Written by Federico Fellini and Tonino Guerra
Directed by Federico Fellini
Nostalgia is a hell of a thing, ain’t it? It’s such a powerful hallucinogen. People construct vivid dreams out of fragments of memories that make them yearn for a non-existent past when they were a child and blind to the workings of the universe. Fellini knows it too, and while he wasn’t overtly political (he was a member of Christian Democracy and Catholic but was rather wishy-washy when it came to pinning his personal beliefs down), he clearly was disgusted by authoritarianism. Fellini experienced this in the form of Mussolini’s fascist movement when he was a child, made to participate in the basic compulsory youth programs that never asked for parental permission. Amarcord is the story of fondly remembering childhood but being unable to close your eyes to the evil at the core of quaint small-town life.
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This special reward is available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 monthly levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.
Written & Directed by Kenneth Branagh
The Troubles. For the people of Northern Ireland, that phrase is a reminder of a brutal period of thirty years where communities were at war. While the factions were referenced in the media as Catholic and Protestant, there was much more complexity to what was happening. This irregular war came out of unionists & loyalists (Protestants) wanting to remain as part of the United Kingdom. The nationalists & republicans (Catholics) sought to reunite with Ireland to form a single nation. That’s the basic explanation, but I could write a whole book about the details and go deeper and how the entire thing goes back to the early 17th century. Many people have already written those books.
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The Northman (2022)
Written by Sjón and Robert Eggers
Directed by Robert Eggers
Robert Eggers has carved out a niche for himself as a filmmaker that attempts to recreate the feel of specific periods in humanity’s past. With The Witch, he captured the colonial paranoia of the fear of the wilderness. The Lighthouse evokes the birth of psychoanalysis and the expansion of the Western mind’s interiors. He does this once again in the Viking-centered The Northman, a picture that transports into the mind of the 9th century. Here the landscape is imbued with mystic power, and humanity believes that through faith & ritual, they can connect with these volatile elements. While not as profoundly esoteric as Eggers’ previous two features, The Northman is still a film overflowing with aesthetic richness and exploring complex themes.
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The Godfather Part II (1974)
Written by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
It’s not a big surprise to say The Godfather Part II is a masterpiece of American cinema. It just simply is. This is a director doing the best work of his life surrounded by magnificent performers and working with a very literate & polished script. When you have these sorts of elements, you will end up with a movie that resonates with audiences. I don’t think it can be understated how thoroughly Coppola reshaped American film with his work in the 1970s. This is a template for movies still coming out today and the precursor to the prestige television that is so common on streaming platforms.
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Written & Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Western civilization is decaying and all at its own hand. You cannot look to a foreign enemy emerging over the horizon. The collapse of the world order we’ve known since birth was a slowly festering movement of austerity and neoliberalism that is choking the life out of hundreds of millions. The authoritarian British government brutalized its citizens in Northern Ireland and Scotland quite habitually in the 1960s and 70s. This came in the form of militarized police actions, pushing back against unions, and fighting against a higher quality of life. This is the world we enter in Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher, where garbage is piled up on the streets and canals are full of toxic chemicals. This is squalor inflicted on working people by the wealthy & powerful who want to bring them to heal. It’s hard to find hope in such a living Hell.
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Days of Heaven (1978)
Written & Directed by Terrence Malick
When I was a child, my dad had a bookshelf in his home office. This was the place I first stumbled across the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I never finished (it took me a year to complete Fellowship, and admittedly I was ten years old, so maybe not quite old enough for Tolkien’s prose?). However, another book on this shelf highly interested me even though I didn’t have much context for it, The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible by Otto Bettmann.
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Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Written by Peter Weir and John Collee
Directed by Peter Weir
It had been five years since Peter Weir directed a movie. The Truman Show was a culmination of all his major themes across his work that it seemed like an ending in many ways. Of course, there was always more that could be said about human existence and the power we have over our own lives, but it was addressed so beautifully in that picture. Master and Commander would be Weir’s only film released in the 2000s. The film would be very well received by critics, but at the time, audiences were so focused on more escapist fare, in particular the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. That film would sweep the Oscars, and Master and Commander would be pretty much forgotten by most people.
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The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
Written by David Williamson, Peter Weir, and C.J. Koch
Directed by Peter Weir
In a complete coincidence, I am currently reading The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World by Vincent Bevins. I’m just about four chapters in but am already learning a lot about Indonesia and the part the CIA played in completely destabilizing that country. However, I was completely unaware that this film is specifically about the coup attempt in that country in the mid-1960s. This immediately raised my radar, wanting to see how the picture treats its communist characters. Will they be nuanced, developed participants in the story or faceless monsters like orcs in Lord of the Rings. Is this a movie influenced by anti-communist Western propaganda or an honest telling of what was happening in Indonesia?
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Written by David Williamson & Peter Weir
Directed by Peter Weir
Set around a decade after Picnic at Hanging Rock, Peter Weir’s Gallipoli continues his interest in looking at the so-called “wonder of civilized society.” He does it this time by making a war film that spends a large chunk of its time looking at the characters on their way to the war. His purpose is to examine ideas closely related to white Australian culture that might not be immediately familiar to people outside of the continent. One of these is the idea of ANZAC, the belief that Australians and their cousins in New Zealand possess unique traits that set them apart from their ancestral lands. In many ways, this is the myth of American exceptionalism Down Under. Weir also knows that you cannot talk about war in this era without addressing male friendship and how profound that love can be and how easily it is abused.
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Quo Vadis, Aida? (2021)
Written & Directed by Jasmila Žbanić
In July 1995, Bosnian forces took the city of Srebrenica. This was part of the Bosnian War, a three-year civil war that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Ethnic and nationalist groups fell into conflict; proto-fascist forces targeted Muslim populations. The Bosnian War is a complicated subject to talk about, just purely from how complex the internals of these regions are. It was never a clear war with one side versus another, but lots of smaller players as well. Quo Vadis, Aida? tells a very personal story about one of many brutal events that saw the mass culling of people while the United Nations/NATO seemed powerless to do anything. Through this story, we’re forced to contemplate what it would be like to then live beside the very people responsible for such swaths of deaths.
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