Life in a Day (US-UK, 2011)

Seeing the world

A brilliant idea, inviting anyone to submit a YouTube video about their life on 24th July, 2010, and then editing it into a feature. The producers also made camcorders available to places in the world where they are scarce in an attempt to avoid a skewed view. Much of the material, it was reported, was unusable, both for technical and content reasons, however they clearly had enough to make a riveting film.

Of course, this isn’t really a snapshot of the world on that day, the place is too multifarious for that, but the ‘directors’ (editors really) have done a terrific job in giving the film structure, from the early hours to midnight, and including wide ranging material, sad and happy.

The overwhelming impression is that there is more that binds us than separates us, and this has to be the truth as we belong to the same species. Differences shouldn’t divide, the world is a big enough place to include the multitudes, but could bring us together as difference is what makes life interesting. Any creed, or political system, that tries to change others is what needs to be changed (I am aware of the contradiction in that sentence).

This film, in its use of editing, reminded me of Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera (Chelovek s kino-apparatom, USSR, 1929) that portrayed city life in the Soviet Union. In these days of globalisation it’s appropriate that we can now document global life. Maybe if we can get a sense of the planet as a particular place, we would look after it better.

Unknown (UK-Ger-Fr-Can-Jap-US)

Hollywood but not Hollywood

Spanish director, multi-national cast including an Irish lead, British scriptwriter, Berlin setting; apart from that this a Hollywood film. One of the producers is Kinowelt, now owned by France’s Studio Canal, that pioneered in the 1990s, after the deregulation of the financial markets, investment in Hollywood films such as Dark City (Aus-US, 1998). Despite the origin of the money, many of these films could easily be mistaken for Hollywood productions; indeed, as an ‘institutional mode of production’, they were Hollywood films.

As is Unknown, an entertaining thriller that manages a spin on the ‘no one knows who I am’ trope and satisfyingly includes numerous chases, crashes and suspense sequences. All for $30m, much cheaper than if produced in America, and grossing a good $130m worldwide. The only time I felt I might not be watching a Hollywood film was the sympathy suggested toward illegal immigrants; one played by Diane Kruger assists our hero.

Such is the cultural dominance of Hollywood that film producers still use it as a model for worldwide commercial cinema. I think the rising economies of China, India and Brazil will challenge this hegemony. It will be interesting to see how the $90m The Flowers of War (China-HK, 2011) fares.

Blindness (Canada-Brazil-Japan, 2008)

Only the blind can see

Only the blind can see

A Lord of the Flies for the 21st century. This harrowing film , based on Nobel prize winner Jose Saramago’s novel, investigates what happens if everybody goes blind. The first sufferers are interned in an old hospital and the main section of the film investigates the dynamics of what might happen. The film is science fiction (SF) as it is set in a world that’s either not quite like ours or in the future.

The architecture of the city in which it is set, mixes skyscrapers with buildings from earlier centuries; the film was shot in Canada, Brazil and Uruguay and features Brazilian, Japanese, Mexican, as well as Hollywood, actors in the lead roles. The director, Fernando Meirelles, is also Brazilian; the novelist is Portuguese; the screenplay’s by a Canadian; cinematographer Uruguayan; there are 13 production companies involved from different countries. The is about the ‘human condition’ and not about any specific culture. All this is to explain why I’ve categorised this as ‘global cinema’: one that speaks to, and about, (most of) the world. Slumdog Millionnaire can probably be similarly categorised.

The direction and cinematography are fantastic. Objects often block our view as if our sight were deteriorating, such as circular decorations being like blotches before our eyes. Mirrors fragment the mise en scene, making it unclear what we are seeing and a very shallow depth of field is used also to blur our vision. As conditions grow worse we enter the iconography of the horror movie, all the more powerful as we clearly not watching a ‘straight’ genre movie.

I was wondering how the film could end and I won’t spoil the fantastic conclusion the film offers. The cast are uniformly good and Julianne Moore plays a fascinating variant on her ‘brittle housewife’ persona. I’d put this film up there with Children of Men (2006) as being amongst the best SF movies ever made.