Two movies last Monday.
First up was FAR FROM MEN, starring Viggo Mortenson, who as far as I know speaks perfect French and Arabic. He stars as Daru, a friendly schoolteacher in an Algerian village. As the Algerian war of independence incubates, he attempts to stay out of it. As an Algerian-born son of Spaniards who fought for the French (alongside many Algerians) in WWII, he's trying to stay out of it, as he's kind of an outsider to each side. And then Mohamed (Reda Kateb) is dumped at his doorstep. He's been accused of murder, and they want Daru to take him to the local authorities, who will undoubtedly execute him. But Daru is too kind-hearted for that. He actually gets to know the man, learns a bit about him. Like that the plan to turn him over to the authorities is to circumvent an inevitable cycle of revenge killings between his family and his cousins. So he doesn't really want to turn him over, but his hand is forced. And forced again when they're captured by Algerian rebels. And then again when those rebels are ambushed by the French. The cinematography is fantastic, shot in Morocco near the Algerian border. And Mortenson does a great job portraying a man who knows how to fight but also knows that it's more important to live.
And then THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS. Wow, what an interesting movie. And I can't really say why without spoilers. So I'll do a brief explanation and then get to the spoiler part. This is a German movie about Maria, a 14 year old in a strict Catholic family--like, 'reject Vatican II' strict. Her mother is domineering, but basically she wants to live a good, pure life, like Jesus. And she has to navigate the difficulties of that and normal teenage school life. You know, things like gym class playing pop music or a cute boy inviting her to choir practice at a less traditionalist church. True teenage temptations! Oh, and it's formally organized in the stations of the cross, making a direct and blatant parallel between her life and Jesus'.
Okay, now the spoilers part: Her little brother is seemingly healthy but hasn't spoken a word yet. She decides she wants to sacrifice her life to God in hopes that he will hear her prayer and make him speak. So she starves herself. To death. I guess that's the big spoiler. But here's the thing--at the moment of her death (choking on the Eucharist, as she insisted on taking communion on her death bed) her little brother speaks. And then in the final shot, after so much of the movie is in still frames, it ends with a rising crane shot that is an obvious point-of-view shot of the soul ascending to heaven. This is what makes it so interesting. Many of my friends have described the movie as a slow-motion train wreck you just can't look away from (that's meant as a compliment.) And they've talked about how religion (or at least religious fanaticism and asceticism) is child abuse. And that's a fair reading of the movie. But an alternate is that she aspired to sainthood and achieved it. That her death is a happy ending--she gets to go to heaven, her brother gets to speak, and her parents are starting the process of getting her declared a saint. To approach it a different way: if her story parallels Jesus', and her story is a slow-motion train wreck, what is Jesus' life? And I say this as an atheist. This movie isn't great because it condemns religion, this movie is great because it inspires deep thoughts about religion.
Total Running Time: 212 minutes
My Total Minutes: 394,145