Monday, November 8, 2010

Film Analysis

For my film analysis essay, I'm thinking about comparing two Guillermo Del Toro movies Pan's Labyrinth and The Orphange. Both movies are located in "out of the way" or remote areas and both have older landmarks (the labyrinth and the old orphanage). The comparisons are plenty, and while The Orphange gives the viewer a bit more of a fright (I guess Del Toro likes using innocent/creepy children in his movies) I came out of both movies with different feelings. Pan's labyrinth came across as less believeable than The Orphange, probably because of the different types of Paranormal involved. Pan's Labyrinth focused more on the Supernatural where as The Orphanage was more focused on the Paranormal.
Most people who watch Pan's Labyrinth go into the movie believing that it is a dark fantasy and they don't question whether or not Ofelia has a vivd imagination or if the story is in fact true and she's a fairy princess. The Orphange on the other hand, makes out it's leading lady to be clinically insane until the very end, and the audience is left wondering if she's crazy and hallucinating after taking all those pills, or if she is in fact reunited with her son and all of his creepy dead friends.

(To be continued, I have to go to class now so I'll finish this later)

Sunday, November 7, 2010


A while ago, I read a book called Long way Gone; Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. It's the story of his life in Sierra Leone where he went from being terrorized by boy soldiers, to becoming one. Pray the Devil back to Hell reminded me of this book because it's a close up look at the children who go through the process of becoming child soldiers, and the atrocities they perform while in the "military." Unlike Beah's story, there is a happy ending for more than just one person, in fact because of strength and courage of these women the war was ended. The story is about the war in Liberia, and about the damage it caused and how a group of women (who traditionally have very little power) stand up and take control of their country again, or at least they do the best they can to control it.

The war broke out in 1989, and had been raging since then, with Muslim war lords controlling and terrorizing the countryside and a self-elected christian dictator controlling the city (Charles Taylor). The country had been at war for years, with both sides recruiting the male children they encountered in the villages they took over and drugging them with cocaine and weed. The boys are so brain washed, and drugged that they do whatever they want. They are handed AK-47's and are told to kill their enemies, anyone else they come across they can do whatever they like with. The children rape, murder and torture and perform horrible war crimes and crimes against humanity and they have no idea that they are doing it. To escape the children villagers run into the city and stay in a refugee camp that largely resembles what can only be compared to a World War II Jewish ghetto. There are no jobs, there is no food and no one can do anything about it. Despite the people crying out to the leaders for peace, nothing happens. 

Finally a group of christian and muslim women joins forces and day after day they silently protest the war. Camping outside the fish market and singing peace songs when the president's convoy passes. They all wear white and hold hands, and pray. They carry signs telling women to ask for peace, and to stand up and do something against their husbands, sons and nephews that are all fueling the war. After a long time of waiting, and protesting the Charles Taylor and the rebel War Lords finally give in to the women's protests and go to the peace meetings in Ghana, where Charles Taylor is accused of crimes against humanity. He flee's Ghana and returns to Liberia leaving his convey to continue with the peace talks in his absence. 

After a very long time it becomes obvious that the peace talks are going no where, and the women become upset and barricade the men inside the office and refuse to let them out until there is peace. They even go so far as to strip to force them into the peace talks. 

Eventually their plan works and a peace treaty is signed. A temporary government will take over and Charles Taylor will be exiled, but when the troops are told to turn over their guns, violence erupts once again and it is the women who take control and help bring the boy soldiers back to their senses.

This documentary is a shocking look into the lives of those who suffered during the Liberian Civil war. The footage of the children with dilated pupils and AK-47's proudly holding up skulls and shooting people with smiles on their faces was chilling. The footage is either from old news clips or are new interviews from the women who are describing what they went through and how they joined the movement. It strikes right to the core of a person's body to hear the stories the women tell, and in some cases see the footage that proves it. This movie was well put together, the footage moves from one horrific scene to another, then perhaps to a landscape shot or maybe the face of a child in the refugee camps. Then flashes to a scene of a grinning boy soldier and then to a screaming little girl, with sounds of reporters and people screaming in the background. It constantly reminds you that what these women did was incredible and what they had to put up with was atrocious. Every day that these women went out and protested they could have been killed, but instead the country caved under the pressures of it's mothers, sisters and aunts and even the drugged, half dead and brain washed soldiers gave in and handed their guns to these women. The story itself is empowering to all women, they used everything they had to stop the war. They gave up their jobs, they boycotted sex and they forgave the men that raped and tortured them and they won peace for their country. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bliss (Mutluluk)

Bliss (Mutluluk in Turkish) is the story of a young girl who is raped and according to the customs in her village she must be killed in order to restore honor to her family. The eldest son of the village's leader must take her to Istanbul to kill her so that the government will not find out (honor killings are illegal but still practiced). Upon their arrival to Istanbul Cemal (the eldest son) finds that he cannot kill her and so the two can never go back to the village. Throughout the rest of the story Cemal and Meryem (the young girl) struggle with the belief system they were brought up in, and in a strange way grow closer together, but when the identity of Meryem's rapist is revealed we learn that personal gain is driving force behind not only Meryem's death sentence, but behind many of the world's evils.

After Meryem is found in a field, left for dead there is much commotion about what is to be done, the village leader says that she must be put to death because she is a mark on the village. It is the duty of his eldest son Cemal to kill her in Istanbul away from the prying eyes of the government officials that are in their small town. Upon arriving to Istanbul Cemal finds that he cannot kill her, and instead they run away. Cemal is very harsh towards Meryem at first, he bullies her and expects her to do "women's work," at one point he even refers to her as a whore and slaps her. Eventually the two start to work for an ex college professor who attempts to educate them about the world and the way it works. Cemal is reluctant to advance in his belief's (he had just been relieved from the military when he arrived to the village, and appears to have some issues because of this) and let go of what he has learned. Meryem, on the other hand, who is even less educated than Cemal is very open to learning about the world, despite missing her home village very much. Eventually (with some help from the Professor) Cemal realizes that his problems stem from the fact that he loves Meryem and through some commotion involving a chase scene, a flashback style montage and some screaming we learn that it was Cemal's father (the village leader) who raped Meryem.

Turkey is a Muslim country (predominantly Sufi's) and Meryem and Cemal are therefore Muslims, at first we believe that it is the village and the old traditions that people cling to that are causing the problems, especially since both Meryem's father and stepmother give in easily to the notion of Meryem being killed. It is not until the end of the movie, and the discovery of the rapist's identity that we realize that the entire movie is a metaphor for using religion to gain for the one's self. Cemal's father only wanted Meryem dead because he was afraid she would tell on him and so the rest of the town would kill him, Meryem being his only witness and victim therefore had to go. Ironically for him Meryem's memories of the rape had been repressed and she could not remember who had raped her, only that she had not dishonored her family. Had Cemal's father not sent people out to kill Meryem and bring back Cemal, the chase/flashback scene never would have occurred.

Islam is a religion currently up for a lot of debate, with many people pointing fingers and saying that the religion itself breeds contempt. This film is an attempt to "debunk" this myth, so to speak and bring to light that any religion can be a bad thing when manipulated to pursue any kind of personal wealth. A prime example is the fact that no one in the movie ever explicitly says that they are Muslim, in fact there are almost no references to Islam in the entire movie. It is implied that they are muslims because the movie is set in Turkey, although the plot could arguably be put in any country/religion and the message would be the same.  Cemal being so rude to Meryem, and his uncontrollable anger seem to imply that both of them are suffering in different ways from their country's (or religion's) flaws, but the movie ends with Cemal returning to the village and confronting his father. He does not kill him, but walks away. There seems to be some kind of peace about Cemal when he does this, it is Cemal finally removing himself from the hold his father had on him and freeing himself of such restrictions, he is his own man.The gun is left with Meryem's cowardly father who shoots his daughter's rapist himself, he had been under the impression that he was doing the right thing by listening to Cemal's father, despite the weak attempts he made to save her. Meryem's father is liberated by killing Cemal's father, the man who used custom, religion and his sons to manipulate those around him. This movie combines custom, romance, mystery and religion to illustrate that Islam (or religion) isn't bad, or wrong but the people who use it to their own gain are.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Stoning of Soraya M

"Don't act like the hypocrite, who thinks he can conceal his wiles while loudly quoting the Koran."
 - Hafez, 14th Century Iranian Poet

The Stoning of Soraya M. opens with the above quote, the movie is set in Iran and focuses on the crimes and injustices (particularly towards women) that continue to occur in small towns in the Middle East. The most prominent of these injustices is the practice of stoning. Islamic law requires that if a man accuses a woman of a crime, then she must provide evidence that proves her innocent. If a woman accuses a man of a crime then she must also provide evidence that proves his guilt. The Stoning is based on a true story, and uses this story as an example of the lack of women's rights in the Middle East.

The story takes place in a small town in Iran, a journalist travelling to get back to France brakes down in this small town. He meets a woman named Zahra who insists that he must hear the story she has to tell about her niece. Soraya was forced into a marriage to a very harsh man, she has four children with him two boys and two girls. Her husband Ali, is a prison guard and he comes across a doctor in his prison who is sentenced to death. The doctor is very wealthy and has a fourteen year old daughter, in exchange for Ali getting him off death row the doctor offers him his daughter. Ali cannot afford two wives, so he decides to divorce Soraya she refuses because she will have no money or food to raise her daughters (Ali was going to take his sons with him). At the same time a man named Hashem (who is the only mechanic in the village) comes to Zahra (Soraya's aunt) and asks her to help heal his dying wife. Upon arrival to Hashem's house she finds his wife dead. After the funeral of Hashem's wife the mullah, the town mayor and Ali decide that it would be best if Soraya worked for Hashem in taking care of his mentally handicapped son. Soraya begins to work for him and saves the money she earns so that she can divorce Ali and be able to take care of her daughters. Ali decides that this process is taking too long, and trumps up charges of Soraya sleeping with Hashem, Ali blackmails the mullah and Hoshem into going along with his charges. After a short trial it is decided by the men of the village that Soraya is to be stoned to death. After the stoning the story moves back to the reporter and Zahra. As the reporter returns to his newly fixed car, he is accosted by the mullah and town mayor, they want to make sure he does not have the tape of everything Zahra has told him. After this Ali pulls up in his car, saying that the doctor was put to death anyways and he was not able to marry the daughter.The stoning was for nothing. The reporter makes his escape in the car and meets with Zahra down the road, she hands him the tape of their meeting and the reporter goes back to France.

This movie is one of the most incredibly stories I have come across (especially since it is true) and it was very well written and directed. Most of the movie is in Farsi with English subtitles and this adds to the feeling of alienation the viewer experiences. We are constantly reminded by the setting, wardrobe and customs that this is very far from our Western ideals and beliefs. The trial scene and the scenes setting up to the stoning help to enhance this. The camera does not go inside the trial, and we only see the men come out and hear the verdict, one of the men who declares Soraya guilty is her own father. We are further alienated by the use of Islamic chants, the villagers who are watching begin to chant "Allahu Akbar," or God is great, in the U.S. there is the separation of Church and State, in the Middle East Islamic law is state law. There is a long march to the spot where Soraya is to be stoned to death and we follow her every step of the way.There is a sense of hopelessness about her march, and her preparation for her death. Soraya puts very little effort into proving her innoncence and the viewer gets the feeling that no matter what she didn't stand a chance.

 Personally, I had always thought that if someone was to be stoned to death it would be by a large, angry mob of people in the center of town using big rocks. I soon learned that this was not the case, it was much more horrific than I had imagined and the movie shows the entire sequence from start to finish. A large pit is dug and Soraya is placed in it with her hands tied behind her back. The people who are to stone her must stand behind a white line and the most important men in her life must individually throw stones the size of a fist at her. Even her sons throw stones at her, one at a time. Finally the mob mentality sets in and the village goes crazy with people grabbing stones and throwing them, at one point we see a woman cheering. When they think she is dead and her body is lying face down in the dirt, covered in blood and surrounded by stones, Ali checks to make sure she is dead. He see's her eye twitch and the mob once again picks up the stones and goes crazy.

The entire time I watched this scene I was horrified, even before Soraya is placed in the pit she is seen dressed in white and she expresses her innocence one last time to the people of the village. Soraya is pure, she is portrayed as a woman who has lead a hard life and just wanted her children to be safe. The people of the village, having seen Soraya grow up among them, and don't seem to care. She is a woman and she is full of sin. Even though it is known that her husband beats her, cheats on her and gives her no money the villagers side with him. Before the trial we meet some semi important characters who live in the village, and each one expresses their opinion about Soraya. For the most part the villagers believe that she is a good, hard working woman but these early thoughts about her are soon abandoned by the adultery charges. When the mullah and town mayor accost the journalist, it is because they know that what has been done in the village is wrong. They do not want the world to know that they committed such a terrible act. The mullah (who is a holy man) gave his consent to the stoning, despite knowing that Soraya was innocent. The final words of the movie are Zahra's as she screams that the world will know what was done here, and we are brought back to the women's rights (or lack there of) in such alienated parts of the world.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Born into Brothels

Born into Brothels is a documentary about several children living in India whose mothers are prostitutes. A female photographer comes to the red light district in India to try to document the lives of the people there and ends up finding children she falls in love with. She gives them all camera's and teaches them photography and so they go out into the streets of the red light district and take pictures of everything around them. 

This documentary won the academy award for best documentary, and it brought light to the lives of the children in India who were suffering in silence. Most of the girls in the group were going to face a life on the streets as prostitutes much like their mothers, the boys would probably become pimps, drug dealers or drug addicts themselves. 

The photographer who is attempting to help them is an American woman by the name of Zana Briski, she has little money, no influence and desperately wants the children to succeed and get out of the district, she knows that an education at a good school is the only way they have any chance of succeeding. She tries very hard to find schools that will take them, but many will not because their parents are all criminals. So Zana uses the children's photography to raise money and awareness for their cause. Finally she finds schools for most of the children and they are sent off.

The most shocking part of this documentary is the end, only two of the children sent to the schools stay there. A few are brought back to the ghetto by their parents and some of them drop out and decide to go home. I was left slightly heart broken and disappointed when i saw this on screen. The documentary had focused heavily on the horrible lives of these children, the children themselves even said that they knew school was the only chance they had and were terrified of what would happen if they did not get out. They were treated horribly by their parents (mostly their mothers and even the other prostitutes that lived in the Brothel). They were called horrible names, they lived in their own filth and were surrounded by men that came and went into their mothers rooms. Most of the men who hired their mothers were drunk and angry and did not treat the children well, and those of the children who did have more than their mother in their life found that extended relatives were not helpful either.

This movie is beautiful, despite that it is well known that India has poor living conditions, i had never imagined that people were not proactive about changing their lives or looking for help. The worst part is that when help did come, many refused it.