Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available on DVD or VOD. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
This Mexican road film from director Alonzo Ruiz Palacios was the darling of last year’s TriBeca Film Festival, where it won the award for Best Cinematography. It tells the story of a troubled boy (Tomás) who is sent to live with his brother Sombra in Mexico City circa 1999. Sombra and his roommate are university students at the time of the university strike that rocked the city for over eight months. But the film takes its time getting to that point. It’s a road movie that doesn’t go very far, but at the same time, it covers a great deal of ground.
As Tomas arrives at his brother’s house, his brother and roommate are stagnant. Aside from playing with a young neighbor, they don’t do much. They sit, smoke, and listen to Sombra’s crush Ana read poetry over the radio. The camera obliges the action and sits stagnant, watching the characters. With long takes and deep-focus photography, we get a sense of the inertia of their lives.
But as the plot forces the boys to leave quickly, the cinematography changes as well, going from stasis to movement. Suddenly the camera is active, the editing is dynamic, and even the soundtrack kicks into gear. In historical terms, the film moves from Italian Neorealism to the French New Wave in the first hour of the film. It is quite fun to watch, in both thematic and stylistic terms. The boys finally make it to the actual strike, find Ana, and then continue on their road trip. The film finds its footing here—the cinematography is fresh, the acting is very good all around, and the pacing is alive.
Director Ruiz Palacios is a part of the Mexican New Wave, a group that includes recent Oscar winners Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu, as well as Guillermo del Toro. These directors have produced some of the finest work on the planet over the past 10–15 years, and they show no signs of slowing down. Ruiz Palacios is not in the stratosphere of the other directors yet, but this is an excellent film that sets him on his way.
You will enjoy this film if you liked Amores Perros, Y tu mamá también, and/or Motorcyle Diaries. Starts at the Sie Film Center on June 12.
I grew up on war films—John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, and all the greats of Classic Hollywood Cinema. My father fought in WWII, and he was at D-Day. When Saving Private Ryan came out, we watched it together, and I was especially struck by the gruesome opening sequence on Omaha Beach. I asked him if this approximated reality, to which he replied, “Not even close.” The point was clear: a Hollywood film cannot duplicate the horror of war.
Director David Ayer’s Fury rectifies that. The story of one tank behind enemy lines in April 1945, it is a brutal, straight-ahead rendering of fighting in Germany toward the end of the war. The Germans became desperate at this point, and they enlisted every man, woman, and child available to fight. They were also suffering from lack of food and supplies. It all adds up to a Hell on Earth that is difficult to describe. Film, however, has the unique quality of making visceral just such circumstances.
The tank is led by a war-hardened sergeant named Wardaddy, brilliantly played by Brad Pitt in a towering performance. This is a man who has seen it all and killed much of what he has seen. The rest of the crew is a motley bunch of not-very-likeable veterans and one rookie plucked from the typing pool. That rookie’s first job is to clean the tank after a recent battle. He literally picks up the face—and only the face—of his predecessor as he does so. Welcome to the War, kid. And it only goes downhill from there.
There is no specific narrative here, none of the characters are very likeable, untold numbers of characters die horrible deaths in every way imaginable, and there is nothing in the way of redemption. So what is the appeal? Granted, this is not a film for everyone, but if you are interested in a more realistic portrayal of the war, then tune in. But be warned, you enter a gruesome inferno.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Saving Private Ryan, Blackhawk Down, and/or Restrepo.
Available at Redbox and all VOD outlets.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at email@example.com.