Friday, December 9, 2016

Joy in the Struggle: The Gleaners and I

If the ultimate purpose of directors is to guide the tone of a film, then Agnes Verda is the most successful of all directors.  Even in the darkest of her films, she finds a way to infuse a lighthearted joy, allowing us to smile in surprising moments in her protagonist’s struggles.  This is a collection of real people, including the director herself, gathering up the discarded elements of our society and find it useful and even necessary.  We see a number of people on the edge of survival, and yet they matter-of-factly, even happily, pursue their lives, whether chosen or not.  

In the struggle there is joy, there is joy in the struggle. We might feel defeated, but we still must struggle, not just for ourselves, but for those around us.  And in that struggle, we need to laugh and make light of ourselves.  We need to feel the joy of love.  And in the midst of our joy, we need to recognize that it is also hard work, to keep afloat in a world with so much opposition, with so much difficulty.  Along with the joy, we can feel a pride in the work of love and compassion we participate in. 

Also watch: In America, 7th Heaven, Tideland

Keep reading our blog series, The Way Forward

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Cycles Return: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring

Despite the title, this film is not about a year, but about a lifetime that takes place at a hermitage on a beautiful tiny island/dock in the middle of a lake.  A young boy is raised by a monk and goes through struggles, rebellion, despair, and eventually returns to take the place of the monk.  The protagonist must make changes in his own attitudes and how he sees the world in order to fit where he belonged in the first place.  

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring reminds us that no matter what struggle or difficulty we find ourselves in, no matter how the world seems to encroach on our freedoms and our abilities to do what we must, in the end, our lives are a cycle, the world is a part of a larger cycle, and all things come back to where they should me, if we would but endure.  At times, being who we should be then patiently enduring in that being is the best we can do, and we can watch the world return to where it should be.

Also watch: Wild Strawberries, Ikiru, Temple Grandin, Boyhood

Keep reading other posts in the series: The Way Forward

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Simple Joys: The Scent of Green Papaya

A deceptively simple film, we see a girl growing into herself through cooking, serving and dreaming. Although she is in a Vietnam of conflict, she is a servant with no way out, she is hopeless and helpless, yet the film doesn’t look at that reality.  It focuses on her joy in life, in food, in relationships.  And that joy is infectious.  

Not all of us can see the joy in life, especially in a time of conflict.  I know I can’t, not always.  But we should allow those who can find joy in simple things to inspire us, and we shouldn’t ever dampen what they understand: that God has given us the simple things to enjoy and we should let that happiness pierce through the skin of darkness that seems to surround us.

We need to experience the sensuousness of texture, the delight of a quiet conversation, the sacred presence of a good meal. The refreshing bath of a beautiful film. No matter what hell goes around us, we can still take time for joy.

Also watch: Bright Star, Life in a Day, Alamar, Babette's Feast

Read more of this blog series, The Way Forward

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Arrival: Communication and Truth

Chatter, beautiful noise, static, prattle, nonsensical, overwhelming talk.  It is Starbucks music to my soul, easily ignored until I despise it, ready to attack. It is my fear and focus of my anger, and yet, and yet, it is the core of love.

Arrival begins near the end of Close Encounter.  After the Up-like prologue (another few minutes and I'd have been bawling), the aliens have arrived and the government was communicating with them.  But they are at an impasse, so they gather Louise Banks and Ian Donnelly to find out what is really going on-- are the aliens attacking, are they wanting to help?  The pair immediately are allowed on one of the ships. Ian looks at the landscape scientifically, overjoyed with new discoveries, but scared out of his wits internally.  Louise is a linguist, and she clearly is frightened, but the enormity of the puzzle captivates her.  How will she learn to speak to these octopii who don't share even the fundamentals of human language?  Stakes raise, there is betrayal and power trips and so much more, getting to the core of human nature.

I was captivated. The aliens were simply not alien enough for me, and the communication happened too quickly, even under such enormous time pressures.  But so much of it is wonderful.  First of all, thank you, thank you, that the central event doesn't take place in New York or San Francisco, but the middle of nowhere in Montana.  Similar to Close Encounters' Wyoming, perhaps, but good enough for me.  The script lays out both the political puzzle and the intellectual exercise with increasing drama on both sides, increasing the tension and curiosity.  The score is easily the best one this year, both appropriate and innovative (I'm listening to it again right now).  The acting was fine, perhaps Whittiker was distracting occasionally, and the effects were thankfully subdued so as not to distract.  Frankly, this tops my list for this year.


Would that I had time to explain the themes of the film, so rich, full of the back and forth of seeking that which is most important.

There are, in this human world, two themes that push and pull us.  Language v. Science, Communication v. Truth.
Communication opens doors; to truth before communication is to close doors
Communication empathizes; truth assumes
Communication is human; truth is nature
Communication leads to mercy; truth is without compromise

Truth does not give any space for the human, for the person, the individual doesn’t matter

Communication is the necessary white around the yoke of truth, it comes before, it comes after, it cushions, it comforts, it is the home of truth.

Truth, without that cushion, is a hard, bare stone.  Impossible to swallow.

Fear does not close communication, but allowing fear to rule closes all paths to truth.