Daily Archives: September 10, 2013

Ladder to Damascus – Director, Mohamad Malas

Second film of the day and the last of the day. To be honest I did not make to the end of this one. I chose this film because of the description which noted that it had been made in Damascus during the current insurrection and was about living with that reality. I have chosen a few movies this year about the Middle East and this fit that pattern as well. I wanted to learn about how film directors from that region looked on their current lives and state of affairs and what messages they might have for us all. This film at least depicts the lives of ordinary people trying to live their lives in a perpetual war zone. The violence is never far away but the film focuses on other themes somewhat to the detriment of what I wanted to learn. So a bit disappointing for me but that may very well be my own fault. If you understand Arabic and enjoy films from this region go for it but otherwise… well go see Palestine Stereo instead.

The Unknown Known – Director, Errol Morris

Ten years ago Errol Morris made a film called The Fog of War which I saw at TIFF and thoroughly enjoyed. It focused on Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defence for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson during the Vietnam War. It was basically an interview for nearly 90 minutes that held your attention riveted as he defended and reflected on his actions during one of the most unpopular wars in US history. This film uses the same technique to address the actions of Donald Rumsfeld who served as Secretary of Defence for George W. Bush during the Iraq war and the War on Terrorism. Whatever one thinks of these two men there is no question that they are immensely intelligent and believed in what they did but they were not ideologues – they were bureaucrats of the American Empire. One may wonder if they are lying or telling the truth or even whether they are ultimately evil men responsible for the death, torture and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Americans, Vietnamese and Iraqis. But I am not sure those are the right questions to ask. To call them evil or put the blame for America’s actions entirely on them is unfair and distorts the reality of an immense power exerting its dominance over the world. Still they were the ones to implement the policies of power and these two films are treasures that provide an insight into the world we live in and the role of the US in defining our history the very personal eyes of two influential men. An interesting question at the end of the film asked during the Q and A with the director: Do you (Errol Morris) think he (Rumsfeld) was lying to you? Morris answered by a quote from his movie Tabloid: If you tell a lie often enough, you may eventually come to believe it yourself.

Night Moves – Director,Kelly Reichardt

This movie has actually won an award already (The grand prize at the Deauville American Film Festival) but in my opinion the competition must have been sparse. This is a really pretty mediocre film. Night Moves follows three amateur eco-terrorists in Oregon who plot and manage to blow up a small hydro-electric dam. Of course the outcome goes very wrong and a camper near the dam is swept away and drowned. So what was intended to be a protest turns into murder and the three wannabe terrorists Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Saarsgard turn on one another but in a confused manner and again the motives are totally unexplained. Eisenberg is a farmhand on an organic farm, Fanning reads all sorts of environmental facts on the Internet and has some kind of therapeutic spa and Saarsgard who is hardly in the film, appears to know how to make bombs out of fertilizer but why he wants to blow up a dam is completely unexplained. The film moves at a snail’s pace – apparently on purpose according to the Director who specializes in “slow cinema”. I may have been influenced in my opinion by the fact that I sat between one person who brought in a box lunch and proceeded to lay it out and munch on it throughout the first 20 minutes of the movie, after which the person sitting on my other side brought out some kind of incredibly crunchy snack which she proceeded to crunch incessantly for the next 20 minutes. They then both decided to fall asleep with the luncheon fan snoring and the cruncher sniffing. Nonetheless, I did sympathize with their sleepy reviews. This movie is very poor and ends with a whimper. Stay away.