The Oscars will soon be here and I am woefully behind in my viewings. Usually, this time of year is one of excitement and anticipation. Yet, in 2014 I feel oddly disconnected from these Hollywood happenings.
While, I have not seen the movies I’d hoped to have by now, I have had the chance to watch a couple of the feature length documentaries that have been nominated this year. It’s moments like this when I feel great respect for Netflix and their documentary offerings. Sure, their film selections aren’t always the best, but they really do shine when it comes to docs. Recently, I’ve caught both The Square and Cutie and the Boxer.
I heard a radio interview with the director of The Square a few months ago, so it was already on my radar. This film follows a group of Egyptian revolutionaries as they witness the crumbling of their country’s political structure. The film begins with the fall of Hosni Mubarak. The mood of the revolutionaries is optimistic, having seen the way the Egyptian people came together to protest in Tahrir Square. Yet, the unity quickly dissolves and the result is infighting as the citizens argue over what their country should look like. As fighting emerges, fueled by the army, the factions grow even more divided. By the time the first presidential election takes place, many are discouraged with their options. They witnesses death and utter chaos leading up to the election. Originally, the film left off with the election of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi. That was until protests began again and the filmmakers quickly realized that this story was not over yet. The film ends with Morsi stepping down and a country still figuring out their next steps.
What drew me into this film was the story of one of the younger revolutionaries, Ahmed Hassan. The film opens with him expressing the hopes he has for change in Egypt. He is ever the bright-eyed idealist. As the film goes on, you begin to witness the impact the fighting has on him. Sure Mubarak stepped down, but people are dividing back into their respective religious and political groups. The army is making a power grab and real change seems so far. As the protests turn into battles, Hassan sees friends injured and killed. He himself is injured. You can see the heaviness on his face as the situation continues to deteriorate. As the film ends with Morsi stepping down, you see a different Hassan. He is hopeful again, yet the hope is more grounded. It cannot be with the same optimism. He has seen too much. He cannot be that same naïve young man he was at the beginning of the film.
To be honest, I had not followed the happenings in Egypt over the past few years. As I watched this film, I realized what a complex story was playing out there. It saddened me to see a people living in chaos, working for change, but hitting obstacle after obstacle.
And now for something completely different, Cutie and the Boxer. This film follows Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, a married couple who also are both artists. Ushio, now in his 80’s, is a well-known avant gard Japanese artist. While he has never been financially successful, he is well-respected in the art world. His wife, also a talented artist, ended up in the role of his care taker and personal assistant. Her desires were ignored in order to support her husband. Noriko, AKA Cutie, goes on a journey throughout the course of the film. When Ushio goes to Japan to sell a few pieces of art, she finally has the time to return to her art. What results is a beautifully rendered telling of their story through her drawings. These images express her passions and frustrations through her 40 years with Ushio. Through the creation of her art she is able to re-claim her life, to individuate herself from her husband. She finds her voice and has the courage to let it be heard. It is challenging to watch their relational dynamics play out, yet there is something so encouraging in witnessing Noriko’s growth.
This film was such an interesting mixture of pain and lightness. It is painful to witness Ushio and Noriko’s life together. Ushio is a strong, domineering figure in the house, although less so in his older age. He takes up so much space that there is little to no room for Noriko. Yet, she is a fascinating person to watch. She has such a unique style, with her trademark braids, and I found that I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Even when she was quiet, there was so much happening on her face. Towards the beginning of the film, Ushio has a gallery opening. He is the belle of the ball and all eyes are on him. The camera continues to look to Noriko, as she is overlooked and forgotten. The film ends with the couple sharing an exhibit. She is seen and her face lights up.
Happy viewing to you all as you watch your final films in preparation for this weekend! I’ll see you next week as I kick off Expand, a project for Women’s History month on the blog.