraska” (2013). Shot in black and white, the film is filled with excellent vistas of flat-lands and desolated farms. It mourns for the loss of the stout Midwestern America, which was once the country’s backbone.

                                     “Nebraska” is home to Alexander Payne, as well as the birthplace of Woodrow T. Grant (Bruce Dern). Woodrow is a septuagenarian, a former mechanic and a cantankerous alcoholic. At the start of the film, we see him walking on a highway with unkempt hair and a wild look. He is interrupted by a police officer and was taken to home by his younger son David (Will Forte). The reason for his walking is a paper he had received, which says, “You may have won a million dollars!” Everyone knows and tells him that the letter is junk, a scam to trick people into subscribe magazines. But, Woody’s delusion and stubborn nature makes him believe that this is his own stroke of fortune. He wants to get back all those decades of diminished dreams through this sweep-stakes winning. Woody’s plain-spoken wife, Kate (June Squibb), in a state of agitation, wants her demented husband to be admitted in a nursing home.


                                     Ross (Bob Odenkirk), the eldest son and a local news anchor, who resents his father’s drunken ways, supports the mother’s view. However, David – the stereo salesman -- volunteers to drive him from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska (835 miles) (especially to stop him from trying to walk there). Thus begins a father and son bonding road trip. That is what we might think, but Woody drunkenly injures himself and the trip takes a little detour to Woody’s home town called “Hawthorne.” He is reunited with brothers and old friends and soon becomes a local celebrity, when he announces his winnings. We learn more about Woody in his hometown, while David and the family try to protect Woody from his delusions of grandeur.

                                    On hearing the story of “Nebraska”, another movie comes to our mind: David Lynch’s “The Straight Story.” However, Alvin Straight is a likeable genial old man, whereas, Woody is an antihero – a harder character type for us to like. He is stubborn, a pathetic drunk and dismisses his son’s attempts at bonding. So, he is complicated, unpredictable and very real human being. Even though, we dislike his characters, in the end, Payne makes us feel for him. Bob Nelson’s script brings forth the small-town bitterness, once they have heard about Woody’s million. All the old relatives and friends are lining up, conjuring us some old debt, and looking for handouts. The atmosphere slowly turns from being welcoming to threatening. Al though, these are serious things, Payne handles it with a folksy humor. The existence of these greedy small-town characters doesn’t mean that the director is being judgmental. It’s just the opposite: He embraces all these personalities, who are basically flawed, selfish and petty – just like us.  


                                 There is something universal about the family reunion we see in “Nebraska.” A family reunion after two decades culminates in a dinner where no one has anything good to say. They are pouring over longstanding grievances and lurking resentments. These scenes supply the film with a real-world authenticity. Most of the Midwestern Americans have vouched for Payne’s nearly accurate portrayal of the modern American small-town. The taverns in the town are filled with guys above 50 – a reference that these places are slowly dying. With cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, Payne goes beyond words in his depiction of tranquil cloudscapes, meandering country farms and rotting rural backwaters. The long shot of a prairie cemetery and the scene that follows shows the limitations of lives.

                                 The 78 year old Bruce Dern, an actor for five decades, uses subtlety to provide this sad, haunted, lovely performance. The stubbornness and drunken hopes of Woody are not caricatured by Dern (won the ‘Best Actor’ award in Cannes). Forte plays David, a character, which viewers can identify with themselves. He excises an effortless balance between the opposing viewpoints of his parents. We can easily sense Forte’s confusion and frustration through the conversations he has with Dern. He tries to explore Woody’s past life and searches for the slightest trace of warmth in his parents' marriage ("You must have been in love, at least at first," says David, for which Woody’s reply is "It never came up.").


                                 June Squibb’s Kate transforms from a nagging wife into the movie’s most adorable character. Woody, David and Kate go to cemetery to pay respects to the deceased elders. But, what happens is exactly opposite: “I liked Rose, but she was a whore” says Kate standing before the grave of Woody’s sister and later lifts her skirt over the grave of an old beau, says, “See what you could’ve had, Keith, if you hadn’t talked about wheat all the time?” She constantly badgers Woody for his pointless quest, but at the same time, she was the first person to stand for him, when the old relatives are looking for some money. In these later scenes, Squibb brings forth a wife, underpinned by a thick seam of affection and a shared understanding.

                                “Nebraska” (115 minutes) is a detailed study of a life and its roots, offering some thought provoking insights. It is cold and unforgiving, but leaves us with an oddly buoyant feeling. Alexander Payne’s deeply humanist film may grow larger on your memory, once you have experienced it.


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Nebraska -- IMDb

Rated R for language

Caesar Must Die -- A Neo-Realistic Shakespeare Drama


                                       The veteran Italian film-makers, Taviani brothers (Paolo and Vittorio) are best known for their hybrid domain of docudrama. They gained international breakthrough the movies, "The Night of the Shooting Stars" and "Padre Padrone." Their latest expressive embellishment project was grittier than their previous ventures and was filmed inside the maximum-security prison in Rebbibia, Italy. After watching the inmates of this prison performing Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, they were highly inspired to do a production of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." They sought the permission of Fabio Cavalli, director of the prison group and stated that it would be staged with the collaboration of the inmates and would be filmed throughout the prison facility.

                                    Taviani brothers thought that staging “Julius Caesar” --a tale of betrayal, friendship and conspiracy -- would be the right choice, since it is set in Rome, Italy and also corresponds with the emotions of the world from which the prisoners come. Casting actual convicts proves to be a stunning experience, since they show a great electric power of drama that moves and touches the audience. The docudrama starts with color footage of the actual staging of production and the film’s final scenes also revolve around this staging. However, the heart of this movie lies in the audition and rehearsal process as hardened criminals emote with heightened sensation.


                                 The audition process shows us a plan, the Tavianis’ said to have been using for years: each prisoner is asked to act a moment when they are sad, and the same one when they are angry. We then closely see the men, who were chosen to enact “Julius Caesar” and their rap sheets, mostly ranging from drug trafficking to Mafia affiliations. The performers immerse themselves in the scheming world of Cassius, Brutus and ill-fated Caesar. They reach an artistic high by investing themselves in roles that serve as an escape from the real-life cages. Each rehearsal scenes gets intensified and it is mesmerizing to see the ways the prisoners/actors relate Shakespearean situations with their own betrayal.

                                Taviani brothers don’t try to convey the layers of the prisoners’ troubled humanity. They are not attempting to pass off their experiment as absolute truth. In fact, they only heighten the artificiality by adding black and white color schemes to the rehearsal period and also use the mournful musical score to a gain highly dramatic effect. What they were interested is only in the conception. A conception that remains resonant with the text, where freedom and slavery are paramount. By finding an elegant and effective way to blend the narrative and documentary elements, they make us observe the parallels between “Julius Caesar” and ill-fated prisoners’ lives. Most of these men were also not first time actors (some of them have been in other plays), because one can assume that for grifters and conmen playacting is an integral part to their essence of survival.


                               Tavianis’ scripted elaborations, like the Mark Antony funeral address rehearsal scene (directed to the cell windows) remains largely humorous. The prison cast turns in excellent performance with a genuine pathos. The hardened pudginess of Giovanni Arcuri (plays Caesar), possesses the delusions of immortality and amusing swagger like the Shakespearean hero. Salvatore Striano’s passionate performance as Brutus shows us the seductive power of brilliant enactment. His casting was considered as cheating, since Striano was pardoned on 2006 and has made his debut as actor in a small, well-received role in “Gomorrah” (2008). He returned to Rebibbia prison, especially to participate in this production. But, we can’t consider this as cheating, since the Tavianis up aforementioned the artifice, involved with their project and also there are not any specific set of rules.

Vittorio and Paolo Tavianni

                               In the final footage, we see principal cast being silently shut back into their cells and Cosimo Rega, who played Cassius looks at the camera and simply says, "Since I got to know art, the cell has become a prison."  Apart from the Shakespeare text, this is the film’s most memorable line. Winner of Golden Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, “Caesar Must Die” (75 minutes) shows pent-up emotions and passions that can’t be contained within the prison bars. It’s one of the most intriguing Shakespeare adaptations on-screen.  

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Ten Best Korean Romantic Movies




                                          Korean New Wave of cinema swept across rest of the world from later 90’s and early 2000’s. It was the most defining era of the Korean cinema, which created and popularized the romance genre and thriller/mystery genre. Kim Ki-duk, Chan-Wook Park, Joon-ho Bong, Kim Jee-Woon, John H. Lee were some of the directors, who made a paradigm shift in the region. Before the new wave, Korean romances (Asian romances in general) always had a bad rap: either it was filled with perversity or was filled up with saccharine. It ignored the simple pleasures of love. But, these movies, I mentioned here, spent the time with man’s inner most innocent child and explored the true nature of love. They also had the guts to wander over the dark side of love. The list is solely based only on my viewing experience. This is not the quintessential list about Korean romance. And, if you had your own favorite ones (the ones I missed out), please mention it in the comments section

Christmas In August (1998)


Jung-Won runs a small photo studio in Seoul. He goes about his daily routine, facing the fussing of various kinds of customers. The mid 30’s protagonist, one day, finds out that he has terminal disease and surprisingly accepts his fate, only until the chance meeting of Darim, an employee at the Traffic Control Division of the local district office. She is a frequent customer with picture of parking violators and a sublime relationship gradually starts between them. There is not much of an original story here, but its subtleness and the awkward silences make it much more interesting and touching.

Il Mare (2000)


Sung-hyun, an architect, in 1997, inherits a sea side house from his departed father. Eun-Joo, a struggling voice-actor moves out of her seaside house. It is 1999 and she leaves behind a Christmas card for the newcomer. Sung-Hyun finds Christmas card from Eun-Joo and thinks of it as a joke and leaves a letter inside telling her that it is 1997, not 1999. After letter exchanges, they realize that they are separated by two years of time but can somehow communicate through the same mailbox and gradually begin a friendship through their letters. The facial expressions, minimal dialogues and slowly unfolding twists stay buried in our hearts in a touching manner. The overly beautiful atmospheres add to the fantasy aspect of this romance.

Failan (2001)


Korean powerhouse performer Min-sik Choi (“Oldboy”, “I Saw the Devil”) plays as a washed-up, third-rate gangster named Kang-jae in “Failan.” Over the years, his status among fellow gangsters has diminished. Failan, after her parents’ demise, arrives to Korea to live with her relatives. Unfortunately, they all have immigrated to Canada and is forced to marry a stranger, in order to stay. She marries Kang-jae and he does it for money. Both move on with their life. The story, shown side by side (at different time periods) reveals the faint love, both of them had for each other. The letters of Failan shows the real love and is sure to break the viewers’ heart.

My Sassy Girl (2001)


This ground-breaking romantic comedy subverted all the clichés of this genre, and that too with a story, very common. It is basically a boy-meets-girl story, but the tomfoolery and unconventional scenarios these two drum up is beyond words. The chemistry between lead pairs Cha Tae-hyun and Jeon Ji-hyun is laughably amazing. The unconventional romance looks more realistic than some other movies. The struggle their relationship takes keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, anticipating how Sassy Girl's destiny will work out in the end.
Please avoid the schmaltzy American remake.

Oasis (2002)


Lee Chang-dong’s Oasis conjures up a love story that collides very well with the life in Seoul. An ex-convict falls in love with a woman, who is affected by cerebral palsy – both abandoned by their families. The heartfelt love between the two main characters concentrates on telling the story as it needs to be told rather than staying away from taboo subjects, fearing of viewers’ reactions. There is one uncomfortable scene, which might scare away the conventional romantic movie lovers. Nonetheless, it is a love story that forces us to consider our preconceptions and prejudices about societal misfits.

The Classic (2003)


This Korean romance tells a set of love stories, happens across two generations. College friends Ji-hae and Soo-kyung both like a boy in their theatre class named Sang-min. Soo-kyoung, asks Ji- hae to write a love letter to Sang-min. Ji-hae pours out her own feelings for him on paper, but sadly in her friend's name. However, as fate would have it, Sang-min and Ji-hae keep bumping into each other. The other love story is about Ji-hae’s mom, who keeps memorabilia of her first love. The acting is terrific. The film is quite unique in dealing with the themes of love, loss and destiny.

A Moment to Remember (2004)


This engaging, glossy melodrama is about a 27 year old fashion designer, Kim Su-Jin, who begins to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease – the one which slowly damages her memory. Her husband, Chul-Soo agonizes over his wife’s painful ordeal and tries to capture a perfect and lasting moment of their love. This weepie romance story is handled with the right amount of balance, without getting into the syrupy romance. The film takes its time to carefully develop the characters and foreshadows what is to come. An unbelievable situation, but asks haunting questions about a love without any memories.

Daisy (2006)


The story unfolds in Amsterdam and is set around a young naïve Korean artist girl, Hye-Young, who spends her life working in her grandfather’s antique shop and doing portraits for tourists. One day, she receives flowers from a secret admirer, whom she thinks to be Jeong-Woo -- an Interpol agent tracking Asian criminals in the Netherlands. However, the flowers are sent by Park Yi, an assassin. This triangular, face-off love story has an idealized notion of love, which seems to hold amazing sway over everyone. Nonetheless, the movie possesses a startlingly mundane script, which spells out everything for a viewer. It also plays certain scenes to gain heart-rending emotional effect.

 Castaway on the Moon (2009)


This offbeat romantic drama is about a man named Kim, who jumps into the quiet, dark waters of Han River. Why did he jump? Well, he has enormous amount of debt and suffers from loneliness, ever since his girlfriend dumped him. But, this suicide attempt doesn’t result in his demise. He wakes to find himself in a tiny island along the river and the cruel fact is, he is amidst all the urban chaos – like highway noises and apartment buildings – but no one sees him, except for a young woman with a camera, who lives in her room, closed off from the real world. This film witnesses the intersection of two eccentric characters and is mostly an allegory to all this urban isolation. It doesn’t have any typical romantic element, but in a nuanced manner, details our need for human connection.

Always aka Only You (2011)


Serious sentimental romantic drama “Always” embraces all the clichéd tropes, but is very well stitched together and helped by low-key performances. The love story is centered between ex-boxer Chul-min and telemarketer Jung-hwa. He is a recluse and she remains spirited despite slowly losing her vision. As usual, their fate intertwines, a relationship blooms and a hope for better life starts.


Notable Omissions: "I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay", "More than Blue", "Ditto", "Windstruck", "Feathers in the Wind"