Sunday, December 16, 2007

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (David Cronenberg, 2005, USA) A film that can be enjoyed on a visceral level about a small town man who may have a secret, dark past. When he fights off two thugs trying to hold up his restaurant, things spiral out of control and some of his secrets begin to come to light. The violence is brutal, objective, and rapid-fire as Cronenberg shows us the gore without the lingering sensationalistic bravado so prevalent in your typical “Hollywood” crapfest. But the film can be understood with a broader brushstroke as a metaphor for violence in our culture, or the war in Iraq, or the ambivalence of mainstream America and its sociopathic entertainment. Whatever, you come up with your own ideas after watching this film. The acting is superb and believable with Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello falling perfectly into character; which is important because the viewer has to connect to these two on a very personal and subjective level to believe the story. It works. The ending mis-en-scene is dynamic as all is conveyed through placement and movement of objects, body language, and without a spoken word. (A)
EASTERN PROMISES (David Cronenberg, 2006, USA) Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen deliver another beautifully acted and directed gem of a film: this one is about the family ties of the Russian Mafia. A pregnant woman is murdered but her baby girl survives and Naomi Watts (in a rather unconvincing performance) is the midwife who tries to find the little girl’s family. Of course, this leads her to the dark and violent side of London where she comes into conflict with the Russian Mafia and it’s not only the baby’s life that’s at stake…but hers and her family’s as well! For the ending to truly work, the film relies on understanding the deeper character motivations (re: the homosexual undercurrent between Nikolai & Kirill) and the samurai code of the family. I think it’s brilliant. (A)


smarthotoldlady said...

Both of these films are superbly directed as you say. Cronenberg clearly is disturbed by the amount of violence in Western cultures. Maybe it has always been that way, but we are supposed to have evolved to a higher level. Viggo Mortensen is, of course, superb in both. In fact, in Eastern Promises, he so became another person that I didn't recognize him. Somewhere in the middle of it, I thought, "He reminds me of Viggo Mortensen," but with the Russian hairline and his excellent Russian plus excellent accented English, I wasn't sure until the final credits.

The image that sums up the film to me is the closing one of Nikolai sitting alone and isolated in the gilded room of the restaurant. The good person, the pursuer of justice and decency can only be solitary and never know the joys and warmth of family and friends. He is too decent a person to be like "Bond, James Bond" and substitute promiscuous, meaningless sex with a string of gorgeous girls, so he has no connections.

You can protest that Naomi Watts ends up with the baby and her family, but she is a maguffin, there to hinge his actions on, to show him off. Besides, she is the maternal figure. She will raise the baby alone, so she will have a loneliness too, the price she has to pay for rescuing the baby, but the maternal is iconic, perennial.

I think too that Armin what'shis lastname's performance should be noted. He plays the kindly paternal figure, also iconic, but he hides a soul that is a cesspool. It would be interesting to analyze this film from the point of view of prototypical family roles. I've seen this movie three times, but I feel I'd have to see it once or twice more to do it justice. I am most interested in how the visual message reinforces the obvious plotlines.

Also, is "samurai code of family" accurate? I thought there was honor involved with the samurai, but I could well be wrong. I thought that the "family" here was more like The Sopranos, totally corrupt, dedicated to corruption. The scene where Nikolai is being inducted looked like a circle of Hell.

smarthotoldlady said...