Sunday, September 11, 2022

Three Thousand Years of Longing, George Miller’s Lavish Genie Tale

By José Alberto Hermosillo

Seven years have passed since George Miller impacted the world with ten Oscar nominations and six wins for his stylish, action-packed box-office smash thriller “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015. Now, the celebrated Australian director of the “Mad Max” trilogy and “The Witches of Eastwick” presents his most intimate, ethereal, and philosophical film, “Three Thousand Years of Longing” - an eclectic and modern adaptation of the classic genie in a bottle tale.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is a superb piece of filmmaking with striking visuals and profound emotions that moves audiences to a subconscious state of mind.

Adapting from the 1994 novel by A.S. Bryatt, “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye,” George Miller and co-writer Augusta Gore placed together a series of cautionary tales in the form of flashbacks recounted by the genie’s past experiences.

 
This story is about stories, some of those experiences are told by the prestigious narratologist Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton; “Orlando,” “Michael Clayton,” “I Am Love”), who is happy with her single life, although she is a lonely woman by choice and an independent scientist by profession. In the film, she narrates her findings as “a true story” – according to her experience, her trip to Istanbul was the best possible scenario for her spiritual adventure.

Tilda Swinton’s character is profoundly complex. She explores her feelings deeply - even though she is a confident woman of science who likes to take control of any given situation, she is also a believer.

Upon arriving in the mystical city of Istanbul to present a conference, she finds some peculiar characters approaching her everywhere she goes. Then, she discovers the mysteries of the thousands of streets, parks, and enigmatic bazaars. As a courtesy, the hotel places her in the same room where Agatha Christie wrote “Murder on the Orient Express.”

During Alithea's presentation, she connects science with stories. “The stories were once the only way to make our bewildering existence coherent,” said professor Gunhan, introducing her. She follows the reasoning confronting myths and science, helping us to find the purpose of science when nowadays, theology is devolving into superheroes.

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is one of the most emblematic Turkish landmarks, with over 4,000 shops on 62 streets. While visiting such a splendid marketplace, Alithea questions her fate and how she escapes from it. Speaking about destiny, what will be the chances she can find, in a pile of “unsorted old and new things,” a bottle with a genie inside, also known as the “Nightingale's Eye.” And indeed, after the finding, she takes it because, in her view, every object has an exciting story to tell.


For-the-time-being, at the hotel's bathroom, she washes  and rubs the rare object when suddenly the mythical character of Aladdin comes to life with baggage of three experiences previously lived with the women who owned the bottles and the ones who trapped him throughout centuries before they fullfil their three wishes.
 

This non-Disney modern and eclectic version of “Aladdin” must be appreciated for what it is: a fable where the main characters’ actions and emotions should not be conditioned by their past experiences, lifestyle, or external situations over which they have no control - but their emotions they feel for each other are real in this melting pot of cultures and stories that they line in.

In a film full of contrasts, our rational-minded professor finds that she must believe in a higher power, this case, in the form of a djinn or genie, magnificently played by the talented British actor Idris Elba (“Beast,” “Beast of No Nation”). This exuberant, adult version of “Aladdin” realizes three wishes for Alithea, who does not want to play alone. Instead, she interrogates the djinn, which states, in an extremely long conversation, his three previous love experiences, setting the mystical and somehow romantic tone of the film.

The first story is about the desire the djinn feels for the Queen of Sheba and how her seducer Solomon, the musician holds the evil forces in his hands placing him back in the bottle. The second tale is set in Constantinople, during the Ottoman Empire, where Gulten is a concubine in the court of king Suleiman the Magnificent. She desires the prince’s love but the fatal outcome for prince Mustafa is inevitable. The final story takes us into the mid-19th Century in Turkey, where Zefir wishes for knowledge. Zefir’s second wish was never to meet the djinn, sending him to live in oblivion for another century. 

The genie's past is relatively unimportant. What matters is the here and now and the particular relevance of Alithea’s responses and decisions she makes to accomplish her mission in life helping the djinn to adapt to modern times. At the same time, it is an existential crisis that, eventually, sooner or later, all entities have to face. 

The film evokes the eternal question of what women most desire. The lead characters’ emotions evolve into affection, patience, and tolerance. They start to believe more purely in love, mysticism, and higher power. At the end, depends on us to let the djinn accomplish his mission and not let him get lost another thousand years in oblivion. 

The complexity of the long dialogues and emotions experienced between the djinn and the lucky woman who holds the bottle compels the viewer to a second or even a third watch of such a magnificent and profound film.

 
Violette, When Women Dare to Write  

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Saturday, September 10, 2022

Venice 79 Winners

By José Alberto Hermosillo

Golden Lion for Best Film: “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” Laura Poitras
Grand Jury Prize: “Saint Omer,” Alice Diop
Silver Lion for Best Director: “Bones and All,” Luca Guadagnino
Special Jury Prize: “No Bears,” Jafar Panahi
Best Screenplay: “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Martin McDonagh
Volpi Cup for Best Actress: “Tár,” Cate Blanchett
Volpi Cup for Best Actor: “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Colin Farrell
Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor: “Bones and All,” Taylor Russell

HORIZONS
Best Film: “World War III,” Houman Seyyedi
Best Director: “Vera,” Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel
Special Jury Prize: “Bread and Salt,” Damian Kocur
Best Actress: “Vera,” Vera Gemma
Best Actor: “World War III,” Mohsen Tanabandeh
Best Screenplay: “Blanquita,” Fernando Guzzoni
Best Short Film: “Snow in September,” Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir

LION OF THE FUTURE
Luigi de Laurentiis Award for Best Debut Feature: “Saint Omer,” Alice Diop

HORIZONS EXTRA
Audience Award: “Nezouh,” Soudade Kaadan

VENICE CLASSICS
Best Documentary of Cinema: “Fragments of Paradise,” K.D. Davison
Best Restored Film: “Branded to Kill,” Seijun Suzuki

VENICE IMMERSIVE
Best Immersive Experience: “The Man Who Couldn’t Leave,” Chen Singing
Grand Jury Prize: “From the Main Square,” Pedro Harres
Special Jury Prize: “Eggscape,” German Heller

VENICE DAYS (announced earlier)
Cinema of the Future Award: “The Maiden,” Graham Foy
Director’s Award: “Wolf and Dog,” Cláudia Varejão
People’s Choice Award: “Blue Jean,” Georgia Oakley

CRITICS’ WEEK (announced earlier)
Grand Prize: “Eismayer,” David Wagner
Special Mention: “Anhell69,” Theo Montoya
Audience Award: “Margini,” Niccolò Falsetti
Verona Film Club Award: “Anhell69,” Theo Montoya
Mario Serandrei – Hotel Saturnia Award for Best Technical Contribution: “Anhell69,” Theo Montoya
Best Short Film: “Puiet,” Lorenzo Fabbro and Bronte Stahl
Best Director (Short Film): “Albertine Where Are You?,” Maria Guidone
Best Technical Contribution (Short Film): “Reginetta,” Federico Russotto

Related Articles:  
Clara Sola: Defines Feminism and Magical Realism in Costa Rica Parasite: Accomplishes the South Korean Dream 

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Sunday, September 4, 2022

Thirteen Lives: Diversity is Still Hollywood’s Bulkiest Affair Even in Thailand

By José Alberto Hermosillo 

“Thirteen Lives” is a compelling survival drama that keeps the tension from beginning to end - a triumph of the human spirit!

This new Hollywood production directed by Ron Howard is a thrilling roller-coaster with a faithful reconstruction of one of the most dramatic rescues in Thailand’s history. The mission was to save the lives of twelve young soccer players and their coach, impacted by their actions and the forces of nature that trapped them inside the caves. 

As we dive into the story, the junior soccer players enjoy their game under the overcast afternoon, a prelude to the turn of events awaiting the youngsters. Once they finished with the game, they wanted to go out and celebrate one of the kid’s birthdays - their destination, the Tham Luang caves, northern Thailand.

What seems an innocent adventure for the soccer players soon becomes an unsettling tragedy for an entire community. Without warning, the Monsoon season thunders the land with diluvian rains, trapping the children kilometers inside the caves.


Subsequently, Thailand's National Guard was tasked with effecting a rescue. After several attempts, their mission could not dive into the caves any further to reach the children, given how their lives would also be at risk. At this point, messages of desperation went out to the international community.

The news traveled quickly, reaching England, precisely two of the world’s best British divers, John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) and Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen), specialists in caves. These men understood the risks, having previously participated in other rescue missions, yet felt a moral responsibility to help the kids. 

Ron Howard, the director of “Apollo 13,” efficiently managed to push the emotions to the limit, regardless of the intentional disassociation with the Thai children. The filmmaker only showed brief moments of the children's lives, then focused on divers.

In the film, the absence of the children raised tension. Consequently, the film would have benefited from letting the audience know more about developments in the narrative -- the children: who are they? What are their dreams, desires, and hopes? The audience likes to learn more about the parents, culture, education, and passion for soccer. The film paints an insufficient portrait of the local characters as the drama unfolds.

In the public’s memory, the children trapped in the caves in Thailand is still fresh - the rescue happened in 2018. In this Amazon Prime Video production, the introduction runs away from the children too quickly, then focuses on the British divers, committing significant omissions; what about the rescue teams from other nations who played a critical part in the "collective" mission? Australia, Japan, Germany, and Switzerland.

Faith is a higher power in every country. In this particular case, international solidarity was evident. The Hollywood production focuses on the actions led by the British rescuers and moves away from everyone else. 

On the same subject, the Netflix series "Thai Cave Rescue" chronicles the mission to save those kids. And the vivid National Geographic documentary by Oscar-winning directors Jimmy Chin and his wife Elizabeth Chai, "The Rescue," focuses on the logistics and the international team tirelessly working to save those precious lives. Both projects deeply researched the Tham Luang caves event, showing what "Thirteen Lives" failed to offer, the rescue teams from more than twenty countries.


The capital used in the rescue mission was colossal, the numbers don’t lie. The production of “Thirteen Lives” did not show the enormous amount of human and mechanical resources used to save those children’s lives: 100 divers, 900 police officers, 2,000 soldiers, ten police helicopters, seven ambulances, and more than 700 diving cylinders. The volunteers and technical specialists came from Australia, the USA, Denmark, Israel, Germany, the Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, and Ukraine.

The responsibility of filming inside the caves underwater fell to the experienced Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. He previously worked in Thailand’s Palme d’Or winner mystical dark fable “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and in the luminous Italian production “Call Me by Your Name.” The camera setups in the scenes filmed underwater in a limited space were complex with fascinating results.

Hollywood history has plenty of “survivor movies,” although since the 1970s those films become more popular. The popular projects showing the victims’ journey and people’s struggle to survive begin with “Towering Inferno,” “Poseidon,” “Survive! /Supervivientes de Los Andes,” and even “Titanic.”

Other more recent survivor epics include “The Impossible,” directed by J.A. Bayona (“The Orphanage/El Orfanato,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”), which is also set in Thailand during the 2004 Indian Tsunami. “The 33,” directed by Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”), is a movie led by Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche chronicling the story of the copper miners trapped in Chile who survived thanks to the international effort.

As Ron Howard failed to show the local and international community working in the rescue by giving more screen time to the British divers, Clint Eastwood commits a similar cultural omission in “Richard Jewell.” The film diminishes and washes out the historical festivities of the international community in Atlanta’s Olympic Games of 1996 and the terrorist attack to showcase a mere courtroom drama.

The tragedy of the Boston Marathon on “Patriots Day” disbands most participants, ignores the public, visitors, Bostonians, and even the real heroes who helped the wounded at the finish line. Ultimately, the film failed to show what happened on that fateful day because Hollywood's Star System focuses on the lead, in this case, Mark Wahlberg, who matters more than the authentic recreation of the events.

Hollywood’s most awkward issue always has been ignoring the vast diversity of our communities. In contrast, the Norwegian film "Otoya: July 22" never loses its sense of community. Neither the Mexican drama "Canoa, A Shameful Memory." And the unmerciful representation of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Oscar nominee production "Quo Vadis, Aida?

“Thirteen Lives” has a couple of overwhelming flashes that melt our hearts, mostly when we finally see the divers reaching the children. Still, the artificial recreation of those moments entertains the masses, choosing not to show a piece of reality or to construct a historical document that can feel relevant to future generations. 

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