The Southerner

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I saw Jean Renoir’s The Southerner (1945) described so beautifully on 4 Star Film Fan,  that I had to get it. I was curious about how a French director would portray the Old West.

The Southerner begins with Sam Tucker’s old uncle dying in the cotton fields where he’s picking cotton along with Sam, his wife Nona, and Granny. The uncle’s dying words to Sam are that he should get his own land and not work for someone else. This convinces Sam to buy a plot of good land that’s been neglected for years. His boss lays out all the risks inherent in farming on your own and promises Sam, he can always return to work for him. The boss isn’t a villain; he does seem to care about Sam and his family and someone needed to give him a head’s up, because contrary to what I’d learned and seen in films farming is not a sure thing.

Sam packs up his family and belongings on an old jalopy. When they get to the land, they see that the house is a shack that’s one windstorm away from destruction. Sam admits that he should have checked out the house before buying the land, which was when I knew that the outcome for Sam sure wasn’t certain. Sam’s a nice guy and strong. Both he had his wife work hard, but Sam held some romantic notions about farming that gave me pause. He’d forgotten to check on the condition of the well.

The well wasn’t usable so Sam had to beg an ornery neighbor for water. As time goes on, the skinflint neighbor resents Sam more and more. As mean as the neighbor was, he did have a point. Sam and other pioneers should thought out their plans more.

The tensions build as bad luck and naive pelt the Tuckers throughout the film.

Hardworking and always cheerful, Nona is the perfect wife. She soon makes the shack homey and repairs what she can. She keeps the kids clean and happy and usually puts up with Granny’s constant complaints.

Sam’s friend Tim has moved on to the city where he works in a factory and makes a fortune, $7 per day. He offers Sam a job, but Sam envisions the life of a small farmer as his vocation. Often I thought Sam should take his family to the city.

A major threat in these parts is Spring Sickness. Granny’s a Cassandra always harping on about it because several of her children died of it. Caused by poor diet, lacking dairy and produce, Spring Sickness can be lethal. Just as you can’t see a gun on a set in Act One and not have it go off in Act Two, someone was bound to get Spring Sickness because the Tuckers’ diet was mainly fish, coffee and corn mush. Sure enough, Jot, the son who’s about 4, comes down with Spring Sickness and has a massive open sore on his face. The boy is lethargic and may not make it. The kindness of the doctor and a friend of Sam’s helps the Tucker’s obtain milk and veggies. The idea that one can make it on his own in the West is simply not true. It probably ain’t true anywhere. I did think that Renoir would have the boy die. I wasn’t long into the film before I expected disaster and I think sparing us the worse was a shortcoming of The Southerner (both the novel and the film).

Hard times hit repeatedly. Storms beat down the house and the fields, the final one sets the family back to square one.

One of the best lines in the film comes from Tim:

All you farmers is just the same. Gamblers! That’s what you all are, to a man. Year after year you starve yourself to death and hope that some fine day – well, I think you’re loco.

I’d never considered how true this line is. Farmers, especially in the past, were in some cases just as reckless as the people who raced to San Francisco or Australia during the Gold Rushes.

The Southerners is an earnest film that showed me a different side of Western Expansion from what I’m used to. There’s no language that would be a problem for children. There’s a scene with a “lady of easy virtue” in a saloon, but she comes across pretty tame and the banter veils the non-family friendly subject matter.

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Patema Inverted

Patema Inverted has a strange premise that kept playing with my mind. In this Japanese sci-fi-fi anime, there are two worlds one civilization inhabits the surface of the earth and gravity effects them like it does us. It’s a society that demands conformity and does not allow people to question the status quo. We see this in the robotic school children who ride conveyor belts into their schools and all have the same blank expression on their faces. The only rule breaker is Age (pronounced ah-gay) whose father was an inventor who tried to build a kind of flying machine and when testing it met with dire consequences.

Patema lives underground in the other civilization where gravity works in the other direction. In this artful dystopia, people stand on the ceiling (in terms of our orientation) and things fall up. The two civilizations are off limits to each other. In fact the elders of each just prohibit any inquiry into societies other than their own. One day, Patema sets off exploring as her older friend Lagos has. By accident, she finds herself in Age’s world and the only way she can stay put is to either hold on to Age by the waist, which lifts him off the ground, but prevents her from flying through the sky indefinitely or by standing on a ceiling.

In this totalitarian society, the dictator realizes someone from the other world has entered and most of the film is his evil chase to get Patema and then destroy her people.

The film’s background art was stunning. The concept was interesting, but often melodramatic. The evil leader was just too hokey for me.

My Beautiful Girl Mari

In the Korean animated film, My Beautiful Girl Mari, adult Nam-woo remembers his 12 year old self, who struggled with coping with his mom’s new boyfriend who’s awkwardly trying to win him over after his father dies. At school he encounters trouble from a bullying snarky girl. His one friend Jun-ho is even more bungling and awkward than Nam-woo, but Jun-ho is soon to leave for school in Seoul.

While at a stationery store with Jun-ho, Nan-woo discovers a magical marble while enables him to escape to a lyrical, pastel fantasy land inhabited by an ethereal blond girl. Yes, that sounds very non-PC, but it’s cool and Nam-woo does deserve some respite.

The film is quite realistic in portraying issues modern Korea teens face – uncertainty with fragile families, aging grand parents, and school bullies.

The art is done using Illustrator and has a simple look. It did look like something many people could achieve with a bit of training, but that’s not bad. I liked that the animators made the most of cost-effective tools. The scenery was authentic. I liked that in some instances the setting was an old, dilapidated light house. In American animation, everything seems so new and perfect. In My Beautiful Girl Mari most of the scenes just looked real.

This 2002 can be enjoyed by age 11 and up. Made in 2002, it proved that Korea has a lot to offer the world of animation.

The Breadwinner

For the final week of the library’s Fall Film Challenge, I received three DVD suggestions. The Breadwinner was the first of these that I watched. Set in Afghanistan prior to the US bombing and war, The Breadwinner tells of a country ruled by the Taliban. Here a young girl goes to the market daily with her loving, progressive father who’s taught her to read.

We see the Taliban’s violence through the harassment Parvana, an 11 year old, girl and her learned father receive when she’s with him in the market place. Females are to be inside, hidden and cowering, but Parvana’s father believes in educating his daughters.

When the father’s unjustly arrested, he’s incarcerated with a trial or even a charge, Parvana, her mother, older sister and baby brother are unable to earn a living. There’s no one in the home who can legally leave the house to earn a living. Once their food is gone, it’s clear to Parvana that she must act. She chops off her hair and dresses as a boy to put food on the table.

Outside she must blend in and find work. She sees the Taliban beating women in their burqas who’ve left their homes. They terrorize men who don’t act as they dictate. Parvana is able to take her place in the market undetected, but every day is a risk. At home her mother sees the family’s only hope in marrying off her oldest daughter in an arranged marriage to a distant cousin. This is typical in Afghanistan.

Parvana lucks out when she discovers a former classmate, who’s adopted the same strategy and dresses as a boy to save her family and her life. The two cleverly find work, make money and evade the Taliban’s brutality, for the most part.

The film interweaves an Afghan folk tale of a clever, plucky hero with Parvana’s story to accentuate the film’s themes thus giving the animators another way to show off their mastery. The film was made by the same team that gave us The Secret of Kells.

The Breadwinner reminded me of the tragedy of life in Afghanistan, which I admit I’ve forgotten. The animators capture the war-torn, bleak Afghani landscape. Though it’s an animated film, it’s not for children under 13. There are scenes of parents getting beaten by the Taliban, the imprisonment of a father, depiction of people missing limbs so it’s authentic and may be hard for young children to take in.

My only quibble with The Breadwinner is that I found the ending abrupt and left some questions in my mind. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for this recommendation and think it’s well worth watching.

Kedi

Even if you’re not a big cat person, I think you’ll find Kedi a fascinating film. A documentary set in Istanbul, where cats run free and the bipedal residents care and feed these nomads, Kedi looks at the relationship between the cats and people of the city.

I’ve never been to Istanbul and prefer dogs to cats, but I still enjoyed the mysterious, aloof felines and the people who respected them. The film consists of people’s views of the cats and their beliefs about the cats’ personalities and benefits. Many people offer very candid narratives, such as one man’s story of how he was down and out after suffering tragedy and how feeding the cats contributed to his turning his life around and becoming gainfully employed and starting a family.

The cats are beautifully photographed in all their regal grace as they move about the city, vying for dominance amongst themselves and adoration from the people. It’s an unusual film that I found curiously uplifting.