Truth and Dare

Comrades, I owe you more pictures from the glorious Gulf. But Oscar night is nigh, and I am sadly remiss.

I’ve reviewed the Best Picture of the Year that will not win, and the Best Picture that would win if it weren’t for The Artist, as well as the Best Picture of the Year that didn’t get a single nomination, which is Lars von Trier’s fault for babbling incoherently. Ah, Lars, I fear you can never win. I’ve seen the Best Picture that Will Win, The Artist, but am waiting to write about it on a double bill with Hugo, which at the very least deals with similar material; if Hugo is anything like The Artist, it won’t warrant a full post on its own. (Don’t get me wrong; I love The Artist, but it’s a frothy thing, and there’s not that much to write about.) And speaking of froth, I wrote about Midnight in Paris about as much as I care to, sidetracked by the delightful subject of this post. I’ll try to catch The Help streaming someplace, but it’s a gesture only; no one remembers movies that made the unfortunate decision to release in summer. As for War Horse, Moneyball, and that thing with the long annoying title – really, what is this stupid 5 Best Pictures plus-some-number thing about? At one point does a sop become just downright insulting?

Anyway, last night was much more interesting. A few years back, Shorts International had the bright idea of putting all the short live action movies and short animations into respective single program blocks. DVDs have made it easier to catch shorts, but it’s still not that easy; the series at least makes sure that the 5 Oscar picks in each category will get seen by a limited audience, a quantum leap from the status quo before the program started. This year, the slate of short documentaries has been added, and I saw four of the nominees last night. (The fifth, with the wonderful title God Is the Bigger Elvis, has the even more wonderful subject matter Delores Hart, who starred with the King in a bunch of movies and then became….a nun! Which can only make one wonder if the gloriously awful Change of Habit, starring Mary Tyler Moore as a former nun who succumbs to the Pelvis and his charms, was a bitchy scheme to tell Ms. Hart that she did things completely backwards.)

You can surmise a fair amount simply from the various movies’ titles. The Barber of Birmingham is a a feel good bio of a very cool civil rights activist; like so many bios, it’s an “and then this happened” series of event propelled solely by the force of the protagonist’s personality, but not by a whole lot else. Incident in New Baghdad is a simple, terse look at soldier Ethan McCord who, based on pulling two Iraqi children out of a car strafed by US fire, has become an ardent antiwar activist. It’s a tough, tight piece of work. Heartened as I am by McCord’s determination to broadcast his message – effectively, that we ALL bombed these kids since our tax money financed it, and we need to stop immediately – it’s upsetting that a short subject Oscar nominee is about as visible as it’s going to get. Do take a look at the man’s blog, linked to his name above.

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom sets recovering from the disaster of March 2011 to a candy-colored ode to the glorious pink trees that bloom every spring in Japan. The devastation is real and initially terrifying, but at the halfway mark, a lengthy discourse on every possible thing that the cherry blossom stands for turns up the sentiment a bit loud. British filmmaker Lucy Walker directed that Amish movie, Devil’s Playground, which lacked the teeth to chomp into its great choice of subject. She describes Tsunami as a “visual haiku to Japan.” That’s one of its problems. As I learned in my recent haiku experiment on the plane, just because the formula’s accessible doesn’t make it easy to create anything decent. The movie is pretty, has a beautiful score by Moby – and that’s part of the problem. Basically, tsunamis are bad and sad and cherry blossoms are glad and help you not be quite so mad. There’s great footage here, but no argument. For that reason, it’s got a good shot at winning. Sigh.

The best title, and best movie by a long shot of the four, is Saving Face, which follows a group of Pakistani women whose faces have been literally melted by acid attacks, as they struggle courageously to move on with their lives. The horrible attacks have little basis other than male hatred and fear of women; one 18-year-old talks of a teacher who, angry that she rejected him, threw battery acid in her face in order to “ruin [her] for other men.” She was 13 at the time.

Focusing primarily on one woman, Zakia, the camera follows her from initial disfigurement that continues to tighten and pull increasingly more of her skin to the injured side of her face; she reports that she can barely swallow and that she can actually feel the tightening, which is excruciating. One eye and a good part of nose are completely destroyed. Zakia is on a dual track: first, to work with London-based plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad to reconstruct her face, and second, as she bravely charges her husband for the assault under a new law that condemns acid maimers to life imprisonment. The courage of Zakia, and of the many women profiled in the film, both crime victims and tireless foot soldiers seeking justice, is utterly riveting. HBO will be showing the documentary in the spring. If you don’t catch it before then, please watch.

Based on my viewing, I hope Saving Face wins; certainly, it’s the best made and most disciplined of  the lot, though without being able to review that nun movie…I can’t be sure. If people watch, Face should win. If they don’t, Tsunami is likely to carry the day as it will assuage a little guilt over basically forgetting about the whole thing by the end of the summer. And don’t discount Barber, which has the election year/MLK link to up its chance. McCord, I think, has no shot, despite being better than either of the other two. Such is the Academy.

Tonight, I’ll check out the Live Action Shorts, a provocative category name if ever there was one.

One thought on “Truth and Dare

  1. Thank you for your review of Incident in New Baghdad. My only hope is that more people are given the opportunity to hear my message.

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