Happiness (1998), Todd Solondz

Awkwardly funny for some but definitively uncomfortable viewing for most, Todd Solondz’s 1998 Happiness – this haunting Freudian movie – deals with difficult subjects such as masturbation and paedophilia by cracking open American suburban angst in a non-judgemental way.

happiness-2The themes explored in Solondz’s Happiness are so extremely hard to swallow that these might distract viewers from an obvious thread permeating the entire movie: those seeking happiness will forget about living and thus end up miserable. All the main characters in the film seem to be going through emotional rollercoasters; all of them, deeply unhappy, even the ones faking some sort of normality. It is inevitable that at the core of these characters’ problems sits your typical family, for as Philip Larkin knew well, ‘they fuck you up, your mum and dad.’

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The Thin Red Line (1998), Terrence Malick

A lyrical war movie to end all war movies, Terrence Malick’s 1998 The Thin Red Line, this epic and metaphysical film, asks the most essential of questions: Is war – such a primordial conflict resolution tool – as natural as the magnificent landscape shown on the picture?

the-thin-red-line-2Why does mankind need to reach the depths of despair in order to notice the precious nature of life and to contemplate what’s beyond the mundane? Perhaps, it is this paradox that makes war stories especially poignant, with such a rich array of feelings and emotions that seems to encompass humanity’s whole range of meanings. Thus the actuality of war poses a great conundrum to our species as it encapsulates primeval aspects of mankind’s psyche, and as such serves us with the tools to search for and reach the sublime. Continue reading

Three Colours: Blue (1993), Krzysztof Kieslowski

The first film on the director’s great trilogy before his death, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1993 Three Colours: Blue is poignant and profound, not only on its intended theme about liberty, but also on honesty, grief and, ultimately, how one reinvents oneself after tragedy.

three-colours-blue-2Though it might strike as a cliché, it has to be noticed that Julie, the film’s protagonist, is both the epitome of vulnerability and the utmost show of strength. As she is virtually in every scene of Three Colours: Blue [Trois Couleurs: Bleu], viewers experience a gamut of emotions, from her quivering lips while watching on TV as her family is being buried to the self-satisfied smile as she squander her inheritance on the housekeeper and the gardener. Her enigmatic outlook increases the impression that she can be an angel or the devil. 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

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

Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Zhang Yimou

A political allegory disguised as a family melodrama, Zhang Yimou’s 1991 Raise the Red Lantern, a tale of privilege, deception and hatred, where mistresses fight for their master’s sexual attention, stands as a metaphor for human nature’s propensity towards willing submission.

raise-the-red-lantern8Is the ultimate allegorical meaning of Raise the Red Lantern [Dà Hóng Dēnglóng Gāogāo Guà] to do with archaic elements still present in modern China? Does the film hides behind its simple story of deception and betrayal a criticism of how women are still treated in this immense communist country? The near obvious is given a poignant meaning – through spectacular frames and aural delight within a maze of malice and artifice – in the story of Songlian, the fourth wife-cum-concubine of a wealthy master in 1920s China. Continue reading