My Films of the Week #1

As a lifelong cinephile, I have always consumed a copious amount of films. In this new feature, I keep track of the films I watch during the week.

Les Unwanted de Europa (Fabrizio Ferraro, 2018, Italy/Spain)

Fabrizio Ferraro imagines the final days of Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin, as he escapes collaborationist France across the Pyrenees in 1939. At the same time, a group of Catalan Republicans attempt to escape Spain’s Fascist regime after the Spanish Civil War along the same pathway. A solemn meditation on the history of unwanted people on the Old Continent, complete with black and white photography enhancing the idea of the repetition (or mechanical reproduction?) of history. An apt film to have been released on the eve of a European migrant crisis.

Topside (Logan George and Celine Held, 2020, USA)

An intense feature debut by Logan George and Celine Held, and a story of people living on the edge of society. A mother and her five-year-old girl have occupied a Manhattan underground tunnel as their home. There, they live until they are forced to move out, running away from authorities one cold winter night. Fuelled by urgency and suspense, Topside is a portrait of modern-day desperation. The underground setting offers a fascinating backdrop for a compelling and new exploration of what it means to be a mother, as well as what it means to be a mother’s child.

The Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, 2009, France/Belgium/Ireland)

On the eve of a bloody warfare, a young boy named Brandon is recruited by a revered illuminator to complete a book that may save his village by way of completing a series of dangerous, magical tasks. The Secret of Kells is inspired by Celtic mythology and the origins of The Book of Kells. However, both the narrative structure and the eclectic style of animation reveal multi-cultural influences that enhance the message of the movie. In fact, the film is just as adventurous as it is a universally appealing coming-of-age story driven by the powerful message that the pen is mightier than the sword.

We Can’t Go Home Again (Nicholas Ray, 1973, USA)

Nicholas Ray’s final major project, We Can’t Go Home Again, is a semi-fictionalized account of his relationship with his film students at Binghamton University. The film is experimental in nature, pioneering the use of the video synthesizer. Though it was never truly finished, constantly re-edited by the filmmaker in his final years, its incompleteness enhances the Brechtian power of the project’s eclecticism. We Can’t Go Home Again also feels like a deeply personal reflection on such themes as generational gap and loneliness, and captures an essence of counter-cultural times in the United States. It may even be taken as an autobiographical reflection on his status within the then-new generation of filmmakers, which heralded him as a hero but was reluctant to integrate him.

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