Monday, January 26, 2009

The Official Story - Gaby Ibanez today

The 1985 film “The Official Story,” directed by Luis Puenzo, tells the story of an affluent family living in Argentina in the early 1980s, during the aftermath of the “dirty war” and the military coup in the mid 1970s. The movie examines truth, family and the role of the “official story.”

Alicia Marnet Ibanez is a history teacher, married to a wealthy businessman who has what appear to be dealings in shady government business. He is well connected, so when they are unable to have children on their own, he is able to find a child to adopt. Roberto Ibanez tells his wife not to ask questions. And she doesn't – until she starts to see other people questioning the conventional wisdom. An old friend returns from exile, a student challenges history as it is written and people protest in the streets against the kidnapping of their loved ones.

Eventually, Alicia is led to the likely truth – that her daughter WAS taken from a mother who did not give up her child willingly – and was herself then taken. The child's grandmother meets up with Alicia and suddenly, the truth is out there.

At the end of the film, we see Alicia walk away from her husband who lied to her, and then gets abusive with her after she confronts him with the news. Gaby, meanwhile, is at her grandmother's house, in a rocking chair, singing softly to herself.

Here's where she might be today, at about age 25.

“Gaby Ibanez is busy working for Amnesty International, one of her first jobs after graduate school at Columbia University in New York. The Argentinian woman is married to a Brazilian man she met in New York while interning at the United Nations during graduate school. Her undergraduate degree is from Harvard.

Ibanez was raised by her adoptive mother and maternal grandmother for many years in Buenos Aires. Her father was killed when she was 8, but she doesn't talk about him often. He left a sizable estate to both women, so she was well taken care of.

She did spend summers with her paternal grandparents and cousins, and remembers fondly how they had a great time, even without many creature comforts.

Gaby learned at a young age that she was actually one of the “los desaparecidos” or “the disappeared ones” during the “dirty war” in Argentina. Her mother, Alicia, was very straightforward with her about the situation after she learned about the circumstances under which the adoption was granted.

Ibanez and her mother moved to the United States during her teenage years, as her mother became more active in Human Rights Watch and later Amnesty International.

Most recently, the young woman has been involved in monitoring the civilian court trial against retired army colonel Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega for his alleged role in the disappearance of 11 people in Argentina in 1984.

Both women are involved in services each year for “The Day of the Disappeared” which “started in 1983 by the Latin American non-governmental organization FEDEFAM (Federación Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos) at a time when disappearances arose from authoritarian rule” according to Amnesty International.

A UN group reports that there are more than 41,000 pending cases of disappearances in 78 countries.

***Popcorn tidbits***

I thought it was strange that Anna and Alicia were drinking egg nog at their house while they were getting drunk. It didn't seem like it was Christmas – so I wonder if it wasn't a seasonal drink in Argentina.

I wonder if the subplot with the English teacher was intended to make Alicia look like she was growing, or that she would have been naïve enough to have an affair with him?

I liked that the film was left open ended. We assume that Alicia left her husband for good, but we don't know. And we don't really know what will happen to Gaby (thought I took a leap to write her biography above.)

The scenes with the English teacher and the students acting as they were reading the script reminded me so much of parts of “Dead Poets Society.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

Paradise Now deserved the attention it received

Director Hany Abu-Assad falls into the damned if he does, damned if he doesn't category. As has been happening for centuries, people are very passionate about their beliefs about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East. And with his film, “Paradise Now,” the debate continues – this time onto the silver screen in a Golden Globe-winning film.

Many films that fare well in the Golden Globes end up getting recognized with Oscar nominations. (We'll see if it is the case this year, as the Academy Award nominations come out on Jan. 22.) This was also the case for “Paradise Now.” And some people weren't happy about that. And there is where we begin our discussion about the protests against this film.

“Paradise Now,” focuses on the story of two Palestinian friends who are recruited to be suicide bombers. Certainly, we have a unique perspective here – it's being told through the eyes of these men who have recently lost their jobs, are not in committed relationships and feel trapped and oppressed living on the West Bank. The people who are recruiting them sense that this is an opportunity that the men will take because of these circumstances. It is a difficult topic, with many raw emotions. The end result in the film is that people in Tel Aviv, Israel will be killed.

After it was nominated, a petition was written by the victim of a suicide bombing, urging the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to withdraw the nomination, saying it glorified Palestinian suicide bombers.

“Granting an award to this kind of movie gives the filmmakers a seal of approval to hide behind. ... By ignoring the film's message and the implications of this message, those that chose to award this film a prize have become part of the evil chair of terror and accomplices to the next suicide murders – whether they kill 17 people or 17,000 people,” he wrote.

News reports said the petition received more than 36,000 online signatures.

But there are several reasons why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was correct in nominating the movie for an Oscar.

First, there's the issue of the First Amendment. Past “Best Picture” awards went to films like Schindler's List (1993), Platoon (1986), Ghandi (1982) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). All of these films dealt with conflicts, politics and the death of many people on one side of the conflict or the other.

I agreed with Academy spokesman John Pavlik, who told that “We're not going to disqualify films because some people don't like the content.”

A counter-petition said the film depicts “how a life of desperation can lead to an act of desperation.” Whether you agree with that statement or not, the other point it makes is that “art should not be censored in any shape or form.”

Secondly, Abu-Assad is showing viewers a world which many of them have never seen and won't ever understand – but it is important to look at many sides when having a debate about difficult issues like war. And I thought the idea that it glorified suicide bombing was actually not true.

The characters are portrayed as men who have reservations about what they are doing. Said asks Khalid if they are doing the right thing, and asks if he is scared. The leaders of the ring must know that people may have reservations about what they are doing – which is why they strap the bombs onto the men with a tamper-proof lock, so they can not take it off without it exploding.

Even during the filming of their martyr tapes, there is some hesitation. During the first taping, Khalid is only reading the script tentatively, and seems to not completely embrace it. The more he reads, the more he buys into it, but as Said watches his friend, he tears up.

Suha is certainly a character that brings another layer of depth to the film-and she shows that there are people who try another way, without violence. Khalid is finally convinced. Unfortunately, Said is not.

Ultimately, the movie just makes people think. And films like that are rare. No matter what side of the political spectrum you find yourself on, it was the right thing to do to nominate this film for the awards it got.

***Popcorn tidbits***

When Said comes to see Suha in the middle of the night, she makes tea. When she asks how he takes it, she says, “Why to people in Nablus take so much sugar in their tea?” I took it as a counter to the way many of the people there live – that sugar at least brings them happiness.

In a crowd scene, as the people in Nablus are blocked from going through a road block, they simply walk down another path. As they do so, there are explosions in the background. They just keep walking, because it is just a part of normal life there.

When Suha breaks Khalid's watch, it struck me as being symbolic for being out of time. Much like Said and his victims are about to be.

Two of the saddest small moments, for me, were the fact that Khalid's family made him a sandwich to take with him as he left for his mission, not knowing what he was doing. And when Said's mother looks inside his teacup, there are no tea leaves at the bottom. She says, “Oh my God. Your future is blank.”

One flaw in the story is when Said comes back. He is still wearing the bomb and they are riding around the city to get it taken off. I really think he cared about Suha, and he wouldn't have let her ride in the car with him while he had that on.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Analyzing “The Day I Became a Woman”

Marzieh Meshkini's “The Day I Became a Woman,” is a modern-day look into the life of a woman in Iran. I was pleasantly surprised by how frankly and openly she is able to tell this story.

The film was a winner at the Venice Film Festival when it appeared in September of 2000 and continued winning awards around the world – it works in every country because it is shot so simply.

To look at three specific scenes that were particularly important or revealing, let's look at one scene from each act. Women at three different ages could actually be the same woman – we don't think they do, because they have different names, but the story arc could have represented the life of an average Iraninan woman.

In the first section, the true coming-of-age scene isn't when Hava's mother measures her for the new Chador, or even when she is sharing candy with Hassan – with whom she won't be able to play any more. It is by giving away her head scarf to the other boys. She watches the scarf, and the boat, and her childhood sail away. The dark scarf can also symbolize the shadow that goes away from her makeshift sundial. “Good-bye, Hassan,” she tells her friend. “The shadow is gone now.”

The second section about Ahoo, has several very strong moments. But the one that struck me the most was after her husband divorced her and she turned her father away. The next batch of men that come after her are tribal elders who warn her that God will punish her if she doesn't get off the bike (that her husband called “the devil's mount.” And they tell her that after turning away even her father that “This is a tribal matter now.” There is a split second of doubt in her face. She slows down ever so briefly. And then picks up steam and rides on.

The key scene in the final act, starring Hoora, is that even after she has been able to buy every material item she never had before, there is still something missing. She worries about her rooster with no water, and can't remember what the last string on her finger is for. It's so sad that she's been able to fulfill every need she thought she would ever need with her inheritance – but one. As she sails away on her bed, you can almost see the sadness in her eyes – knowing that fulfillment has eluded her yet again.

*** Popcorn tidbits ***

The candy that Hava gets for she and Hassan to share is sour. Much like what she is going through that day. And the sharing of the candy was very intimate, yet innocent at the same time.

Each section had a separate subtitled meaning at the end. Hava was “Eve,” Ahoo was “Gazelle” and Hoora was “Black-eyed Beauty.”

As she is riding in the bicycle race, Ahoo passes a sign that says, “You are here,” on a map. I wonder if it was meant as a reminder that she was stuck there, or as a way for her to imagine herself going somewhere else.

I thought it was interesting that the men warned Ahoo, “Think of your dignity.”

I fear the fate of Ahoo and wish were were given a little more of a hint about her fate.

The kids playing with the toys and appliances were just a hoot. The boy vacuuming the sand made me laugh out out loud.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Another out-of-class movie note - Doubt

So we finally saw Doubt last night - and it really does live up to all of the Oscar hype. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams are the real deal.

Not exactly a cheery topic, but the performances are amazing.


Our fates are the same - and other thoughts from Raise the Red Lantern

Zhang Yimou's "Raise the Red Lantern" was a beautiful, sad movie. The cinematography was rich and developed like the seasons and as the main character's hope dimmed. You could definitely see why Zhang Yimou was tapped to do so much of the opening ceremonies at the Olympics.

That being said, I hated the way the movie ended.

But let's back up. The whole tone of the film is truly set up in the first two minutes, when the tears start falling down Songlian's face. Both her parents are dead, she has had to pull out of the university and her stepmother sends her to be a concubine. And then, the first mention of fate is made - "Let me be a concubine," the 19-year-old says. "Isn't that a woman's fate?"

The movie quickly descended into the most bleak version of Wisteria Lane. But these "Desperate Housewives" weren't fighting to be the head of the hospitality committee - they were literally fighting for the affection of The Master - with which came great power over the other women and servants.

***Spoiler alert for those of you who haven't seen it yet.***

There are some movies that you want to see tied up in a bow to have the couple get together in the end, or to have the hero win. Sorry to be morbid, but I really think Songlian would have killed herself. She would have climbed up to the roof, possibly with a flute, and hanged herself next to Meishan.

Here's why. Her independent streak stayed with her from the moment she carried her own luggage into her house until the end, when she relights the lanterns at her house. The morning after her first night with The Master, she looks at herself in the mirror and it's like her spirit has literally died.

Songlian is fascinated by the death house, and wants to know who died there and why.

About halfway through, Meishan tells Songlian, "Our fates are the same."

After her maid, Yan'er, dies, Songlian says, "She's lucky to have died."

It is clear that the bones in the death house have been there for a long time. And when the black lantern covers are taken out, they are covered with a lot of dust - maybe the same amount of time's worth. It stands to reason that the last person who had her lanterns extinguished also had their own life ended.

Finally, after she has learned that she is peripherally responsible for the death of Meishan and Yan'er, I figured one of two things would happen. She would rule the roost more completely, leaving one fewer wife in her way to regain The Master's presence. Or, what I was sure was more likely, she would rob The Master of another wife by ending her own life - something that she was in control of. Perhaps she's found hanging from a lantern, or underneath one of the black lantern covers.

Would that be morbid? Yes. But her going crazy leaves so many more loose ends.

For more cheery commentary, check in with me next time. :)

***Popcorn tidbits***
(these are in no particular order)

*As they began the first foot massages, I had a terrible feeling that they were about to bind her feet (though at that point, she would have probably been too old for that to work). Then I had a terrible thought that they might hobble her ala "Misery" so that she could learn her place or something. Luckily, it was much less sinister than that.

*I was really intrigued at the giant horns they had to blow out the lanterns. Clever invention.

*Weren't all of those lanterns a fire hazard?

*It was probably foreshadowing that Songlian missed the transport to the palace - and had to walk there herself. It was the first time she would not follow "custom." But it would not be the last. I think that streak of independence definitely led to her eventual undoing.

*At the end, when she has gone crazy, she is wearing the same clothes she did when she first arrived at the palace. I was kind of surprised that they let her stay, too.

*I wondered what the role of Feipu was. Initially, I thought that maybe Songlian would have an affair with him, that then might lead her to the same fate as Meishan, but that relationship never developed. He introduced the concept of the flute into the plot, but there could have been other ways for Songlian to remember that she had brought her father's flute with her.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Another good, random movie site

Thanks for the tip, Jay!
has box office receipts for tons of films. It's just sort of interesting to see what's out there.