The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), Juan José Campanella

A thriller bathed in melodramatic undertones, Juan José Campanella’s 2009 The Secret in Their Eyes – which somehow attempts to depict the emasculation of modern man – cleverly constructs a puzzle that deals with the personal intertwined with the political in Argentina’s past.

the-secret-in-their-eyes-2It is obvious that The Secret in Their Eyes [El Secreto de sus Ojos] wants its audience to feel split between two different worlds. Both main characters are linked to a dichotomy – Benjamín in his contrasting attitude towards his homeland and Irene (the missing ‘A’ in the old typewriter and the wordplay between temo (I fear) and te amo (I love you)); and she in her Anglo-Spanish name. Perhaps less obvious is the fact that this ambiguous relationship is ubiquitous in South America. As Argentinians, Brazilians, Chileans et al display a Latin passion for their culture, they also feel a great contempt towards their politics. Continue reading

Deliverance (1972), John Boorman

A tense action tale mingled with a horror story, John Boorman’s 1972 Deliverance showcases – through the clash of urban sensibilities and rural stubbornness – the complexities and contradictions of defending nature (itself a magnificent foe here) against human greed.

deliverance-2At the end of Deliverance, there is a question that remains unanswered: What is more terrifying, nature or human nature? Do we feel safer in highly populated urban centres or isolated deep inside the woods? Would we rather be surrounded by people and far from wild animals in the city or away from human beings and protected by trees in the wilderness? When confronted by the story of these guys, it does not matter if we are urban types or rural sympathisers. For in the film we witness the worst of both worlds. Continue reading

Bicycle Thieves (1948), Vittorio De Sica

An Italian neorealist masterpiece of immense stature and influence, Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 Bicycle Thieves, a film with an apparently simple story, has so much to say about political, psychological and social issues, the human condition and the complexity of life.

bicycle-thieves-2What would you do to feed your family? Anything? To what extent would you hold on to your morals when threatened by hunger and humiliation? Would you commit a crime in order to survive? It is a blessing mankind have invented the TV, the comfortable armchair and DVD discs… Thus we pass judgement and moralise on other people’s choices, sure that we do not ever have to face hardships like they do. How can a film like Bicycle Thieves [Ladri di Biciclette] convey such a multitude of meanings, each of them so simple and yet so profound? Continue reading

Hidden (2005), Michael Haneke

A multi-layered parable dressed as a thriller, Michael Haneke’s 2005 Hidden, delves into the historical subconscious of the European colonizer, swims at the bottom of media manipulation, and when it comes up for air, with blood in its teeth, it does not offer any answers.

hidden-2By the end of Hidden [Caché], after Georges has been terrorized by events which climax with the suicide of an old acquaintance, he lies in his bed and envelopes himself in a blanket, almost as if trying to recapture some womb-like comfort. He lies in there but probably does not have a clue who’s made that bed. We, instead, can fathom that this feeling of angst and dread haunting him is, in fact, self-inflicted. Continue reading

12 Angry Men (1957), Sidney Lumet

One of the best debut films in the history of cinema, Sidney Lumet’s 1957 12 Angry Men, a hymn to the voice of reason amidst a cacophony of furious prejudice, questions the very nature of the American judicial system in its pursuit of justice and its relation to the truth.

twelve-angry-men2On a sweltering, Summer day, the twelve members of a jury retire to deliberate on a murder case. What at first seems irrefutable to nearly all of them, i.e. the defendant’s guilt, soon dissipates into thin air. Rain starts to fall, cooling the day, as juror # 8, slowly convinces the others of the possible reasonable doubt in the case. As ambiguous as it can be, we never find out the truth of the matter. We are left with the not guilty verdict and we’re not sure it is the best one. Continue reading

The King of Comedy (1983), Martin Scorsese

An odd and uncharacteristic entry in his filmography, Martin Scorsese’s 1983 The King of Comedy, a cautionary tale of mediated reality and borderline psychosis, tells the scathing story of one man’s insecurity and his obsessive, unscrupulous and relentless pursuit of fame.

the-king-of-comedy3Rupert Pupkin is a deluded and malicious man, who resides at the edge of morality. But the line that separates him from other, more ‘normal’ individuals is thin indeed. In different circumstances, Pupkin could arguably be a highly successful man – streetwise, determined and flexibly adaptable. In a parallel universe he would not be loathed, but greatly admired. Continue reading

American Beauty (1999), Sam Mendes

For all its acid commentary on suburban life and the dynamics of family apathy, Sam Mendes’ 1999 American Beauty is less about social norms and wasted relationships and far more about an inherent contradiction within the American dream and the ideals of the nation.

american-beauty-2Lester, American Beauty‘s narrator and protagonist, feels he’s stuck in a rut. He’s got a normal, ordinary and quasi-insignificant life. His family is pulling apart; his wife despises him; his daughter hates him full-time. His office job pays the bills and has helped his family build a comfortable suburban life, but he hates it with all his guts. No wonder Lester is a miserable guy. Perhaps, many men identify with Lester’s predicament. Should we all feel pathetic? Should we all buy a 1970 Pontiac Firebird? Continue reading

Double Indemnity (1944), Billy Wilder

A pivotal, quintessential and seminal work of film noir cinema, Billy Wilder’s 1944 Double Indemnity, with the preeminent femme fatale at the centre of its story, parades a collection of immoral behaviour and provides a realistic and yet bleak opinion on the human condition. 

double-indemnity-2Is the sexy and conniving Phyllis, with her beautiful legs and pretty anklet, simply the object of male desires and nothing else? Is she a cardboard-type  character, who flirts, seduces and schemes like the devil, but has no dimension beyond this stereotypical representation of the blonde woman? Is she empowered or disenfranchised by such a representation? Interesting questions raised by this masterpiece of a film. Continue reading

Fargo (1996), Joel & Ethan Coen

A tale of desperate greed and callous indifference, the Coen Brothers’ 1996 Fargo – a film-noir negative with impressive snowy landscapes – follows a naïve salesman, who sets in motion a trail of brutal violence, which is dealt with by a heavily pregnant County Sheriff.

fargo-2Is Fargo the worst-case scenario of a true story about the American Dream gone terribly wrong? Which is the more contentious term in the precedent sentence: true story or American Dream? Some might find that both expressions are highly inadequate to describe the film. For it is widely known that the mentioning of truth at the beginning of the movie is a joke and that the tale that follows is more of a nightmare than a dream. However, it is similarly possible to hold the view that, in fact, the film showcases the truth about a society and its system of incentives taken to its logical conclusion. Continue reading

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), William A. Wellman

A western with no action or a play with cowboys, William A. Wellman’s 1943 The Ox-Bow Incident tells the sad tale of three men facing the possibility of execution by the mob, where reason and compassion are overlooked in the name of impulsive, angry and swift ‘justice’.

the-ox-bow-incident-2It is not a coincidence that Henry Fonda’s character Gil Carter in The Ox-Bow Incident represents the audience’s alter ego and challenges the mob rule mentality, as he would do the same fourteen years later in Sidney Lumet’s classic 12 Angry Men. Fonda as an actor is perfect as the cool and rational human being who is capable of seeing things as they should be seen. Note here, not necessarily seeing thing as they really are, for that would imply that society, and especially American society, is just, and yet human beings are sometimes misguided. Continue reading