It says a lot about the tone of your movie when Burial is your theme music – beautiful but fragmented vocals overlaid on a sprawling, complicated song structure. The original song even opens with the dialogue “excuse me, I’m lost.”
I learned a new word: Wahhabism. Movie gives a history lesson on Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, then leads into the present debacle, which seems even more hopeless after watching this. Combo of staged material with rough outtakes from news footage and who knows what else. Afghanistan is compared to the planet Solaris. None of our leaders are any good at leading. Everyone is hugely corrupt.
The movie goes for long stretches without voiceover or titles – a new approach for Curtis – though not as long as the Bitter Lake trailer would suggest.
Worst part: Afghani government officials are super corrupt. Local police force become evil militias, suppressing the people. British troops don’t know this, arrive in town offering to help the local police. Townspeople say oh great, more oppression, and attack British troops, who assume they’re Taliban and bomb the shit out of them. Eventually, fighting factions realize British troops think anyone hostile to them is Taliban, start telling the Brits that people they dislike are Taliban, basically using the Brits as hit men.
The woman Julia Roberts played in Charlie Wilson’s War:
Woman returns to Afghanistan to save her suicidal sister, but has trouble finding passage from Iran to Kandahar. Wiki says it’s partly based on true story, and the lead, Nelofer Pazira, played herself – although here she’s called Nafas. She pretends to be part of a large family crossing the border, but they get robbed along the way. She gets a boy called Khak to take her partway, meets an American doctor with a false beard, then tries to follow a wedding party the rest of the way.
Poetic film, sometimes with unconvincing English dialogue but makes up for that with wonderous scenes like the one with guys on crutches racing to catch artificial legs parachuting from above. Makhmalbaf apparently had no trouble finding extras with missing limbs (neither does Jodorowsky). I have a skewed picture of Makhmalbaf – I’ve seen his appearance in Close-Up, a couple of his early documentaries, and a couple by his daughter Samira but this is the first of Mohsen’s features I’ve watched.
Makhmalbaf and his cinematographer, Ebraham Ghafouri, show this desert land as beautiful but remote and forbidding. Roads are tracks from one flat horizon to another. Nafas bounces along in the back of a truck with other women, the burqua amputating her personality.
After the Nairobi mall attack, I felt like watching some terrorists get killed. Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life, Take Shelter) gets help from her torturer friend Jason Clarke (killer of Gatsby), follows the trail left by informants to identify Bin Laden’s personal messenger, sees her friend Jennifer Ehle (Contagion) get blown up following a false lead, traces the messenger’s cellphone, follows him to a compound, spends years convincing her dumb bosses (first Katy’s TV football coach Kyle Chandler, then Mark Strong of Tinker Tailor) to invade it, then sends a Seal team (featuring Brolin-looking Gatsby star Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt of Parks & Rec). They crash one helicopter but still have two others, shoot Bin Laden in the face, and take off.
Vincent Gallo was amazing in this, won an acting award in Venice. He plays a soldier captured by U.S. forces after blowing up three guys with a rocket launcher – at least that’s what I thought. A couple things I read online suggest that he lifted the launcher off another soldier in the cave, or found it there when he was just stumbling by, but that wasn’t how it looked to me. Anyway, he kills enough people over the course of the movie – and is antagonized and tortured enough – that it’s clear (even from the title) that the movie isn’t making him out to be evil nor especially sympathetic. He is trying to stay alive in the midst of social and military conflict. He doesn’t manage, but not for lack of trying. The movie’s many action scenes are tense and powerful, the images are often poetic, and with Gallo’s great performance on top of that, this has become one of my favorite recent films.
After the initial attack, Gallo is pursued by helicopters and deafened by a rocket strike. He’s interrogated and waterboarded, then escapes when a prisoner transport truck tumbles off-road in what turns out to be Poland. He tries to surrender and make himself known to his captors, but sees a chance and kills a couple of guys instead, escaping into the wilderness – later pursued by dogs and falling into a river to escape. Now he’s in the snow on unfamiliar ground, eating insects and berries to survive, starving, having delusions. He hitches a ride on a logging truck and kills a logger, then in the movie’s weirdest scene, assaults a nursing mother to get milk. He ends up at a sympathetic mute woman’s house (Emmanuelle Seigner of The Ninth Gate and Bitter Moon), for one night of rest and recovery. But by now he’s mortally wounded, escapes on a white horse but doesn’t last long.
As a filmmaker with a puzzling half-century of peculiar projects and long silences and catholic passions behind him, Skolimowski has always been a marginal figure, erratically appearing and helming films so disparate he’s a living disputation to the auteur theory. His work defines him as a searcher, a road movie antihero still looking for his mythical home on the horizon. One of the most interesting nomads in a film culture filthy with them, Skolimowski was cut loose from the Eastern Bloc in the late ’60s and has been roaming the plains of the global industries ever since, coming full circle in his new film, lost in the icy Carpathian wilderness.
It’s a film designed to be noticed, a film about the Afghanistan war that doggedly, even perversely, resists overt politics; an on-location survival saga shot with a recognizable American-indie star (Vincent Gallo) who has not a word of dialogue; a physically rough ordeal that’s meticulously staged and framed on the razor’s edge between pulp excitement and arty poeticism but never quite tumbles into either camp.
War doc, watched with Katy because co-director Tim was just killed. Less explanation than usual in these sorts of things, and more combat than usual. The cameraman likes to be right there in the action during firing and bombing – which makes for good footage, but is probably why he’s dead now. Movie makes a good argument for the futility of war, pointing out that another unit failed because it didn’t build a forward outpost like these guys do (named after killed comrade Restrepo), then dealing obliquely with civilian deaths and disappearances, finally noting that this outpost was abandoned soon after filming. More impressive than the movie was a gallery of Tim’s still photographs which the NY Times showed online this week.
It’s Iranian Month here – 2005 month flopped, and the 1920’s are just on break. This movie has been on my shelf for four years still in its cellophane, so it was my first pick.
Noqreh (above) lives in the ruins of Afghanistan immediately post-war in 2002 with her father, her brother’s wife, and the wife’s baby. She’s supposedly attending religious school, but secretly changes clothes and attends a progressive regular school when she’s out of sight of her very traditional muslim father. There’s trouble finding water, finding work, and keeping the baby healthy, then busloads of refugees move into the ruins so our crew moves into a crashed airplane.
Meanwhile, Noqreh is being courted by a poet (Razi Mohebi, above on the bike, assistant director of this film and Osama) and having discussions with everyone she sees (including, memorably, a French soldier) about the female president of Pakistan, presidential speeches, and ways that she herself could become president of Afghanistan. The refugees follow her family to the airplane, so they move into an abandoned palace, the most spectacular of their picturesque homes, though it has an oppressive air about it. Then the tragedy starts flying – the father decides they can’t live in such a godless city anymore, so they set off into the desert. On the way, he hears word that his son, the baby’s father has died from a landmine. Then in the desert they encounter a lost soul, a man who does not know where to go, who talks as the father buries the baby who has died from illness. It sounds depressing, and at the end it really is, but it’s a powerfully good movie – beautiful and interesting and moving, and likely shot in actual crashed planes and abandoned palaces while Afghanistan was still a war hotspot.
With writing, editing and production assistance from her father Mohsen and very nice cinematography from Ebrahim Ghafori. Would love to see her other movies.