Becoming Who I Was
This documentary, eight years in the making, follows the life of Padma Angdu, a young boy of the Ladahki tribe in northern India who often dreams of Tibet (where he's never been) and is therefore considered a rinpoche — a reincarnate or “Living Buddha.” But there's a problem. If he really were a rinpoche, the monks from the monastery where his predecessor lived would come and find him. Years pass and nobody comes. Eventually the monastery where he's studying decide he's a false rinpoche and kick him out. At which point he and his elderly teacher and guardian, Urgyan Rickzen by name, decide to make the long journey to Tibet to find out what's going on.
The mountain scenery is spectacular, the child is curious and playful, his guardian is gentle and wise, the journey is colorful, and the entire film is infused with sweetness and unhurried grace. A total winner.
The Blessing, a documentary set on the Navaho Reservation in the vast, open spaces of north east Arizona, takes a look at the Kayenta Coal Mine, which supplies fuel for the local power plant and jobs for many reservation residents. We see this world through the eyes of Leonard, a recovering alcoholic who works in the mine though he's well aware that it's desecrating a landscape sacred to his people. Leonard's wife skipped town years ago, and his thoughtful, articulate daughter has difficulty telling him that she plays on the high school football team, or anything else of importance to her.
The film bounces back and forth awkwardly between Native spirituality, the economic life of the reservation, and a young woman's coming-of-age, like an unmaneuverable truck heading down into the pit, but if it comes up short on coherence and sociological detail, it still has lots of flavor, which is only enhanced by the Santana-esque guitar soundtrack. And perhaps that's all we need. (Specifics about the mine are available on line; for example, read The End of Coal Will Haunt the Navajo.)
Rainbow: a Private Affair
The Italians have a weird take on World War II. Allied with the Nazis, then overrun by Germans, then reconquered by the Americans, split in half, north and south, with or without Mussolini at the helm. Who's side are you on? Rainbow focuses on a few days of fighting near the end of the war, with partisans and Fascists occupying farms and villas on neighboring hilltops and skirmishing with one another when the mist coming in from the sea dissipates. Soldiers are captured and ransomed, local residents are reduced to slave labor or executed.
In the midst of the confusion, a partisan named Milton visits an abandoned villa where he used to lounge around with his best friend, Giorgio, and Fulvia, the beauty with whom he's still smitten. (Lots of flashbacks here.) The housekeeper, now the villa's only resident, inadvertently gives him the impression that Giorgio and Fulvia were much closer than Milton had imagined: a troubling thought. When Giorgio is captured by the Fascists, Milton must secure a "roach" and arrange for a prisoner exchange. But is he trying to merely save his old friend, or confront him?
The Taviani brothers have been making films since 1960, and there is something stagy about this production (one reviewer refers cruelly to the film’s "nostalgia-drenched affectedness")that bespeaks increasing old age. Then again, Night of the Shooting Stars (1982) was also a little stagy. In any case, the flashbacks make it pretty obvious that Giorgio, unlike Milton, is a charmer. Giorgio and Fulvia like to dance: Milton doesn't. Giorgio and Fulvia like to climb trees: Milton doesn't. Milton and Fulvia do share a love for Emily Brontë, but in times of war, perhaps that isn't enough.
Yet stagy though it may sometimes be, Rainbow offers some nice scenery and also some harrowing images of civil war, when your neighbors suddenly become your allies, or your enemies, and the tree where you once carved your girlfriend's name might now be the one where they string you up.
Here an odd assortment of film directors ranging from Iñárritu and Woody Allen to Wes Anderson and Lars Von Trier discuss Ingmar Bergman's work, personality, and influence. Some of them have descended on Bergman's home on a remote island in the Baltic Sea, others are interviewed wherever it's convenience. Along the way we also get an overview of Bergman's career from Summer with Monika and Smiles of a Summer Night to Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander.
I would have liked to learn more about where the island is located, if there are villages on it, how the main house is situated with respect to the sea, and what all the various out-buildings we see in the footage are used for. But I did learn some things about Bergman's career, and also about his vast collection of VHS tapes. Evidently Bergman watched three movies every day, and he wasn't very discriminating about which three they were.
The next morning (a Sunday) I returned to the theater at 9 a.m. to see Bergman's early classic,
Summer with Monika. I don't feel like describing it in detail--it came out in 1953--but I will say that it had some great scenes of Stockholm as seen from the water, quite a few good camping sequences on barren islands that look a lot like the BWCA, and two brilliant close-ups.
The Guardians might almost be considered a documentary of preindustrial agricultural life. Sound dull? It's not. The film could have taken place anywhere, though both the buildings and the lighting are probably more attractive in rural France, where the film is set, than ahywhere else, and that locale also provides an important element of the plot. The men are away fighting in the trenches of WWI. The women are trying to keep things going back home.
The matriarch, Hortense, hires Francine, a young woman from the local orphanage, to help with the chores. She's a top-notch worker and everyone likes her—even Hortense's son, Georges, who returns on leave several times. That could be a problem. (She's lower class.) American soldiers arrive the buy vegetables and moonshine. They pay well, but they seem to like all the young women on the farm. Another problem.
It's a rich ragout of passion and labor, family ties and moral quandaries. And a good ending.