Posted by: matthewmkane | March 1, 2010

Review: Five films about identity crisis

Reviewing a collection of short films strung together under a common theme can be an incredibly daunting task.

Do you regard each film as a separate entity, removed from one another, thereby basing your criticism on the individual film? Or do you view the film as a collective effort and base their value against one another and the central theme, in this case “identity crisis”?

Sometimes, such as the 2006 film “Paris Je t’aime,”  (a French film comprised of 18 short films) it would be impossible to break apart and examine each individual film because they work together.

In the case of these five films, it was helpful to attack each film separately, and then relate it back to its theme. Some were good, some were bad, and some were bizarre. A daunting task indeed.

“18 ans,” a film by Frederique Pollet Rouyer, details a young woman’s struggle with the advent of newfound responsibility and maturity coupled with confusing feelings toward her alcoholic mother.  While the film has big ideas, such as the opening credits moving into a Rubric’s cube, it is largely unoriginal and forgettabl, a coming-of-age that does not offer anything new to say about adolescence.

By now, the glut of movies targeted at the “misunderstood” and “painful” experiences of adolescence, the genre has been largely played out. We get it, being a teenager sucks; you are not quite ready to let go of childhood and not quite ready to be an adult. 18 ans isn’t a bad film. I just felt as if I had seen it all before.

“Wagah,” directed by Supriyo Sen, on the other hand, is a marvelous documentary chronicling the ceremonial closing of the border between India and Pakistan, and the sheer volume of people who come to witness the event.

Indians and Pakistanis alike gather on their respective side of the border to cheer and witness the events. At first glance it appears as the gathering is an outward display of nationalism, but Sen details the larger messages at meaning. “Wagah” details the unity across borders, the simplicity and innocence of the children on either side, and the striking symbolism of a child’s kite soaring between the two lands. “Wagah” is a brilliant film about the limitations that divide and the trivial nature of all of it.

Herd, a quick, four minute documentary directed by Ken Wardrop, is a bizarre, funny, and interesting film documenting a deer who has grown accustomed to a farmer’s cows and has started mimicking their movements. There is not much to be said about this film, after all it is only four minutes long, but it provides a welcome comic relief from the serious subject matter of the other films.  But taken as a stand-alone film, which I am trying to accomplish with this review, it does not seem to have much a point. It’s a cute story, and an interesting premise, but I felt like the movie was a trailer; I wanted more.

“Notes on the Other” was an interesting take on identity and what made Hemingway such a brilliant writer.  We as an audience see how Hemingway tried to become another man when trying to capture a character, and then the film moves to Key West, as we see contestants competing in a Hemingway look alike contest.  The film, in my opinion, does the best job of conveying the overall message of “identity crisis” that linked these set of films.  “Notes on the Other” raises questions of what it means to be yourself, and what it means to step outside of one’s self and one’s comfort zones. The cinematography was beautiful, of both Pamplona and Key West, and the subject matter was so interesting, so well presented, that you cannot help but be engrossed in the questions that director Sergio Oksman is trying to raise.

Finally, “Darkness of Day,” directed by Jay Rosenblatt, discusses the nature of suicide, the warning signs that are often missed, and the consequences of taking one’s on life. To say this material was dark is an understatement. The film was interesting, and raised some questions about what drives people to make such a rash decision and the far-reaching impact of their actions. But it was something that I would not like to experience again, something that made me squeamish, in short, it was all too real.

I struggled with this review, these movies were short, the longest being 26 minutes, so it was very hard to write a traditional review. The movies were brief, and my reviews were as well.  I had trouble not relating each one to another, for example, was “Herd” inserted to serve as a comic relief from the serious subject matter? Should I take that into account when reviewing? Or do I look at the film separate? I will say that in terms of “identity crisis”,  the films handled the topics differently, but effectively; from teenage angst, to national identity, to suicide.

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