Tag: south east asia

Baraka (1992)

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I can’t see how someone couldn’t like this film.

A bold statement certainly, however Baraka has an immense beauty that is surely universal in appeal. It is a documentary that’s without  narrative or narration, it captures a veritable plethora of imagery that reminds us that Earth is indeed a baraka, which is Arabic and Hebrew for ‘blessing’.

Any attempt to derive meaning or identify connection becomes merely incidental as you’re presented with the hypnotic scenery that Ron Fricke and his team have captured; it must have been difficult for them to cut their glorious footage down to 97 minutes. The film traverses verdant jungles, epic mountain ranges, sweeping temple complexes, arid deserts,  imposing cityscapes and haunting landmarks of evil such as Auschwitz and the Cambodian S-21 prison. Its human subjects are of all colours and creeds, with much of the film focusing on those who are less fortunate and sometimes utterly destitute. It is a sensational and occasionally disturbing cross-section of the planet’s landscapes, cultures and history.

The stunning wide shots and time lapses are scored with heady ambient music by Michael Stearns. His music is a cacophony of tribal chants, chimes and drums that’s vital in creating Baraka’s truly sensory immersion. My favourite piece is Baraka Theme, its broad, sonorous notes create a vast scope that perfectly accompanies the boundless panoramas.

There are so many moments I could talk about, I could throw effusive adjectives at almost every frame, however I feel mere words can’t do it justice. Baraka is a purely cinematic experience that’s somewhat futile to describe.

However, one memorable sequence I will mention is the factory processing of chicks that’s interspersed with the frenetic pace of Tokyo railway commuters; it is fascinating and ultimately quite unpleasant as the birds’ destiny in battery cages is revealed after having their beaks burnt. The camera offers insights into an array of factories, showcasing their subjects’ perfectly rehearsed skills in computer hardware assembly, textiles and poultry.

It is a film that demands to be shown on good equipment, a film that serves as a benchmark for one’s TV or projector. Apparently, it was the first film to receive an 8K transfer, what an awesome experience that must be, most likely better than real life!

When Baraka sadly finishes, you eventually move your eyes away from the screen for the first time in 97 minutes and realise that you’ve been dead still the whole time as you check your watch, surprised to see that many hours haven’t passed. It is a triumph that the moving image alone can achieve such engrossment.

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Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

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A predictable, dull film that’s merely a vehicle for Williams’s tediously overbearing comedy.

There’s a great Family Guy cutaway gag in which Peter Griffin and Robin Williams are sitting on a sofa as Peter names topics such as religion and politics for Williams to comment on. Williams does so with his trademark brand of insufferable overbearing comedy, which is filling any amount of time with incessant, frenetic rambling. Peter responds simply with an exasperated sigh before leaving for a five minute break, which prompts Williams to start yet another barrage of supposedly funny noises.

I felt much like Peter Griffin whilst watching Good Morning Vietnam. It reaffirmed my opinion that Williams was not the ‘tragicomic genius’ that so many purported him to be. Williams was much better as a straight actor.

Read a short synopsis of Vietnam and you’ll know exactly what it’s all about: the loveable family favourite Robin Williams being kooky and charming the troops but clashing with straight-laced, humourless authority figures. It’s completely predictable and completely trite. They also throw in a love interest for good measure in the form of Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana), a wholly lifeless woman whom Williams refuses to stop pestering.

Williams is never funny during his radio broadcasts, but the film repeatedly tells us otherwise, showing us scores of characters struggling to hold back their tears of laughter. So many of the supporting actors, whether they’re random troops or studio operators, were just diegetic canned laughter rather than proper characters.

Make no mistake, Robin Williams isn’t playing Adrian Cronauer, he’s playing Robin Williams at his most loud and rambling. Williams is repeatedly characterised as the loveable clown who brings the people together, it’s rather nauseating. No matter how hard the film tries, it cannot convince me that he’s either funny or charming, it only succeeds in making him very irritating. Despite this, there are some moments that raised a smile, such as the language class scenes in which he focuses on New York City street talk rather than the artificial, staid sentences of the textbooks.

Williams’s flatly developed adversaries Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sgt. Major Dickinson (J.T. Walsh) are the typical officious military men. They develop a resentment towards him that’s so instantaneous that it’s contrived and unbelievable; they’re just narrative functions that try and make you feel sorry for Williams, the sweet crazy cookie. Both characters aggressively impose their superior ranks on Williams and the other men, reminding me of the great Machiavelli quote – ‘It is not titles that make men illustrious, but men who make titles illustrious.’  Quite frankly, the quote is wasted on a trivial, tiresomely annoying film like this.

It sometimes attempts to be a drama or ‘dramedy’ with moments of perfunctory war moralising, but ultimately Good Morning Vietnam is preoccupied with indulging Robin Williams rather than achieving anything approaching credible commentary or pathos.

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Vinyan (2008)

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Vapid, boring and bathetic.

‘Vinyan’ is a striking yet aimless film that fails to engage. The film charts Paul and Jeanne’s search for their missing son after witnessing footage that leads them, Jeanne particularly, to believe that he is alive somewhere in the Burmese wilderness. Their son had gone missing during the 2004 Asian tsunami; however the film doesn’t detail any of the event, which doesn’t help in making the viewer care at all about the whole premise. Jeanne is somehow adamant that her son is alive, based on brief, bad quality footage.

Unfortunately, Jeanne is one of those irrational, hysterical, self-centred women that make films of this ilk rather irritating to watch. She regularly begins to feel sorry for herself, so much so that in one scene the task of walking across a muddy landscape is just too much for her and she starts falling over on purpose to let her husband know just how discontented she is. Jeanne and her silicone injected lips lace the film with irritation. Paul, who is going through this traumatic experience just as much as her, is measured and sensible, but he is still not a character one feels inclined to empathise with at any moment – apart from when his wife is being a pain in the arse, perhaps.

I didn’t care for their cause at all; the whole thing was a lingering shot of rain, landscapes and tribal children. At times the film was slightly creepy, but that was the extent of its power; considering I watched this film as part of the ‘Fright Fest’ season on Film4, that’s quite a major flaw. Not only does this film not work as a horror, it doesn’t work on any other level either.

Due to its utter vacuity, there isn’t much to say apart from that it is Art House nonsense – all visuals, no substance and a bathetic ending.

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The Deer Hunter (1978)

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A vast, multi-faceted, albeit slightly maudlin epic with a beautiful score, striking cinematography and gripping acting intensity.

A sprawling epic of three hours, ‘The Deer Hunter’ is a striking, moving film. It focuses on a group of working class men who live in Clairton, Pennsylvania; which whilst is an industrial town, is a pretty and tranquil part of the world. However, this is strictly the film’s depiction of Clairton; it was actually shot in various locations across Ohio.

These men have firm working class sentiments, they work in the steel factory together and, once their shifts are over, drop by the local bar to shoot pool and have a few drinks; this is the men’s comfortable existences, however their lives are soon to be turned upside down. The men are called to serve their country in Vietnam, where they are to be subjected to an array of abhorrence that will change them forever.

It is a striking film in every sense. John Williams’ score, the acoustic ‘Cavatina’, is blissful; it complements every scene it features in. Its sequences of natural beauty and Clairton life are starkly juxtaposed in the film’s second act: the infamous Russian roulette scene. It is acted with truly remarkable conviction; the actors must have forced themselves into an unpleasant place to produce such harrowing realism. The scene is so visceral and intense that it creates a disturbed silence amongst an audience; even its biggest critics would have to try very hard not to be affected by it.

Normally a critically acclaimed film, ‘The Deer Hunter’ hasn’t been devoid of criticism. It has been labelled melodramatic, and it does indeed have its maudlin moments, I agree, but it has also been accused of being ‘racist’. It may be a one sided account of the war and I appreciate it was released during sensitive times shortly after the conflict, but I do not agree.

Does a film have to cover every aspect of an event? Does it have to cover every perspective? Of course not. ‘The Deer Hunter’ reflects one case: one group of men and their exposure to a small group of sadistic belligerents. Some say the depiction of the Vietcong is racist, but to rational, informed people, I think it’s clear that film the isn’t suggesting that the entire Vietcong was like this. We realise that atrocities similar to those seen in the film are committed by both parties in times of war; to proclaim that the film is trying to tell us otherwise is false and preachy.

I concede that the majority of the Vietnamese are, to understate somewhat, portrayed unscrupulously, but the extent of one’s criticism should be that the characterisation is flat, certainly not racist. Additionally, there are pedants who moan about how there were no cases of Russian roulette documented over the course of the Vietnam War – it’s called artistic licence. If you’re so bothered by ‘The Deer Hunter’, if you yearn for fair portrayal, balance it out by watching Oliver Stone’s vitriolic ‘Born on the Fourth of July’, which is a scathing attack on the United States’ behaviour in Vietnam and their military and political ethos.

Returning to another popular comment; I do concede its melodrama, especially during a scene where the American National Anthem is sung in unison: far too gushing and ‘American’. However, overall, any flaw is completely pushed aside by its ensemble cast, its aural and visual impact and its ability to keep your attention for 180 minutes and leave a lasting impression on you.

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