Hany Abu-Assad's Paradise Now, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film this year, is a film made in the Palestinian Territories and is about (surprise, surprise) the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Not that it's not an important topic or anything; I certainly think it is a topic worth exploring, but it wasn't explored well with Munich and it wasn't explored well with Paradise Now. The Palestinian film is a better film in a lot of ways because it takes a single idea (i.e. suicide terrorism) and attacks the issue from as many sides as it can. (Munich tries to attack myriad more issues but fails to deal with any of them.) Paradise Now bit off only a little bit and is able to chew on it well. This is also the problem with the movie: it has nothing to add to what we know about either suicide terrorism or the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The main characters also become unrecognizable halfway through the film and the disconnect that this provided me with was insurmountable. The Palestinian men I met at the beginning of the film were totally different people from the suicide bombers who end the film; for me this makes the film incapable of emotional resonance. And with nothing new to add to the discussion and very little emotional weight, Paradise Now just didn't work for me.
Mikael Håfström's Evil was released in Sweden in 2003. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004 (a shock, really), and though most films with a nomination like that are basically guaranteed a U.S. release (art-house-type movie-goers will spend money to see the movie if it has a Foreign Language nomination), Evil wasn't released in the U.S. until four weeks ago. Last Friday it was finally released in Los Angeles. The movie is about violence and the evil (and good, but mostly evil) that violence can bring. It's a very interesting film if you just think about the violence in the picture. The characters are interesting, the hero is extremely easy to root for and very likable, but the plot is downright ludicrous. A very violent young teenager is sent away to a prep school where the students (not the teachers) keep order and discipline throughout the school. They do this through disproportionately violent means (i.e. making a student's head bleed for saying "ass" at the dinner table.) Our hero (the violent young man, whom we've come to like and trust) is thrust into this environment but simply refuses to be bullied. His life is then made a living Hell by the upperclassmen. Håfström's film would have been a lot better if it didn't ask us to believe in this school as a real place: I mean, if he created a mythical school where this violence could occur. His focus is, after all, the violence inherent in youth interaction, and so why spend so much time displaying the injustice of the adults in the situation—when the situation is clearly fictional? Ludicrous plot aside, I quite liked Evil. I loved the main character (and the actor, Andreas Wilson) and I'm a sucker for coming-of-age stories... and violence. I find explorations of violence in cinema endlessly fascinating (Oldboy, A History of Violence, you get the idea.)
After watching Paradise Now, last night, I headed to the Laemmle's Playhouse to see the Dardenne Brothers' most recent, Palme-d'Or-winning film, L'Enfant, which is so damn good. It's not quite as good as The Son, in my opinion, but I think that mainly owes to my preferred interest in the subject matter of The Son over L'Enfant. L'Enfant follows the story of Bruno, a young petty thief and new father. His girlfriend Sonia has just given birth (mere days earlier) to their son Jimmy. After spending very little time with the boy, Bruno decides (without the mother's consent, naturally) to sell his child on the black market. This is easily done (Bruno knows the right kind of people), but Bruno hasn't considered the consequences of his actions at all. The title, The Child, we come to realize, refers not only to the little baby in Sonia's arms, but to his father as well. Bruno is an impetuous, unthinking, selfish young man, for whom the word "irresponsible" would be a gross understatement. The Dardennes (who are obviously master filmmakers) leave their camera focused unflinchingly on Bruno and explore his world with sensitivity and amazing emotional power. I highly recommend this film.