no more: Cristiano in Im Not Scared.
by Gabriele Salvatores
From the director of Mediter raneo comes I’m Not
Scared, a haunting coming-of-age story posing—quite aptly—as
a thriller. Amid the brilliant yellows and golds of fields
of wheat, 10-year-old Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) plays with
his equally ragtag friends games that mimic the pecking order
of adulthood. One boy in particular, called Skull, takes delight
in humiliating those weaker than him, and in an early scene,
brutal for its honesty and its evocation of what cruelties
children inflict upon each other, his sadism nearly rules
the day until Michele, a weaver of stories, bravely intercedes.
These children inhabit a world that, for all the beauty of
the wheat, is barren and desolate, seemingly forgotten on
the prairies of Italy. The ocean, apparently close by, remains
unseen, as if it, too, can’t be bothered with Michele’s shabby
town and its hope-deprived inhabitants.
Things change in a big way when Michele, playing near the
crumbling ruins of a house in the fields, stumbles upon an
imprisoned boy, Filippo (Mattia Di Pierro). At first shocked,
then horrified, he nevertheless keeps returning to Filippo,
gradually building trust with him, but all the while wondering
how he came to be here, and who is behind his kidnapping.
The answers to these questions begin to crystallize when he
sees Filippo’s mother make an impassioned televised plea to
the kidnappers. Within moments, conversations that Michele
has overheard between his parents and their friends, as well
as their seemingly simple actions, take on enormous import.
As Michele frantically seeks to save Filippo, he struggles
to make sense of a new, murkier reality.
For reasons I don’t quite understand, I’m Not Scared
garnered an R rating. Having read a bit about the movie, as
well as the 1978 novel on which is it based (written by Niccolo
Ammaniti), I was surprised at this—and a little worried. After
all, I was accompanied by my movie-savvy 8-year old, with
whom I’ve cringed through many an inappropriate moment in
supposedly family-friendly PG films. The only real savagery
in I’m Not Scared, however, is at best implied, as
when Michele discovers his father’s boss’s revolver, and at
worst, the sort mentioned above, where children devise mean
ways to taunt each other. The sense of horror and fear that
pervades the film is visceral, a growing dread in one’s gut,
the dread of awareness. Michele’s play-filled days are forever
changed by his discovery of what surrounds him and, indeed,
what is part of him.
In essence, I’m Not Scared is about loss of innocence,
and Salvatores underscores this theme not only through Michele,
but through Michele’s lovely, worn mother Anna (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón).
“When you are big, you must leave this place,” she tearfully
instructs her beloved firstborn, and we sense, before the
utter loss of her own hope, the last glimpse of it in the
dream that Michele will find peace elsewhere. Equally haunting
are scenes in which the town’s children hover together in
the town square with darkness descending, while their parents
confer behind closed doors, or when one outstretched hand
reaches across a seemingly endless chasm of darkness toward
another. This is a lovely and resonant movie, whose panoramic
prettiness only deepens the sense of wonder and of loss felt
by its characters.
Forget Your Parka
Day After Tomorrow
by Roland Emmerich
There’s really no reason for all the fuss around The Day
After Tomorrow, a disaster flick about global warming
that blows up sound scientific principles to preposterous
proportions. Yes, the film’s dire warnings on “abrupt climate
change,” presented by dour paleo-climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis
Quaid), are tensely realistic, but the premise, a near-instantaneous
ice age brought on by melting polar ice caps, causing high-velocity
hail stones in Tokyo, snow storms in New Delhi, and rampaging,
quadruple tornadoes in Los Angeles, is pure end-of-the-world
entertainment (with nary a mention of fossil-fuel- burning
Actually though, the scientific stuff—North Atlantic currents
thrown off course, colliding air masses, critical desalination
points—is rather involving, and the resulting cataclysms are
spectacularly rendered. On the West Coast, gale winds rip
up the HOLLYWOOD sign letter by letter; on the East, a skyscraper
is sheared in half, leaving a janitor to open a 40-floor door
onto thin air. The most imaginative sequences, such as the
drowning of the Statue of Liberty in a massive typhoon and
the electrical storm engulfing the Capital, achieve the picturesque
realism of a graphic novel. The big power failure here is
with the film’s human nature: Director and co-writer Roland
Emmerich (Independence Day) is a terrific technician,
but he’s got a freeze-dried sense of storytelling. While survivors
head for the New York City Public Library like rats scurrying
for driftwood, the audience must endure one too many contrived
Jack’s son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is traveling with a
debate team, is one of the library refugees. A work-obsessed,
inattentive dad, Jack is determined to spend quality time
with Sam at the last, and so he sets off from Washington,
D.C., by snowshoe, with two very stupid colleagues, to rescue
his strapping, brainy son, who is happily braving escaped
timber wolves on his own rescue mission on behalf of an attractive
teammate (Emily Rossum). Further annoyance is provided by
Jack’s doctor wife (bland Sela Ward) and her vigil over a
young cancer patient who is inexplicably abandoned when the
hospital is evacuated. Meanwhile, we don’t see nearly enough
of Ian Holm as a jocularly fatalistic scientist who serves
as the canary in the polar mine shaft.
Somewhat true to life, the White House, caught without an
adequate forecast model, refuses to acknowledge the severity
of the problem. Dick Cheney look-alike Kenneth Welsh as the
all-powerful VP (to Perry King’s window-dressing president)
gives the best, or at least the sliest, performance in the
movie, adding immeasurably to the film’s tongue-in-cheek resolution.
The ending may be played for liberal snickers, but it’s to
Emmerich’s credit that he relies on trade agreements rather
than the usual nuclear blast (a la Armageddon, The
Core, etc.) to save the Northern Hemisphere. And the moral
of this quasi-cautionary tale is a refreshingly simple one:
In case of ice age, keep an ice pick handy.
Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring
by Ki-duk Kim
Universality is a lovely concept. It’s useful to study myths
and religious traditions across the world and through history.
The Korean-made Buddhist fable Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
. . . and Spring is the fascinating, moving and at times
violent story of one monk’s life. It’s easy to find some “universal”
truths in it. However, a moviegoer with no background in Buddhist
traditions or thought is likely to come out of this film as
mystified as a non-Christian walking out of The Passion
of the Christ.
As the title implies, the film presents the monk’s life as
a series of seasons. Spring finds him as a child (Jong-ho
Kim), under the care and tutelage of an old monk (Young-soo
Oh). They live a happy life on a small, handsome floating
monastery on a clear, beautiful lake. The lake is at the bottom
of a dramatic valley surrounded by spectacular mountains;
a rowboat serves as their conveyance.
The child is a child, innocent and curious. While he shows
attentiveness to his studies, and affection when playing with
the monk’s dog, he has a typical kid cruel streak. In one
striking parable, he ties stones to a few small, defenseless
animals with childish glee. The old monk observes, and teaches
the kid a harsh, but satisfying and useful, lesson.
Spring is followed by summer, naturally, and the story finds
the now-teenage monk (Jae-kyung Seo) settled into his life
of prayer with the older monk. The dog is gone, replaced by
a rooster. Settled, that is, until a teenage girl (Yeo-jin
Hay) arrives, looking for a cure for her illness. The older
monk diagnoses melancholy. It proves to be something simpler
than that, as the two healthy youngsters, cooped up on what
essentially is a small houseboat, do what comes naturally.
Of course, there are consequences.
It is also at this point that the seemingly centuries-old
setting turns out be contemporary. A nice directorial touch
by Ki-duk Kim, underlining the timelessness of a way of life.
Spring ends with the old monk warning the teenage monk that
lust leads to possessiveness and murder. And from that point
on, I could follow along, but didn’t really get the point
of the action. Fall brings murder. Winter brings contrition.
Spring brings a new cycle of life.
The cinematography is first-rate. The compositions and camera
movements are striking and well thought out. The acting is
excellent. There’s even a charming cat with a beguiling meow.
If you’re not spiritually hip to the action, however, Spring,
Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring is just a lot of