First movie of 2023, if anyone is keeping track, and off to a shaky start. This was on the Sight & Sound list, and of course I’ve always been curious about the movie where a boy befriends a hawk. But I also know about animals in movies, and assumed the hawk has to die in the end, which it does. At least, per imdb trivia, it’s the favorite film of both Krzysztof Kieslowski and Karl Pilkington.

British adults are authority-obsessed obstructionists, and Billy is a smart, resourceful kid who gets into kestrels, then steals a chick and raises it. He steals something in every scene, so the adults have reason to be suspicious of him. Billy gets brief fame at school, the others impressed by his pet hawk, until his older brother kills the bird. If the movie is about anything, it’s that institutions fail us and birds are beautiful. I hope England sinks into the sea (but slowly enough for the birds to relocate). The kid kept acting, was in an All Quiet on the Western Front remake with Donald Pleasence and Ian Holm.

A unexpectedly cheerful Scotland fantasy from Mr. Loach. He sets up the grim realism: new dad Robbie is a habitual fuckup living out a cycle of violence and poverty – but then over the credits we get a semi-comic montage of other young fuckups being assigned community service, including hilariously dense baldie Albert, compulsive shoplifter Mo, and less-distinguishable Rhino (William Ruane of Loach’s Sweet Sixteen). The four end up in a work program under whiskey enthusiast Harry (John Henshaw of Red Riding), and Robbie (Paul Brannigan, whom Katy thinks is hot, soon to appear in Jonathan Glazer’s first film since Birth) proves to have a fine nose for whisky.

Harry is full of empathy for his young charges, especially Robbie, and Robbie also has his girl Leonie (and, to a much lesser extent, her dad) on his side, so we’re all set for a heartwarming story where Robbie grows away from his violent past and gets a whiskey-related job with collector Roger Allam (Peter Mannion in The Thick of It season 2; Katy says he looks too much like Christopher Hitchens). And we get that, but after one last heist, as the four pilfer some of the rarest whisky in the world from a recently-discovered cask on its eve of auction. Movie might be giving its hopeless protag too easy of a ride out of the slums, too many side characters willing to spend their time, love and money on him, but for a director whose work is usually called “miserablism,” it’s forgiveable.

Anthology film, with segments listed in decreasing order of greatness.

A schoolteacher, an Afghan refugee in Iran with no equipment or facilities, tries to convey the 9/11 attacks to children whose world doesn’t extend far beyond the local well. By Samira Makhmalbaf (At Five in the Afternoon)

“Bin Laden, come back, please. We all need you here.” Idrissa Ouedraogo, director of Tilai, turns in an unlikely comedy. A kid has to drop out of school to support his mother, thinks he spots Osama Bin Laden, so he and his friends set out to capture him for the reward money. Osama gets away, the kids pleading for him to return so they can get paid. Kind of hilarious and awesome.

Mira Nair, following up Monsoon Wedding (and working with the same writer), recounts a based-on-true story of a woman whose son goes missing on Sept 11, is accused by the authorities of being a terrorist before he’s discovered to have been trying to help. The mother (Tanvi Azmi, I think) is excellent in this. When first questioned by the FBI, she points to her son’s posters, saying he’s American, he loves Star Wars, but she doesn’t say it defensively, just as a mother delightedly telling someone about her son. The final shot in this segment is my favorite of the whole anthology.

Ken Loach, between Sweet Sixteen and Tickets, takes a completely anti-sympathetic approach, choosing to discuss the American-backed Sept. 11, 1973 coup that killed Salvador Allende, including footage from The Battle of Chile. There was probably a time I would’ve considered this tacky, but now I’m thinking “good for you, Ken Loach.”

Sean Penn, recently off The Pledge (and I Am Sam, shhh), shoots an Ernest Borgnine one-man show in a grubby apartment in the shadow of the towers. Ernest putters around, laying out clothes for his absent wife, talking constantly, in his own crazy world, tending to a pot of dead flowers. Tower 1 goes down and sunlight flows through Ernie’s window for the first time in decades, bringing the flowers magically to life but waking him up to the reality that his wife is gone. Weird, sad one… I liked it better than Katy did.

The final film of Shohei Imamura (The Eel, Vengeance Is Mine), with writer Daisuke Tengan (Audition, The Most Terrible Time In My Life), and if Shohei were alive he’d have some explaining to do. A man returns from the holy war (WWII) a spaced-out wreck, thinking he’s a snake (Katy did not appreciate the scene in which he swallowed a rat). Closes with the line “There is no such thing as a holy war.” Very odd way to end the anthology… still not sure what I think of it, though Mr. Grunes has named it one of his ten faves of the decade.

Claude Lelouch (Roman de gare) directs an offbeat story of a French tour guide for the deaf in NYC. His girlfriend is writing him a note saying she’ll leave him unless there’s a miracle, then he comes home covered in dust. I liked it better the second time through.

In 2002 director Danis Tanovic was high off his oscar-win for No Man’s Land. Since then, he’s adapted a Kieslowski script (Hell) and made one with Colin Farrell and Christopher Lee that played in Toronto. Women are going out for their weekly protest of something (local war/genocide) when 9/11 hits. They don’t know what to do, go protest anyway. Lightweight.

None of my Amos Gitai experiences have been happy ones. Starts with a guy disarming or examining a bomb after another explosion has already killed a few people, then the news team covering the event is told they’re not on the air because of coverage of 9/11. Gitai could be saying local problems feel humble compared to the scope of the 9/11 attacks, or maybe that America is hogging the spotlight away from his country’s problems, or possibly that it’s all Palestine’s fault.

Youssef Chahine seems like a humorless Elia Suleiman, not that I know more about either of them than their Chacun son cinema segments. Here, Chahine pulls the same trick as in that anthology, a piece where I think he’s full of himself, then I think maybe he’s joking and it’s modesty in disguise, but no, he is just full of himself. Someone said “Youssef, write a September 11th movie” and he scribbled down every thought that came to mind then filmed them in that order.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, between the great Amores Perros and the not-great 21 Grams, shot ten minutes of black punctuated occasionally by shots of people falling from the towers and closing with this quote.

Anthology films are never great, but are usually at least interesting, so I was surprised when this one started out great. But of course it was just front-loaded, and got less great as the other episodes appeared. Didn’t realize at the time that the great one was by Ermanno Olmi (a director who, like Ronald Neame yesterday, has done a couple criterion-dvd-released movies that I know nothing about). Was less of a straightforward story than the other two – an important-seeming older guy leaves business meeting and boards train with this woman’s help, then sits in the dining car thinking about writing the woman a letter, thinking about falling in love with her, all the while surrounded by other passengers incl. a bunch of army and security guys. Doesn’t sound like all that, but I really dug it, balancing the tense (because of the army guys) train ride with the flashbacks and an almost-love story, seemed very beautifully done.

In the third part, Loach lowers the class level a few more notches (after the woman in Kiarostami’s piece had already knocked it down a little) portraying three excitable young men with shit jobs who have been saving up to see this soccer match in Rome. On the train, one shows off his soccer ticket to a refugee kid, who takes the opportunity to swipe his train ticket. The soccer kids realize what has happened – do they demand their ticket back themselves, have the train personnel mediate, or let the cute kid and his poor jail-threatened family keep the ticket then run away from the cops at the station while fellow soccer fans run interference? The latter, and valuable lessons about humanity are learned by all. Actually I found it pretty lame, a crappy version of the triumphant ending of Offside. A valuable lesson about humanity is learned at the end of the first segment as well, the man getting a glass of milk for the mother of a baby in the standing-room section – not the highlight of that segment, but still less hacky than this one’s ending.

In the center slot, Kiarostami shows a kid assigned (through some community service program) to assist a general’s widow, a horrible woman who steals one man’s seat but does not steal another man’s cell phone, and gets into unbudging arguments with both of them. Meanwhile our kid is trying to have a surreal conversation with a young girl who remembers him from his hometown – he never noticed the girl before but she’s a friend of his younger sister. The conversation seems like she’s telling him about someone else, as if he doesn’t remember his own past, but maybe she remembers his past from a different angle; she only knows the parts he had been ignoring. We don’t get much about this guy in the present, what he’s like, but finally the widow gets to be too much and he hides from her somewhere on the train, letting her exit confused without him (with baggage help from the cellphone-argument man, a minor version of the Valuable Lesson About Humanity).

An alright movie – not much innovation in story or composition or anything else, but I’m glad I watched it, and I might make Katy check out that particularly moving first segment sometime if she’s got a half hour to kill.




On the DVD: a 40-min behind-the-scenes doc where we learn that it took a while to come up with the transitional segments to join the three main pieces. That’s something I could’ve been told in under forty minutes, thanks.

Kind of ruins the Atlanta Film Festival to take a break from their offerings and watch a movie this good.

I don’t know much about Ireland vs. England but it looks like a bad scene. Bros Cillian and Teddy turn to rebellion after being terrorized by brits, then when their guy signs a peace agreement, Teddy joins the new government while Cillian keeps fighting. ‘ventually Ted kills his own brother.

Family vs. country / neighbor vs. neighbor thing plays out very effectively. Movie leaves me with my stomach burning. All shots of countryside are heartbreakingly wonderful. No death is taken lightly. Loach takes his “socialist realism” to a Serious Historical Topic and succeeds hilariously. Best picture at Cannes no duh. I’m only writing so little because I waited too long and have lost some details.